Social Impact Lab Berlin

Berlin was the first city to have a Social Impact Lab and is at home in Kreuzberg – a popular and affordable alternative neighborhood in Berlin. That’s where I meet Maria Gross, core member of the Social Impact Lab team for three years. After we are caught up on the last year. I ask her about financial sustainability of the support industry for social entrepreneurs.

We need to invest more in building long-term partnerships, especially with the corporate sector. Click To Tweet

… We all need to deliver good products to our customers and I think we can support each other in achieving this goal. It is crucial for us support organizations to learn to speak the corporate language. Right now, private and social sector are worlds apart. I believe that by understanding corporate needs we can build a bridge and in return bring our world closer to them.” Maria continues to be affiliated with Social Impact but is taking some time off to run Vehement – a social venture selling vegan fight sport equipment.

From Markthalle Neun – an indoor food market in Kreuzberg – we walk over the Social Impact Lab Berlin where I sit down with Mareike Mueller, Lab manager. The organization behind all the Social Impact Labs is called Social Impact. As it started in Berlin, I feel like I owe you some history and background: Social Impact – back then called iq consult – was founded by Ashoka Fellow Norbert Kunz in 1994. Social Impact aims at developing and executing programs that support entrepreneurs with a social mission.

Since 2011, Social Impact focuses on building an infrastructure for social innovation. Click To Tweet

 At the center of this undertaking is the establishment of Social Impact Labs around Germany. Don’t get confused now. Social Impact – the organization – is the mother-ship of Social Impact Labs (five in Germany). It runs startup programs for social and inclusive entrepreneurs, and offers startup consulting. The first program is called Social Impact Start enabled by SAP and government-funded by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ). Are you with me? Through all these various startup programs, Social Impact has worked with 260+ teams and helped found over 140 social businesses. Around 10% of startups did not make it, the remaining 90% combined received more than 100 national and international awards for their business concepts and awards.

Social Impact Lab 1

Let’s see what Social Impact Lab in Berlin has to offer:

Social Impact in Berlin runs several programs for aspiring social entrepreneurs including Social Impact Start and Social Impact Finance. Social Impact Finance consists of two main elements:

A crowdfunding arm: In collaboration with Deutsche Bank Foundation and Startnext, Social Impact Finance has set up a crowdfunding platform for social entrepreneurs only, and throws in  training and support to guide startups through the crowdfunding process.

A good #SocEntSupport program is able to react to the needs of each #SocEnt. Click To Tweet

The second program under Social Impact Finance matches employees of Deutsche Bank with startups that are affiliated with Social Impact Lab. “In this program, it is important that employees find a match – a startup and entrepreneur that they are interested in and can work with productively. We as the facilitators make sure that participating startups clearly define their need and we check in with them regularly. The tandem lasts for more or less four months though we’d rather let the tandem decide the duration on a needs’ base.” Mareike explains. I ask her what makes an effective support program in her opinion: “A good program is able to react to the needs of each social entrepreneur individually. Social entrepreneurs here at the Social Impact Lab have very different backgrounds and pre-existing knowledge. We try look very closely at what they really need.”

Social Impact Lab Berlin 2

As in the other Social Impact Labs I had the chance to visit, I feel their golden rule revolves around delivering support programs that establish a baseline of startup expertise for every cohort, but leave enough room for individual support tailored to the needs of each entrepreneur/entrepreneurial team. And it seems to work if only 10% of startups quit or fail!

Secondly, what I really like about their business model is their efforts in setting up and maintaining strong partnerships with the private sector. In tune with what Maria said, companies can learn a lot from support organizations and their startups, for example through corporate volunteering. Both sides win. Getting partners like SAP and Deutsche Bank (private sector) or JP Morgan Chase Foundation and Telefonica Foundation (third sector) on board, is not nothing! It seems that Social Impact has learned, or is in the process of, speaking the corporate language and is pioneering a partnership model that – I hope – many other support organizations are inspired by and can learn from!


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