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On Bridges and Overlaps

 
 

On Bridges and Overlaps

by Dilyan Dimitrov
 
Just before 7pm on a warm October evening we land in Podgorica, a city of some 150,000 people, capital of Montenegro, and the fourth stop of Start Trek. For most of the trekkies this is a first time in Montenegro and were quite surprised to learn that this tiny country has one of the best startup conferences in the region, and a very dynamic startup scene fueled by the people at Domain.me and Digitalizuj.me.
 
Now, one week after we returned, although I am still struggling to put some order to my thoughts and impressions after that turbulence of people, places and meetups, one thing crops out when I revisit the past twelve days on the road. There are few, if any, bonds between the local communities in the CEE region, and some of the communities themselves are fragmented to the point where we were introducing entrepreneurs from the same city to each other.

Building Bridges

Building bridges among the CEE communitiesThis, in the first place, was the reason to do Start Trek – a 12 day, 4,000 km journey across 8 borders and 6 startup capitals of Central and Eastern Europe. To build bridges and connect these communities to each other, but also, to Krakow, Berlin, Dublin, and London.
 
Actually, our journeys through the region started two years ago, when we launched Eleven. We had the privilege to witness (and play a role in) the development of the startup communities not only in Montenegro, but throughout CEE. We met the dreamers who build communities from scratch in tough markets and against all odds. The givers who share time and resources freely. And the takers who orbit the communities to serve their own agenda. (Luckily, startup communities are self-regulated, quick to empower the first two and discard the latter.)
 
And our ties with the local communities made Start Trek was more than just establishing connections – it was about building relationships. Because connecting to someone on LinkedIn is not the same as building a bridge. Rather, it is the people you know and trust that matter – the ones you have met, talked, spent time and dreamed together with. And if you share similar values and views (and the occasional inside joke) then you have a strong foundation to build upon.

The Overlaps

Communities overlapsStartup ecosystems are flat in structure but elect and push forward a few community leaders – individuals and organizations, that quickly connect and relate to the leaders of other communities. And if someone from one community needs an introduction into another, they become the overlaps and bridges in between.
 
Such overlaps are one of the most important features of each community. After all, there is a difference between joining a new community from the periphery and working your way to the center, or, with the right introductions, find yourself already connected to the people and resources you need from day one.

Start Trek Continues

Start Trek is just a first step of an even bigger journey we must all do together. Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting everyone should hop on a plane and tour the region for 12 days straight (although it is a lot of fun). But each of us can do his part:
 

  • Be an active member of your community, not a passive bystander.
  • Give before you get. When you meet someone new be the first to ask “what can I do for you?”
  • Be inclusive. If a newcomer asks for something and you can help – do it.
  • Speak up. If something is wrong, don’t keep it to yourself.

 
Because as the communities in this region become stronger, so will each of their members. After all, when the tide comes, it lifts all boats.

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Start Trek was only possible because of the overlaps and relationship we had with each of those communities. A very big thank you to:

Burak Buyukdemir of Etohum in Turkey;

George Dita of How-to-Web and Bogdan Iordache of 3TS in Romania;

Zoja Kukic and Vukasin Stojkov of SEE ICT and Startit.rs in Serbia;

Natasa Djukanovic and Itana Prljevic of Domain.me and Vladimir Vulic of Digitalizuj.me in Montenegro;

Ivo Spigel and Domagoj Delimar of ZIP, Ivan Brezak Brkan of Netrokracija and Vladimir Defrančeski of the Founders Institute in Croatia;

Chris Georgiev and Martin Linkov of the Startup Foundation in Bulgaria;

Lorcan O’Sullivan and David Scanlon of Enterprise Ireland, Ireland;

Salim Virani of Founder Centric, UK;

Lucy Montel of Rainmaking Loft and Connor Murphy of Datahug, Germany;

Luka Sucic of hub:raum, Poland.