From workshop to market in seven weeks seed Friday, 22 July 2016

From workshop to market in seven weeks

The first steps as a startup are the hardest, especially for eco-inclusive startups in emerging markets. It all comes down to the right spirit and lion-hearted attitude. Keep reading if you want to find out what “feedback is the breakfast of champions” means and why the teams of the SWITCH Africa Green - SEED Starter Months are “chewing bones instead of drinking milk.” The following steps will give you a brief overview of what awaits the participants from a personal perspective. Over the last two months, I had the pleasure of coaching 25 startups for seven weeks in Kenya and Uganda. It was one a hell of a ride.

Step 1: Preparation for Success

For me it was key to come with an open heart. Being an impatient and performance-oriented person, I hoped for insanely motivated teams to reach all my operational goals. The main goal was to demonstrate the roots of entrepreneurship: working hard to get a lot of things done, making decisions based on insights and consistently challenging each other to get better every day. 

For the teams, the journey began with perfecting the application, which challenged them from the start. The SAG-SEED Starter team chose the best 12 or 13 teams from more than 100 applications in each country.

Step 2: What’s Your Inspiration?

Well, I cannot inspire others if I’m not inspired myself, right? Reflecting and asking for the “why” of your own journey is something I’ve always found extremely helpful. Having sold two companies and coming back from my inspirational year in San Francisco and London, I came in with a high degree of passion for building more solid and sustainable companies. Even better, five minutes after our first get-together in Kenya, I was immediately struck by this high level of determination and dignity and all these “can-do” looks in the faces of more than 30 Kenyans of all ages. When the same thing happened in Uganda, I realised that what we are doing has the potential to create significant impact. It was one of those moments in life when people just click with each other and the atmosphere in a room feels like the whole world can be changed, just with the power of these insanely motivated 30 minds and hearts. We were ready to design some out-of-the-box business models.  

Check out Basiita from Soybean-Maize Commodity Value Addition practicing his pitch:

Step 3: Work Hard and Have Feedback for Breakfast

Now the stage was set to come to the very heart of entrepreneurship: rolling up our sleeves and switching to “getting things done” mode. Having worked and studied on four continents, I have learnt that this is the only way to be successful. Being able to share ideas and truly and openly challenge each other allowed the startups and advisors to create a circle of trust, which consists of respect for each other. In comparison to the old world, respecting each other means giving each other inputs, challenging each idea to make it better every day and collaborate if stronger energies are created together. When someone can set aside the anxiety and false pride that results in not being open to criticism, this person will be a true champion. After these steps are taken, the startups begin to actually hear the desires and needs of consumers, partners, investors and all other stakeholders that are needed to make it a success. With this mindset, there’s almost nothing that can stop you. The Silicon Valley startup mentality is based on this mindset and so is mine.  My former professor Pat Guerra told me once that “feedback is the breakfast of champions” is the key mentality an entrepreneur should have – and man, was he right.

Here's a video of Rebecca from Eco-Tourism Sensation Lake Victoria practicing her pitch:

Step 4: Build-Measure-Learn in a Test Phase of Four Weeks

After creating this entrepreneurial mindset, we were ready to start the next phase of the journey. From this moment on, full focus was given to improving every presented concept and business model. We challenged each other to think about maximisation of impact and the ideal realisation of each individual triple bottom line with the right business model. Some teams pivoted right in our first workshop, while others added a couple of twists to their models.

Finding out what could kill each business needs testing in a real business environment. The spirit was to go to the streets and engage extreme customers and partners as soon as possible to get a realistic estimation of whether what we were doing would actually satisfies an unsatisfied need out there. I call this phase the “truth”. Talking and guessing about potential ways to create impact and turnover is a way to start – but only potential customers can decide if a certain value is actually created. From this moment on, the teams pushed even more and everyone was ready for the four-week test phase.

Step 5: Go 2 Market - the Execution

After our teams came back with a lot of insights, even more motivation and ideas to innovate, my favorite phase finally reached its pinnacle: define strategies to ‘Go 2 Market’. Plotting the idea, testing and gaining insights, rebuilding, measuring and now deciding which version would be the simplest-but-best one to Go 2 Market before creating impact is the core of entrepreneurship. And in the end, I was really proud of the startups. All of them reached significant new heights within this seven weeks, understanding what a successful launch needs, what their customers want and how to flesh out their strengths to design competitive strategies. The key was again to challenge each other to the fullest and analyse local market environments and brands in order to design launching strategies and understand different ways of competing.

Ann Chepkurui and Joseph Kogo of the Kenyan startup Velo-in-A bring their first product to market as part of the SEED Starter Test Phase:

Step 6: What’s Next?

We were thrilled to see first teams already Go 2 Market. Check out Afro-Eggs from Uganda and Velo-in-AJ from Kenya for only one example of great work. Now our thoughts are with all these African lion-hearted pioneers who push profitable eco-inclusive businesses - may the entrepreneurial force be with you. We are simply proud and looking forward to hear more good news from the Starter Teams! ASANTE ASANA.

If you want to apply for a SAG-SEED Starter Workshop, visit our webpage to find out if your country is eligible and how to apply. Stay tuned!

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