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How to get to 300 chapters within one year?: the lessons from Open Source

posted May 11, 2010, 10:44 PM by Marc Dangeard   [ updated May 11, 2010, 11:10 PM ]

The Open Source movement has proven that you can build a very complex system with a distributed network of many independent resources. What would an “Open Business” platform look like? Here is a possible answer:

  • A distributed network of entrepreneurs, the OS: entrepreneurs in the trenches are physical nodes at the intersection of 2 dimensions: local and vertical. Local: the city, or metropolitan area where they spend most of their time. Vertical: the sector they work in. Each node is unique and lives within its own specific context. Connecting them into a network provides us with an OS for economic development.

  • Power at the edge, the Apps: Once we have established a network, we need to empower individuals so that they can have the biggest impact possible locally and globally through network effect. We are not talking about managing the implementation of well defined processes, but rather of providing tools that will help grow a diverse community of entrepreneurs, each within its own local context and constraints.

    The simplest tool available is a monthly meeting format. An Entrepreneur Commons chapter is the smallest instantiation of the network, requiring just a few entrepreneurs that agree to meet on a regular basis to collaborate. The chapter format is designed to lower barrier to entry as much as possible, so we keep it to a very informal discussion where entrepreneurs share one success and one challenge. This is an opportunity for everybody to benefit from successes and contribute their contacts and experience to help resolve challenges. And because we do not want to the discussion to become too directive, the feedback should be very open and provided in the form of stories of how similar issues have been addresses in other situation. Each entrepreneur can draw its own conclusions from the stories told.

    Beyond this very simple format, many other apps have been developed and implemented. Example of such apps are First Tuesday events, Startupweekend events, SF newtech events, seedcamps, business plan competitions, pitch sessions, breakfasts with VCs, Founders Institute, Funding for founders, Startups to startups, etc...

    These apps are an opportunity for the people involved in helping entrepreneurs to generate revenue for themselves, just like Open Source developers can monetize their skills by providing services and support for specific apps. Selling such apps is what guarantees the sustainability of the overall system. These apps can generate revenue through sponsorship of the specific events, and through fees paid by attendees.

  • Governance, through leadership rather management: because entrepreneurs are by nature very independent, the network cannot be managed. But keeping the ecosystem healthy requires a minimum set of rules. The first rule is that anybody involved in the network agrees to collaborate with other entrepreneurs within a chapter. It does not mean that there cannot be competition but since each chapter once formed is “invitation only”, you can work within a group without having to worry about direct competition. Once this first rule has been established and agreed to, most of the activity is self managed. Issues are escalated to steering committees that sit at the metropolitan/regional/country level (depending on the density of the network = how many chapter within a city/region/country. The overall organization is managed by a board of directors composed of elected members from the steering committees.

We have entrepreneurs and facilitators already working on educating and energizing the network. We are building the OS, we have identified Apps that can be sold. Will you join us?