This is originally written by Søren Berg Rasmussen, Project Coordinator at Enterprise Services, City of Helsinki. You are free to summarize and repost this or other use under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License terms by giving credit with a link to www.startupcommons.org and the original writer.
When I was first introduced to the Startup Commons platform, my initial feeling, like for so many others I reckon, was a lingering question of why I would need yet another social media platform. How would this be any different than LinkedIn or Facebook? And, moreover, why would I want yet another online profile that I would need to maintain, update and keep relevant? I already have so many that I need a list in order to remember which ones I have joined and what my user credentials are.
Of course I understood the difference in terms of how the Startup Commons platform was made with the purpose of serving startups in mind. But still the question lingered: “Why couldn’t this be done in one of the very many already existing platforms?”
Luckily it only took me a few minutes of talking to one of our ‘gurus’ here at Enterprise Helsinki, Mika Valtasaari, before I understood the golden opportunities provided by the Startup Commons platform, the genius of the shared source and the open mind of the founders. I needed a place to develop a matching system in combination with a network environment for a mentoring programme, and the Startup Commons platform seemed like just the place.
Startup Commons 101
Basically the Startup Commons platform provides the opportunity to set up a customized network in which different user types such as startups, VCs, talents, etc. can find each other. It also allows the users to move between different networks, and soon it will also be possible to share information between networks on the admin side of things. This is the part that seems very identical to what hordes of other network platforms also do. However, the keyword here is customized. Each network can be customized to provide exactly the functionalities needed to serve its own specific purpose. It can be as simple as the ability to set up events and invite participants in the network. Or it can be as complicated as a system with a number of user types being matched to each other or to the services or events in the network most relevant to them and their specific needs.
Our needs: serving the whole community
I needed two things when I first approached the Startup Commons platform. First and foremost I needed a matching system to make my life easier when deciding which mentee candidates were best suited for the mentors we had in our pool. The challenge was that we had hundreds and Excel only provided so much overview.
The other challenge was how to coordinate different mentoring programmes, so that when one would find good mentor candidates, these would not be lost due to the limitations of the programmes but rather be shared with other programmes that might need them. The Startup Commons platform was already developing a CRM system. All I had to do was to tweak it so that network admins could share complete CRM systems and/or individual entries. Combined with the option to create tags and notes for the entries, this is now being developed to be a tool for very in-depth sharing and coordination between network CRMs and the efforts being put into searching for mentors. Take networks which are not competing but complementary, and then replace the word mentor with companies, clients, customers, etc. and you will see the value: contact markup to avoid repeat calls or to direct contacts from a network which was not relevant to them to a network providing what they need; improved contact information reliability as a result of several network admin owners’ updating the shared contacts when using them, and much more.
In essence, it is a simple fix with huge potential.
Matching with Startup Commons
Even bigger potential lies in the matching system. The system is built on the simple idea of comparing choices selected by users in forms. The forms are created dynamically by network admins and can contain any type of questions. The matching takes place between options on single answer and multiple answer lists, where the admin presets the matches and assigns weights to each matching option. This means that anything can be matched because forms can be created for information about anything. It also means that the matching can be customized when setting weights, so that admins can determine relevance levels for individual answer options.
We can therefore now set up a matching programme within a Startup Commons network where we can match mentors and mentees registering for our programme and filling in the two forms. We can also set up a matching programme for determining the necessary services needed for a growth startup to move from stage -1 to 0 by letting startups fill in a form which we then match to services potentially needed in each stage on the startup development path. We can also create a matching system for finding the right talents from, for example, a pool of long term unemployed to available jobs. Or make a matching system for finding the most suitable startups for our pool of VCs. Etc., etc.
Because of the flexibility of using custom made forms, we can essentially match anything. The only limitation at this stage is the inability to match free form text inputs. But this is something we will start tackling in the near future when we also begin to develop a method for validation of form input such as user skills.
The beauty of the system
The Startup Commons platform provides endless opportunities for any development because we let it. Anyone who chooses to use the system can have their own customized version developed, while still maintaining the ability to connect to other networks in the platform, as long as the functions are compatible.
The fact that the system is a shared source also means that whatever we create here for our specific purposes becomes available for anyone else in the system who might need it. It also allows for a continuous development to take place, where other users of the system see possibilities we did not realize.
Because of the flexibility of the platform and the openness with which it is being developed, the business value for any organization choosing this path is almost endless. Choose a closed system only available to your employees and management team, and your users can still enjoy both the benefits of your own tailored system and the width of other networks available in the platform when moving freely around with their user profiles. Set up a network where by filling in a simple form your customers receive instant matches with the services you provide. And remember that while it might seem a hassle to have yet another user profile or system to manage, most of the information you have made before on LinkedIn or Facebook is easily imported when first entering the system.
To my mind, the Startup Commons platform is no longer just another network like LinkedIn or Facebook (I guess it actually never was). It is more than the sum of the two with the added value of you being able to decide what you want the system to do for your business or institution.
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