It’s been almost a year since I graduated from the VentureGarden program at the American College of Thessaloniki. As the application deadline for its next round is coming closer – September 26! – many positive memories emerge and I feel that it would be a shame if I didn’t spread the word about this valuable experience and specifically the way it has shaped my personal path and my venture as well.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it before, VentureGarden is a comprehensive educational and training process for current or future entrepreneurs who wish to develop their skill set and learn how to set their business idea off the ground. What is unique about the program is that it combines an intensive educational curriculum on entrepreneurship along with extensive mentoring and consultation.

When my co-founder, Maria Dermentzi, and I first came across the 2nd VentureGarden Round in 2014, we considered it a great timing, since we were setting the foundations for our upcoming organization, Code it Like a Girl. Coming from a legal background, we would definitely feel more confident to step into the unknown area of entrepreneurship if we had relevant guidance or training. VentureGarden met these expectations and helped us build a solid understanding of entrepreneurship and business concepts, which consequently pushed us to new heights and further opportunities.

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What exactly did I gain from my participation?

1. Diverse network: VentureGarden attracts aspiring entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries, thus forming a vibrant entrepreneurial community. If it wasn’t for VentureGarden, we would have never met Betty, a fellow participant and journalist, who introduced us to her friend, Maria, who was also a journalist and published the first article on Code it Like a Girl at the newspaper she was working for. At the kick-off event of Code it Like a Girl, do you know which ones of my friends mostly appeared? My VentureGarden friends. Because no one can better understand the stress and difficulties you are facing at this important step than the people who are at the exact same stage. Our class consisted of “movers and shakers” from the engineering, media, humanities, science, architecture sector and some university students. Having the chance to go through the entrepreneurial journey with a diverse peer support group enriched our experience, kept us motivated and introduced us to fresh ways of thinking.

2. Quality education: To put it simply, I see VentureGarden as a mini-MBA. Thanks to its courses, I got familiar with business notions and terminology that proved to be essential for the establishment and growth of our endeavor. Fortunately, the curriculum included not only theoretical lectures but also practical examples and real-life case studies. The core courses focused on Value Proposition, Product-Market Fit, Customer Segments, Key Resources & Activities, Revenue Streams, Cost Structure, Business Plan writing and many more. Some of these tools and learning resources were extremely useful, some of them not so much and some others even helped me with my Corporate Law subjects at Law School. What is sure is that apart from your natural inclination towards entrepreneurship or your innate talents, without an expanded business know-how and a nurtured entrepreneurial mentality you won’t go far .Therefore, I am really grateful for enjoying this quality and quantity of business education at an accredited institution, such as the American College of Thessaloniki, without any financial cost at all.

3. Public speaking: I don’t know if things have changed since my graduation from the program, but when I enrolled, all the applicants had to pass a very rigorous interview process which consisted of many steps and interviewers. It was one of the most difficult and stressful interviews but it was certainly worth it. Additionally, at the end of the program we had to formally pitch our business idea to an audience while at the same time being recorded. Without these challenges and their successful completion, I wouldn’t have the calmness and confidence demonstrated in my following tests and interviews.

4. Regular mentorship: Ok, we all want to see our ideas come to life, but sometimes down the road we often lose track of the bigger picture. Our  assigned VentureGarden mentor, Dimitris Hristu-Varsakelis, through regular mentorship meetings, kept us accountable to our goals and metrics, provided us with objective guidance, encouraged us to see things reasonably when we couldn’t do it on our own and offered generous emotional support as well as useful suggestions when all we could see was a dead-end. Maria and I had the pleasure of receiving mentorship from many successful people during the beginning of Code it Like a Girl and it reinforced my belief that mentorship can really have a huge impact on your venture’s success. Asking the right mentor for feedback, might even be the force that catalyzes change and innovation in your organization.

5. Continuous support: Time has passed, but as an alumna of the program, I will always feel that I can address my questions to the VentureGarden team and other alumni, in case I need to. Through its social media channels, VentureGarden has constantly highlighted our progress and has assisted us in reaching new audiences. I take pride in being affiliated with this program and I think that every time potential funders, sponsors or partners become aware of this, they also consider it safer to collaborate with me because of the program’s credibility. Maybe I could have gained the same knowledge and a similar network from other programs as well, but I don’t think that such an organised effort backed up by important institutions (ALBA Graduate Business School at The American College of Greece, Anatolia School of Business at The American College of Thessaloniki, The Hellenic Initiative) would easily be replaced.

That being the case, this was briefly my personal experience. If you approach this program with an open mind, with curiosity to learn something new even if this means changing your old beliefs, with eagerness to meet new people and explore synergies with them and of course with a robust determination and commitment to become an entrepreneur, then VentureGarden will give you a lot in a short amount of time. If not, then maybe you should think again about your decision and search for more suitable alternatives, because the application process is quite competitive and it wouldn’t be nice to deprive this position from someone who truly wants it. If you feel a little more curious about the program now, you can find more details at the VentureGarden website and of course I would gladly answer any questions about my experience through social media.

I wish you a great start at your entrepreneurial adventures and, once again, thank you VentureGarden!