Entrepreneurs need more than capital

In an interview with Peter Righi, the CEED Global Director talks about the history and future of CEED, entrepreneurs, and the CEED Global Conference.

This interview originally appeared at: ceedglobalconference.com

Peter Righi is the co-founder and Global Director of CEED with over 14 years of experience working on economic development and private sector initiatives in emerging markets. Before launching CEED, Peter ran the Business Development Unit for SEAF which oversaw and implemented direct consulting and technical assistance for all of SEAF’s portfolio companies. He worked directly with investee firms to develop and sell value added products and services into Western export markets.

What is the story of CEED though the years? What were the most memorable moments for those 10 years?

These last 10 years have been very exciting. In the early years we spent a lot of time figuring out what entrepreneurs needed and how to deliver it to them in a way that takes into consideration their busy schedules. Because CEED originated from an investment firm, SEAF, we had a lot of experience with growth oriented entrepreneurs and understood what was needed to scale a business. But what we learned over the years is that entrepreneurs benefit from joining a network of other entrepreneurs for support both inside and outside of the workplace. I’ve had so many memorable moments with CEED but recently we led a group of Global Club members to New York City and met with thought leaders including Eric Schurenberg, and I was so inspired by not only those we met but those who came on the trip and told their stories about how they grew their companies in challenging environments.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What motivates you in your work?

When I started CEED 10 years ago I had no idea how exciting it would be to work with entrepreneurs. I am inspired everyday by our entrepreneurs who work everyday to improve the lives of their community, grow their businesses despite working in resource constrained environments and who challenge the status quo by bringing new ideas and concepts into their markets.

Where did the idea of CEED come from?

At SEAF we learned that entrepreneurs need more than just capital to grow their enterprises. Most entrepreneurs will say that money is their number one constraint, but a strategy for growth is just as important and is not as easy to develop as one would think. There is no clear road map, and oftentimes entrepreneurs have to make these decisions on their own. We decided to start CEED in Sofia 10 years ago so entrepreneurs would not be alone in their decision making. We started with trainings about technical topics such as how to improve sales, develop a marketing plan and build your brand but we quickly realized that the community of entrepreneurs was just as important as the learnings we provided. So we focused on building the community not only in country but also across borders.

What does CEED give to the business that other similar networks can’t?

Again, I truly believe our community is what makes us special. We have a dynamic network of entrepreneurs from around the world who support each other and who have access to resources they would not be able to get otherwise. We bring entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to learn about how to create an innovative culture in your company, we host conferences in Casablanca, Morocco so entrepreneurs can see how business is done in other parts of the world and all the while we facilitate B2B meetings so our entrepreneurs can meet with others in the network to do business but also share stories.

What is your opinion on Bulgarian’s entrepreneurship ecosystem?

Bulgaria took extreme advantage of the Joint European Resources for Micro and Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE) program and the 21 million euros that were allocate to Launchub and Eleven. This enabled building of a vibrant startup community, which put Bulgaria on the map in as the startup hub of the region, as investments were made also in companies from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Romania. The challenge ahead is how to support entrepreneurs who have proven that they have viable businesses, and help them sustain growth internationally and build strong foundations for further growth of their organizations. This is where I truly believe CEED has an important role: connecting entrepreneurs with knowledge and peers to build sustaining companies as well as connecting to the international network for new business opportunities. CEED can really help these 2nd stage firms that come out of the accelerators, but need a strong network locally, regionally, and internationally to growth their businesses.

What makes any business a successful one?

Every business has different needs at various points of their lifecycle. In the beginning the sheer energy and will of the entrepreneur can get a company off the ground, assuming the business idea is a good one. Once a company gets to a certain size, the entrepreneur needs to put in place systems and processes to facilitate growth rather. An entrepreneur’s ability to understand their company’s needs in real time is what drives success. This is much harder than it sounds. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest before the trees as they say and at CEED we try to help entrepreneurs do just this.

What successful business stories inspire you in your work? Can you point us some of them?

This is a hard question. There are so many! I get inspired when I witness how connecting entrepreneurs from different corners of the world can make a difference, even though at first sight, it does not seem relevant. When we started our center in Tunisia, I decided to invite a Serbian entrepreneur to share challenges he faced with his employees and how he shifted his business model. The Tunisian entrepreneurs did not expect that his story would in any way have the relevance it had also for them. Of course I am very inspired when I hear of achievement of our members and especially when they contribute back to the community with time and support they provide to their peers.

What would you say to the people who are coming to CEED Global Conference 2016?

Come with an open mind and with a lot of business cards. We have put together a very interesting line up of speakers who will push people’s thinking about the future but also hope that everyone coming to the conference will have an opportunity to connect with others in the network and in Bulgaria. Our events hope to accomplish three things: help entrepreneurs expand their thinking, facilitate networking for growth, and learn how CEED’s community and services can be helpful to them as they continue their entrepreneurial journey. And this is exactly what we are about at CEED – improving lives through entrepreneurship.