During my time in Hamburg I was happy to schedule an interview with Heldenrat (“Advice for heroes” – very liberal translation). I had met one of the founders – Tom Leppert – during a Stammtisch (monthly networking event, usually comes with beer) at Social Impact Lab Hamburg a few years ago. I had shared with him a very, very early version of Social Venturers. While Tom had moved on to a different city, I was able to meet with Birgit Schunke, a freelance coach and project manager, who spends some of her spare time – like all of her Heldenrat colleagues – providing pro-bono support to nonprofits and social entrepreneurs in Northern Germany.

Heldenrat was founded in 2005 by Tom Leppert and Hilke Posor who – at the time – were running Start Social at McKinsey: an incubation program for social initiatives. Finding the barriers to entry too high, they decided to set up “social startup”, which later turned into Heldenrat with the objective of applying their consulting skills and private sector expertise in the social sector. Nonprofits and social entrepreneurs contact Heldenrat with a support request for a specific challenge they are facing, and if at least two team members have the capacity and relevant expertise to support, it’s game on!

The Heldenrat Approach

The Heldenrat team understand themselves as process consultants who assume that their support-seekers have all relevant knowledge and insights to solve the issue themselves; Heldenrat’s role is to facilitate access to that knowledge. According to Birgit, “a good support program helps the individual develop their own ideas rather than forcing him or her into some pre-defined consulting process that doesn’t suit their needs. That includes offering individual support. One entrepreneur may need an office space while the next just needs a sparring partner every now and then. to me, it’s important to find the right balance between providing them with business expertise while focusing on their leadership qualities and personal development.”

Today, Heldenrat is active in six German cities: Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Bremen, Luneburg, Kiel. Knowing Tom he is already recruiting volunteers for his new location Stuttgart. The organization is a nonprofit itself and financed through donations. During our conversation I got the impression that Birgit was pretty eyes open about what Heldenrat can and cannot do. They provide one-off advisory on a specific entrepreneurial challenge, they do not compete with other incubators or other accelerators. Birgit adds:”It would be great to have an overview of who else is out there offering support. We would love to know where to send social entrepreneurs that look for more structured support. All of us supporters would benefit from sharing a network of experts and tapping into a common pool of resources and tools.”

I found some interesting business models for support organizations during my time in Belgium and the Netherlands, and I am a defender of financial sustainability for the support sector – but with Heldenrat, I can’t help but admire the generosity and dedication with which the team devotes their free time to helping social entrepreneurs out. Here is my theory for why it works:

  1. Heldenrat advisors get to pick which projects they want to work on based on their current capacity and interests.
  2. The limited nature of the intervention (focus on one issue) creates no dependency; it helps social entrepreneurs climb a hurdle, but once overcome, they move on independently.

I really like their approach. I work by myself and rely on the support and advice from friends and my network. Every now and then, it would be great to have a sparring partner from the outside; someone who doesn’t know Social Venturers and can advise on bigger questions like strategic positioning or process optimization.

Heldenrat caters to a niche in the sense that they provide structured support around challenges that are too small to join a program for, but nevertheless help their participants (social entrepreneurs and non-profits) move forward. A great complimentary service that helps fill in the gaps in between support programs (see what Discovered has to say about that).



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