Early this year I kicked-off a project to design, and implement a Startup in Residence program for the provincial government of North Holland, under project leadership of the excellent Robbert van Geldrop of Firmhouse.
Startup in Residence (SiR) programs are government-initiated programs to harbour startups at the heart of government operations. SiR invites startups to contribute to predefined policy themes, which benefit from new impulses of creative problem solving, which can be brought by startups. The intent of SiR programs is to catalyse cross-over learning between government, and startups, as well as joint creation of new business opportunities.
The program objective for the provincial government of North Holland was clear, but we first had to find out how to design the program, and to craft its value proposition in such a way that it would appeal to all relevant stakeholders; government, and startups alike.
The Accelerator Design Sprint
To equip ourselves to design a SiR program, we set up an Accelerator Design Sprint (taken from the Source Institute Accelerator Design Guide) to immerse into the context government-startup collaborations. The Sprint ran for 3 days, in which we also had our client from the province on board the full time, which helped tremendously in decision making along the way.
For the first day we arranged several interviews. We spoke with people within various government organisations who work on startups and innovation in different capacities. Specifically, we interviewed several of the internal sponsors of the SiR program for North Holland, to get a sense of their expectations, and potential contributions to startups. We also spoke to startup founders who work, or have worked closely with government. Lastly, we linked up with potential partners, who have an interest in working with startups, and are closely associated with the thematic policy priorities of the program.
On day 2 we had a morning program of several more interviews. The afternoon was used to start pulling out some of our observations from the interviews. These were then translated into insights for the current program. (we followed the format described in Vijay Kumar’s excellent 101 Design Methods for this).
One important insight that emerged from this exercise was for instance that clear government challenge formulation helps startups to better define their added value in their relationship to government. Another insight was that efforts to create a common language between government, and startups, like visual business tools, and meetups, give tremendous returns for the program, because these foster collaboration.
On 3rd and last day, after letting our collected data breathe for an evening, we started with designing the actual program. The basis for this design was the accelerator design cards kit (which comes with the Accelerator Design Guide, see the header picture for this layout).
Because we found that startup-government collaborations heavily depend on connections, and expertise that is scattered across government networks, we made sure to include a lot of peer-to-peer support formats like Brain Trusts, Lean Coffee’s, Unconference, and Fixer Sessions; formats that facilitate connections, and targeted knowledge exchange. We also included specific workshops, meant to generate a joint language between government sponsors and startups, around topics like business model, partnership, and experiment design.
The Sprint finishes, The Marathon begins.
Once we were done with the design, we were immediately ready to start writing out copy (a signal of succes!) for the SiR program website, and for the invites to the first program meetup, meant to socialise our proposition, and mobilise applicants. Also we wrote out a clear request for involvement from each of the sponsors, so that they had a clear indication of what commitment was asked from them. (if you’re interested to receive some of these materials to use them in your own program, then drop us comment below, and lets get in touch!)
Currently, we’re well underway in the program, which started in early June (we did it in under 3 months!), and will last for 6 months. We’ve had a great turnout in applications, with a lot of propositions that fit well to the program’s call. To fill our 5 available startups seats, we had 30 quality applicants to select from. Together with a group of external stakeholders (mainly partners we approached for the program), and the sponsors we came to our current selection of teams.
The pre-scheduled workshops have given the teams a kick start, because they’ve anticipated some of the common hurdles. Also, we noticed along the way that there was demand for specific content, like the Growth Mindset workshop, which is now scheduled to be deliver by Source’s growth maker Nemanja Cerovac. And the latest feat is that we’ve sold out our first SiR program Source Summit unconference for July 11th, which will introduce the wider SiR community to each other.
If the program interests you, and you would like to join in with future community events, then send an email to bart[at]source[dot]institute, and we’ll put you on the community email list.