Sandbox Feature, The Sandbox

Trellis

A peer support system for entrepreneurs designed to assist in the areas of decision making, critical thinking and mental health.

Trellis is a peer support network for entrepreneurs designed around a Community of Practice model. The premise of Trellis is that empathic fellow entrepreneurs can support each other through social learning, which in some cases is better than alternative support systems such as mentorship platforms.

The benefits of such peer support networks are in the area of entrepreneurial education, critical thinking support and mental health. There is also evidence that entrepreneurs can support each other, through the network with perspectives on tactics and strategy.


Table of Contents

  1. The Need for Trellis
  2. Setting up the support network
  3. Structuring the Network
  4. Outcome of the Trellis Project
  5. Next Steps
  6. Participant Feedback

The need for a support network

We started the Trellis project in August of 2020, during the peak of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The project was a reaction to a number of entrepreneurs who struggled to make sense of the uncertain futures of their businesses.

While there is a robust ecosystem to support entrepreneurs, this support infrastructure tends to be clustered largely around startups. Hundreds of incubators, accelerators and mentorship networks exist to serve the cream of the startup world, leaving a large majority of entrepreneurs out in the cold.

Setting up the support network

Trellis, the peer support system that we setup was designed to provide entrepreneurs with a 60 minute forum every week, in which they could help each other solve their most pressing problems, and invite opinions on their business decisions, from other entrepreneurs – their peers.

Design Research for Trellis involved a top-down and bottom up approach, owing to the problem that entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are hard to study.

We used a Discord server to run the network and Linkedin as the primary outbound and inbound communications channel, using it as a sounding board among the broader entrepreneur community.

Structuring the Network

The peer network was designed around a strict structure that acted as a consistent and dependable guardrail in the chaos of an entrepreneur’s life. Each peer group was divided into a chapter. A chapter may contain no more than 4 peers (the entrepreneurs) assisted by one admin (the group facilitator.)

The Trellis Structure from the Admin’s Manual. A structured approach helps peers in the network approach their problems in a systematic and consistent manner.

The chapter meets once a week, for a minimum of 3 months and a maximum of 6, depending on the needs of the chapter. After the allotted time, the chapter is dissolved. This is to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to a diversity of perspectives from the formation of new chapters.

The focus each week, is on one entrepreneur, while the other peers listen in and share their perspectives to the problem or opportunity being presented. We also invite a new mystery guest each week, who plays the role of the outsider, a way to dispel group-think that may come about among the peers.

Trellis uses visual ways to communicate intractable problems in entrepreneurship. This diagram for instance, illustrates the difference between the managerial approach to entrepreneurship as opposed to a Design-led approach.

The Outcome of the Trellis Project

The peers who participated reported a significant reduction of work-induced stress simply from the process of sharing and social learning. We believe that mental health in entrepreneurship may be the primary benefit of the peer support network.

Peers also reported a broadening of strategic options with regards to their enterprises because of the range of perspectives provided by their peers.

The Trellis Horseshoe depicts the journey of an entrepreneurial venture from an idea stage to competing in the market.

The entrepreneurs also reported that they benefited from the visual-thinking tools that evolved during the Trellis sessions. Tools such as the Trellis Horseshoe provide entrepreneurs with a map of how market breaching can be achieved.

Teaching a guest session on Entrepreneurship as Art in collaboration with MICE Labs, an initiative to drive entrepreneurship among medical, engineering and management students.

Next Steps for Trellis

The next step for Trellis will primarily involve scaling the number of active chapters, This involves:

  • Produce a Trellis Support Network Operating Manual to help group-facilitators support the peers in their individual chapters.
  • Automate parts of the network that relies on project management and reporting by peers
  • Scale the program by forming support networks in entrepreneur rich ecosystems

Participant Feedback

“…In 3 months and over 24 sessions, I progressed from saturation with a never-ending product development phase to prioritizing the essential features necessary for my product to be ready for market validation.”

Cass Amino, Entrepreneur, LEAST Project Management


“… Having access to a curated group of like-minded peers, I received multiple perspectives on every strategically significant decision we were taking and wanting to take.”

Abhimanyu Bhardwaj, Entrepreneur, Launchspace


“We were able to work on short projects and see it through during 6 weeks, which was of great benefit to many of us.”

Trellis network started out at the right time for me and it helped me with a peer network who challenged my business model and gave me a lot of direction. We were able to work on short projects and see it through during 6 weeks, which was of great benefit to many of us.

Anusha Stephen, Entrepreneur, The Talking Canvas


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