On January 13-14, Johannes Rau International Centre for Education and Exchange in Minsk hosted the second offline learning session of the Biz4all-2 social entrepreneurship training programme. By that time, the participants had already completed first six online tasks. At the moment, their assignments are mainly analytical: the participants review social entrepreneurship case studies and look into areas where such projects work, but the next set of tasks will be practical, dedicated to customer relations and developing a minimally viable product.
The second training session was dedicated to the lean canvas method. According to the newly introduced tradition, each day began with three teams pitching their projects to the audience. This is done to help them hone their skills and prepare for presenting before investors, as well as get feedback from the programme coaches and mentors.
Biz4all-2 “Social Entrepreneurship Incubator” programme is organized by ODB Brussels (Belgium) in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), with financial support from the European Union.
Lean canvas model
Masha Charakova, coach from the Netherlands, considers this to be the most interesting topic of all. “Many of our participants have already created their product and even have a business plan, but few of them have discussed their product with their customers. There are two important questions that need to be asked: whether you really should create this product or service and spend your time and money on it. Our current economic conditions allow us to do almost anything, but should we do this? Will this be worth our time, money and energy? The second question is: how can we increase our chances of success? It is a risky business, and we need to minimize the risks”.
The lean canvas model operates on the assumption that entrepreneurs need a business plan but a minimalistic one. What is more important, they need to establish contacts to their first customers. People could propose a brilliant idea and map out how it should work, but they would not survive the first meeting with a real customer, because the customer views it very differently. The first thing a social entrepreneur must do is to stay in touch with the customers, understand what their problem is and what they would be willing to pay for. “Ask your customers if they need you. If you receive good feedback, this means green light for you, and you can continue to work. If you get a red light, you need to adjust and repeat. This is not the easiest topic to discuss, but you need to carefully listen to every bit of feedback and stay open-minded in order to go through with this”.
The canvas consists of nine basic elements that the teams need to fill out. Compared to writing a business plan, filling out the canvas only takes about an hour, and it is possible to draft several options of the canvas, so that everything is concise and specific. It only takes up a page, which pushes the author to abandon long sentences in favour of short and clear thoughts, carefully selected words. The canvas is adjustable, so some of its elements are going to change with the company.
“We support, we are supported”
Next to speak was Mikita Brouka, deputy head of symbal.by, who described the success story of their shop. Symbal.by is a brand that grew out of a non-commercial organization Art Siadziba. At the moment, symbal.by sells souvenirs and merchandize with traditional Belarusian ornaments. According to Mikita Brouka, it all began with people who had an active citizenship approach. Mikita and Pavel Belaus were civil society activists for a number of years, which allowed them to gain experience and understand their audience. “It all began with personal initiative. We googled “where to buy a white-red-white flag” and the search brought us no good results, even though there was demand. We thought, why don’t we do something ourselves and open up a store where people could buy Belarusian style merchandise. Our primary goal was to do something no one had done before. To go for it, we needed to be brave”.
When they were promoting the “embro-T-shirts" brand, the team started using a number of promotional methods — sometimes provocative, but always earnest, aiming to provide Belarusians with a way to show their national origin and stress that our country has its own culture and national identity.
Today symbal.by is not only an online shop but also a real store. The team endeavour to not only sell things but also organize socially significant events. For example, to celebrate the centenary of the Belarusian National Republic, they created a postcard with the historical coat of arms Pahonia, detailing where it existed and why it is an important stage in Belarusian history. At the moment, the website lists more than 1,000 products, while two years ago they began with just 15 items. The shop employs eight people. There are plans to develop the website into an information portal as well.
Money is the most honest feedback
|Aliaksandr Bulakh (in the centre), entrepreneur, founder and former head of the Centre for Entrepreneurship Support “Start-up Technologies”, at the Biz4all final|
After Mikita Brouka’s inspirational speech, Biz4all participants continued their efforts to develop a social enterprise model under the guidance of Aliaksandr Bulakh, entrepreneur, founder and former head of the Centre for Entrepreneurship Support “Start-up Technologies”. “I like the lean canvas model and use it to launch my commercial and non-commercial projects with minimum investment and see what will come out of it. My experience says that there will be several such canvases for each business. When the team fills it out, some things might not come together, but it all becomes clear if you spread it out into several sheets".
Aliaksandr advised the participants to make several canvases when the target audience is very varied. Many people launch their business on the basis of their vision of a problem, but there may be more than one solution. “That is why a single problem can have a variety of canvases. 99% of entrepreneurs never make a business model template, but it is a convenient tool to verbalize everything you have in your head. Often the business model template is based on innovations. By changing one of the parameters in the canvas, you can get something totally different from what all the others are doing”.
|Vlada Muraviova, Biz4all-2 mentor Photo: official Facebook page|
Another mentor present at the second learning session was Vlada Muraviova, Advisor to the Director of the Kudrin Foundation for Support of Civil Initiatives. “Mentorship plays a very important role in such projects. If the participants need information and support, then it is easy to get information from them, and they can share with each other. It is important for the mentor to not overdo it and instead of trying to impose their unrealized ambitions listen to them and try to understand what was better for the project participants and where they could get satisfaction and inspiration — this is the support they need most”.
Text by: Valeriya Nikalaichyk
Photo by: Vitaly Brazousky
|The goal of the programme is to develop a package of social entrepreneurship training programmes in Russian using innovative international practices, as well as the experience of Belarusian diaspora representatives who have become successful entrepreneurs in European Union countries and the USA.|
The material was prepared within the framework of the "Social Entrepreneurship Incubator", implemented by ODB Brussels in partnership with TNU Network University (Netherlands), Belarusian Youth Public Union "New Faces" and International Civil Association "Union of Belarusian of the world “Motherland", with support from the European Union.