If you haven’t heard of the Facilitator

and his role at the Startup Weekend Events, this is the time to enrich your knowledge. Explained in several simple words the Facilitator is the expert who helps the local organizers run their event with minimum deviations from the plan. He looks after the entertainment and the great experience both of the participants and the audience or in simple words

he brings a piece of magic into the event.

At least that happened with the last Facilitator from the winter edition of Startup Weekend Sofia – Andy Stoll. That guy made each team feel relaxed and comfortable during his 5 minutes at the stage. As a person from the audience I was really amazed by his great ability to make everyone smile, he even made us stand up and tap with feet as a form of support for the teams that were coming onto the stage. I am sure that one of the most memorable times from that Startup Weekend edition for each of the participants will be the ones with

Andy Stoll and his awesome sense of humor.

 

Andy Stoll

Being totally captivated by this guy from the other part of the world – Iowa, USA, I was determined to meet him in person and try to learn more about him. It turned out that he is not only a pretty clever funny man but also a person who has a pocket full of interesting stories to tell. He has been dealing with startups for some time now. One of the companies at which he is a co-founder – The Iowa Startup Accelerator even has some distant relations with the Bulgarian startup community represented by Eleven Accelerator. As he told me they are some kind of sister companies with similar working model.

Andy describes himself as a social entrepreneur.

But what kind of breed is that? For Mr. Stoll the social entrepreneur starts a company that has a double bottom line. He not only has to make money, but also has to do good. The social entrepreneurship is a comparatively new term but according to Andy it has been around for a very long time. One of the examples that he gave me was about a shoe company called Tom Shoes. When you buy a pair of shoes from them you also buy a pair of shoes for someone who cannot afford shoes at all.

What I was really curious to know was what were his expectations about the Bulgarian Startup Community and if they’ve changed when he landed here.

Andy told me that he was truly amazed by a couple of things.

He was hardly expecting to find so much startup activity going on here in Bulgaria. He was also surprised of how excellent everyone’s English is here. At first he was a bit confused how will he be able to lead the Startup Weekend when he doesn’t speak Bulgarian but everyone was assuring him that this won’t be a problem. He even confessed that the Bulgarians speak English better than most of the people from the Eastern European countries he had been in.

That emphasized how global people in Bulgaria are.

As Andy has recently completed a 4-year trip around the world I wanted to hear from him the most touching story of a person whom he met during this trip.

Here he came with another great story.

At 26 Andy quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China and set a goal to go around the world in 1 year and he ended up 4 years later. He had travelled through 40 countries most of which were in the developing world. During that time he spent a lot in trying to see how people live and he learned that there are a lot of ways to help people but there are mainly 5 major ones – you can give them education, you can improve their health, you can provide them with justice, freedom & democracy, you can make the water cleaner, and you can help people be part of the global economy and for Andy that means teaching people how to be entrepreneurs. He came to the conclusion that the thing that applies to both the developing world and the developed one is that anyone could become an entrepreneur if he has access to the right culture and the right community.

Andy Stall

It’s very difficult to start a company but if you live in a community that’s really supportive you will be more able to get up and start again when you fail.

In terms of a touching story he told me about his stay in a small village in Zambia where people were living in muds with no electricity and were digging their water from a hole in the ground. There had been a young person named Gotfrey and what he had was an old camera ran on film. He was an entrepreneur. He was 21 and he was travelling around the village and he was shooting the people. He was charging them with about 10 US cents for taking a photo of them wherever they want and he would wait until he fill a whole film and go hitchhiking for a day to the closest little town to develop the photos. Then he would bring them back and show you the photo and for another 20 US cents you could buy it. The whole cost of this was about 2 euros and if everyone takes his photos he would make a profit of 6 euros. But the think of the risk and the fact that he had nothing as he had only a bed frame and a mattress and ate almost nothing and how crazy his idea was made Andy think

If that guy could be an entrepreneur, than anyone could be an entrepreneur!

For everyone who wants to become a social entrepreneur Andy deeply recommends to go out into the world and find a social problem that makes you angry or even inspires you to do something about it and then learn everything you can about that problem.

My talk with Andy was echoing long after our meeting and made me think of all the small things that we often tend to neglect as we consider them for granted.

For a dessert I am leaving you with Andy’s favorite picture from Sofia – the city which he considers as the best from all the Eastern European cities he had been to. He promised to come back!

windows-of-sofia-by-andy-stoll