15 minutes with Yoda: Ireland’s Office Hours Initiative

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Mentorship

The world of startups and venture capitalists is competitive….watch any episode of Sharktank or Dragon’s Den and you can’t miss the ruthless side glances and suspense-laden pauses.  But what many people fail to realize is that the strongest startup communities – those that are heralded as incubators of innovation, where entrepreneurs flock to power up their macbooks and practice their pitches – have a secret something that you don’t see on Dragon’s Den. It is less talked about, but equally as important as a passionate, relentless, competitive drive.

It is a culture of giving back.

For Star Wars fans out there, that culture is the unseen “force” that shapes the success of a city, region, or nation’s entrepreneurial environment.  So how is SOSV, with its commitment to giving back, building the startup community “force”?

STARTUPS GREATEST ASSETS: A YODA IN EACH OF US

Successful startup ecosystems depend on supportive immigration policies (to assemble the Jedi team), adequate physical infrastructure (a fleet of Millenium Falcon ships to captain), and access to finance (the Rebel Alliance’s bank account), but most importantly, startups depend on each other.  They depend on individuals, organizations and initiatives that build networks and relationships. They depend on community building projects, which identify and mobilize existing talents of community members in service of the greater good. Seasoned entrepreneurs themselves – with their glorious successes and even more spectacular failures, are any startup ecosystem’s greatest asset. These are the Yoda’s and Obi wan Kenobi’s who will train the next generation of Jedi entrepreneurs.

However, unlike Yoda – whose full time job is training up young Skywalkers and practicing levitating Jedi mind tricks – seasoned entrepreneurs are busy with their day (and night, and weekend) jobs building new businesses or managing VCs.  How can we help Jedi masters give back, while also providing new startups with advice and insight?  How do we build “the force” of a strong startup ecosystem while removing the administrative burden of scheduling, re-scheduling, and re-re-scheduling an appointment to “just pick your brain on this idea…”? 

PEER MENTORSHIP & OFFICE HOURS

Our friend Brad Feld, in his book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your City  provides a cookbook of elements that helped build “the force” in the Boulder, Colorado. It is a great read for startups anywhere you are on the planet.

Ireland’s recent Entrepreneurship Forum, which SOSV’ Sean O’Sullivan chaired, and subsequent report published by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation: Report: Entrepreneurship in Ireland: Strengthening the Startup Community, borrowed many of Brad’s ideas, including his emphasis on peer mentorship. A survey conducted by the Forum of Ireland’s Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Award Alumni Winners found that 88% of successful entrepreneurs would volunteer to host office hours regularly. The busy Yodas of the Irish entrepreneurial scene were willing to give their time, but didn’t have the appropriate tool to do so.  So like any startup identifying demand in the market, what did the community do? It developed a product. 

Enter: Office Hours 

OfficeHours.ie is where ambition meets experience for Irish startups, facilitating peer mentorship to strengthen the startup community.  SOSV partners all host regular office hours, and I have discussed the idea before in a previous blogpost on giving back as a key marker of success.  Now, with the help of Startup Ireland and startup volunteers, we have rolled out OfficeHours across Ireland.

HOW IT WORKS: 3 GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF OFFICE HOURS

From the host perspective, three simple truths make Office Hours appealing: it is proven, flexible, and removes administrative burden:

  • Office hours is proven. It has been used for years by university professors in the United States and tech entrepreneurs around the world. If the president of Harvard and leading venture capitalists have adopted the practice, something must be working. 
  • Office hours is flexible. An individual sets aside a consistent time on their calendar to host office hours.  Weekly or monthly, in whatever designated allotments they choose.  Each host can designate those topics that they are, or are not, open to discussing during their office hours. 
  • Office hours eliminates administrative burden. Hosts create an online profile through a free calendaring software youcanbook.me and post this to officehours.ie.  Individuals book time directly in the designated time slot through the site, and the system adds the appointment directly to a host’s google calendar.

 

As far as the startup demand perspective…. let’s be honest, what startup do you know who wouldn’t want 15 minutes to pick Yoda’s brain? 

WHERE ARE WE GOING? 

Over two dozen seasoned entrepreneurs have already signed up officehours.ie, offering advice on everything from tax regulation to social media, from building a multi-national pharmaceutical company, to supply chain logistics for the food industry.  It is proving a valuable resource for startups (to easily access nuggets of wisdom), and OfficeHours hosts (to give back to budding entrepreneurs while removing administrative hurdles).  The goal is to have dozens of Irish entrepreneurs giving hundreds of hours of advice to Irish startups by the end of the year…and we are developing the metrics to track this in partnership with the youcanbook.me team!

Office Hours is a project by the startup community, for the startup community that is building a vibrant culture of giving back.  So if you’re seasoned Irish entrepreneur – think about setting an hour or two aside each week for the greater good at www.officehours.ie.  Startups: check out the list of hosts and find the advice to fuel your ambition.

And may the force be with you!

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