Crowdsourcing Support for Innovation

All communities face challenges. Some are lacking high quality, engaging education, others are lacking sufficient access to resources or jobs or clean water. While the scale of the challenges differs, what is clear is that without addressing those challenges a community will never realize its own potential, and better its members so that they may better the world. 

We at PresenTense believe that most communities include the inventive, innovative entrepreneurs who could solve these challenges, but unfortunately our community members do not yet know how to find and support those innovators and help them grow their ideas into solutions. That is why PresenTense developed its Community Entrepreneur Partnership – and why the SpeedInterview, the crux of the application and admission process, is built as it is. 

SpeedInterviewing is the fun, fast-paced core of the admissions process. In the months before the SpeedInterviewing event, local volunteers on the Steering Committee or among the Mentor Community have determined what sorts of start-ups they would like to support, and encouraged their peers and community members to apply. On average from the dozen Community Entrepreneur programs we've run, local programs tend to draw 300% applications (or 3:1 applicants per slot), where the global program tends to bring in 1000% applications (or 10:1). 

This is wonderful news. It means that the community has more than enough entrepreneurs to solve its problems! But due to resource constraints, each program can only support a certain number of entrepreneurs per cycle. How do you chose which ones?

PresenTense has found that the best way to select 'fellows' for the Community Entrepreneur Partnership's training program is to focus on three core competencies as well as the value of the venture idea. Those competencies are: perseverance, interpersonal skill, and commitment to the greater good (what we call, Sense of Duty). Entrepreneurs with a high rating in all three tend to do better over time, on average. 

The way PresenTense suggests to balance the need to find the right ventures to support while also respecting and encouraging all innovators with important ideas on how to better their community's lot is through the SpeedInterview process. 

SpeedInterviews invite all of the ventures that made it to the second stage of the admissions process to a community-wide event, alongside all of the volunteers who have built the program together, and many individuals who will volunteer in the months to come as coaches and mentors. If there are twice as many entrepreneurs applying as there are volunteers coming to the event, we recommend having the entrepreneurs come it two waves, so that there are two events in one. 

The SpeedInterviewing begins when each volunteer is given a set of cards with suggested questions on the front, and a scale to record their thoughts on the entrepreneur's competencies on the back. Volunteers spread out around the room, each under a number to make finding them easy. Once volunteers are in place, the entrepreneur-applicants are told to find a volunteer and introduce themselves. 

The entrepreneur-volunteer pairs speak for 5 minutes, about the entrepreneur's project and about the question the volunteer has to ask. After five minutes, the event coordinator stops the pairs, asking the entrepreneurs to move to another volunteer – and giving the volunteer two minutes to record his or her thoughts on the back of the card they are given. 

And the process is repeated, and repeated, at least four times. This gives the entrepreneur the opportunity to meet a number of the volunteers, and the volunteers the opportunity to meet a number of the entrepreneurs. At the end of the event, the volunteers give their cards to the coordinator, enabling the coordinator to tally the votes per entrepreneur. The top entrepreneurs are advanced to the last round of interviews, and the others are thanked for their time and integrated into the broader community, with the hope that they will continue on their quest to solve the challenges facing their community.

By opening up the admissions process to the broader community, PresenTense hopes some of the connections made at the SpeedInterview will lead to valuable coach/mentor relationships, and also to opportunities for entrepreneurs who the community could not elect as 'fellows' to find likeminded individuals who could help them get their startup going. 

Want to see one in action? Here is a live action report from the Tel Aviv SpeedInterview of 2010. Enjoy:

Questions? Comments? Innovations and improvements? Tell us at fellowships – at – presentense.org or in the comments section below.
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