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How to Organize an Online Startup Support Program?

Three different organizations (Preduzimanje, Startit, and BioSense) in Serbia organized startup support programs for their communities in autumn 2020. We summed up their key learnings and insights for future reference.

For those of us in the startup support space, one of the memorable aspects of 2020 was the shift from in-person support to online programs. During that year, in Serbia, three of these programs were delivered. We caught up with the organizers to hear the tips and tricks they garnered from that experience.

In the agile Serbian entrepreneurial ecosystem, many service providers managed to recover quite quickly from the initial crisis caused by the COVID19 pandemic. Some of them even went a step further and organized startup support programs for their communities.

A group of amazing ladies—Nevenka, Dragana and Milena—from three different Swiss EP Partner Organizations set up programs in the autumn of 2020 for startups they were working with. Swiss EP team and experts jumped on board to help develop and run these programs—Filliberto Guijarro with Startit, Ethan Mayers with BioSense, and Barbara Fischer with Preduzimanje.

Nevenka Rangelov (Startit), Dragana Petkovic (BioSense), and Milena Milic (Preduzimanje) all agreed that it was an excellent experience with a steep learning curve. Here’s a quick take on what they learned from the process:

  • Tailor the program for your community—people are overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of online content so make sure to offer something they really need.
  • Ask for extra information from participants to make sure they are willing to commit their time to an online program—accessibility of versatile content makes it relatively easy to apply and drop out from the program. If you make the application process a bit more demanding, you can expect to have a more engaged audience in the end.
  • Build in networking space/time—we all miss hanging out during breaks and having a casual coffee with people we just met. It isn't easy to create such a feeling online, but you can reserve some free time for guided networking.
  • Make the program and workshops interactive and practical—entrepreneurs need useful tools to apply right away in their businesses and lives. If you manage to bring in some interaction to the process, your program will be quite successful—guaranteed! Everyone is tired of just watching the screen— they want action.
  • Organize an informal introduction session for people to get to know each other—people want to know who is in their group and find out more about their peers. So, don't start with the heavy load right away. Instead, organize a get-to-know-each-other session first, where they can meet and chat.
  • Consider online video platforms for parts of the program—it does not all have to be live. Different online platforms, even YouTube, can help you make some of the content available at any time. Still, you want to have some of the content reserved for the committed audience willing to be with you in live sessions.
  • Mix and match platforms—aside from providing content, our organizers also said that having a place to gather and talk between the sessions was useful. It can be a Slack channel, Facebook group, or WhatsApp group—choose whatever fits you best to enable your community to be in touch.
  • Do intense (daily) or lower intensity (weekly) programs—landing somewhere in between is not the ideal place. Programs that require people to be present a few times a week in short intervals may seem practical, but they can be tiresome and unproductive. Instead, choose one of the two classical variations.
  • Have a dedicated person to manage logistics and technical issues—you can’t do it all on your own. This will also help generate a sense of ownership and belonging within the group.
    Organize tech checks if you’re planning a demo day as a program finale — it’s always a good idea to check things twice and make sure that your participants know what to do once they are "on-air."
  • Send the feedback form immediately—don't wait for a few days. If you send it right after the workshop, you’ll get a much higher response rate.

Our organizers’ programs gathered 30 different teams, with over 50 individual participants. They all received fantastic feedback, and we believe that lessons they learned can help them continue to improve in the future.

Thank you, ladies, for sharing!