Log Book I: Europe

Full disclosure. It was hard writing this post. Having travelled across Europe for six months on a quest to find best practices, current trends and common challenges in social enterprise support has been one of the most rewarding, humbling, exciting, exhausting and growth experiences of my career. But sitting down and trying to capture it all on a few pages is a daunting task. I want to share all the enthusiasm, the learning, the information overload, early-morning train rides, sore feet and sugar lows with you all without making this sound like some “final report”. Because a report wouldn’t do this adventure justice. It is a snapshot at best, a flicker of an image of social enterprise support in Europe in 2015. By the time I am done typing, it will be outdated and we are ready to move on to the next adventure. This Log Book is the first in a series of snapshots of social enterprise support around the world. I am currently interviewing Social Venturers in the US and am headed down under in spring. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s Log Book I: Europe.


Social Venturers

In January 2015 I set out in search of best practices and common challenges in capacity building for social entrepreneurs. Mostly, I was keen on meeting the people behind the scenes: professionals who design and implement support programs for social entrepreneurs. I call them Social Venturers. I wanted to hear their views of the sector, what works and what doesn’t; I wanted to learn more about their programs – what happens outside of websites and annual reports, I was looking for insights and connections not captured by research surveys. I wanted to hear what program teams considered current trends and challenges. I wanted to learn a lot!

After six months, I had interviewed more than 30 Social Venturers at  27 support organizations for social entrepreneurs across Europe. With my red backpack – I named him Spivet after this adventurous explorer – I got on 11 flights, slept in 23 different beds at friends’ houses, AirBnBs and hostels. I covered 3.200 km by train and another 1.150 km by car and bus to speak to Social Venturers in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. My longest travel day took me from Edinburgh via Manchester to Amsterdam Schiphol where I caught the train to Rotterdam to interview Enviu and Outside Inc. before getting on another train to Utrecht (where I spent the night to return to Amsterdam the following day). In Amsterdam – fun fact – I marched over 10 km in one day to have three interviews across the city; that night I crashed in a hostel bunk bed exhausted. But excited.

stage and length long

I was particularly interested in speaking to organizations that offer structured capacity building for social entrepreneurs. For my research that means analyzing and interviewing 14 accelerators, six incubators, and a mix of competitions, university programs, summer schools and consultancies.

Locality matters.

Our digital age of cloud computing, social networks and mobile technology has made starting a business a lot cheaper, no doubt. We no longer face high up-front investments into brick and mortar business structures only to test and validate/belie minimum viable products. But don’t be fooled. Local support organizations and networks are key to helping fledgling social entrepreneurs off the ground. Bastian Mueller at Yunus Social Business pointed out: “Our program success hinges on supporters in the local scene to act as early adopters, mentors, customers and investors.” When I visited Oxford for a day, I experienced a thriving ecosystem of social enterprises, co-working spaces, colleges and the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University working in synergy, making Oxford one large breathing organism of social impact. In Scotland I spoke to Lindsay Chalmers at the Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network which has managed to not only promote social entrepreneurship, but grow this sector through public awareness raising, advocacy and educating consumers about the social impact of their purchasing decisions. In 2015, Edinburgh counted 200 social enterprises employing 1,220 paid staff and over 6,000 volunteers (ESEN 2015). 94% of Edinburgh’s social enterprises generated an income equivalent to US$184m from trading activities – a close to 300% increase from 2012/13. The backbone of this strong growth trend is the support program of Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network and its partners who provide training and resources to local social entrepreneurs.

Success factors

I like asking about success factors. It doesn’t sound sexy, I agree. But my brain being wired as it is, that’s how I think about the secret sauce of social startup support. In each interview there comes the moment where I get to ask the person opposite me “So… what do you think makes a program effective in empowering social entrepreneurs?”, and while the answers vary, three themes stood out to me across all interviews in Europe: facilitation over curriculum teaching, founders’ personal development and leading by example as a support intermediary.

Facilitation. At Unltd’s Big Social in London in January 2015, the main questions circled around whether to offer generalized training to as many social founders as possible, or focus on individualized support to selected individuals. Throughout my trip I found that the majority of support organizations have embarked on a third route. They make resources accessible for founders to self-select what to study up about, and act as facilitators. “Social entrepreneurs that join our program come equipped with very different skill sets and backgrounds, so we focus on what they need help with at any given point in time.” explained Mareike Mueller at Social Impact Lab Berlin. Similar words from Richard Brownsdon at Impact Hub Westminster: “I believe in just-in-time learning. During the startup phase, founders simply don’t have the time to learn about topics that aren’t relevant to them at the time. We give them support when they need it.”

Support topics

This trend towards facilitation also shows in how Social Venturers perceive their role in working with startups. Kristina Notz at Social Entrepreneurship Akademie in Munich views her job as “asking the right questions, questions that identify the blind spots.” and otherwise “giving founders the mental space for testing and learning.” Birgit Schunke at Heldenrat – a pro-bono consultancy for social initiatives and entrepreneurs in Germany – said: “Every individual or organizations we work with come to us with a different need. Our role is not to solve their problem, but to help them develop their own ideas. We believe that founders already have the answers, we help them get to that realization, and access this knowledge.” The team around Kaat Peeters at Sociale Innovatiefabriek in Belgium takes the facilitation-approach to a whole new level: In their program, social innovators support each other. With an alternative currency-system in place, Sociale Innovatiefabriek provides training templates and content, but the actual mentoring takes place among peers. “Social entrepreneurs can better relate to each other’s challenges, make relevant connections and have credibility as mentors.” The program team supports them where necessary, while their peer-system has given rise to a tight community and strong network with external experts, both of which last way beyond the program itself.

Support services

Founder development. Kai Hockerts at Copenhagen Business School explained to me where he sees the biggest hurdle for the social enterprise sector: “We aren’t short of people from the social sector but they often lack entrepreneurial/managerial training. As a leader of any organizations you are responsible for the people around you; at the same time you can barely share your concerns with anyone (investors, beneficiaries, employees). We need to invest more in developing leadership skills.” Siobhan O’Keeffe at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland thinks along the same lines: “We focus on turning social entrepreneurs into strong leaders. In the end of the day, it is up to them to secure public approval and get a cohort of followers and supporters behind them. Most social entrepreneurs aren’t equipped for that. They must be as solid as the team they are leading to run their business.”

Practice what you preach. When Leon Reiner and his team opened their new space for Impact Hub Berlin he made a simple yet surprising observation: “We are designing the Hub according to the needs of our members. After all, customer discovery and validation is what we challenge founders to do – why shouldn’t WE?” “We try to be as customer-oriented, as we require it from our founders.”, Bastian Mueller at Yunus Social Business chimed in, “As part of this, we survey them to figure out how relevant each program component is to them. We were surprised by some of the findings.” There we have it! Practice what you preach. Be critical. Solicit feedback.

Vincent de Coninck at Oksigen Lab in Belgium and Kristina Notz raised a similar point with regard to financial sustainability. Both argued that support organizations need to be financially sustainable if that is what we expect from our founders. This is probably one of the biggest questions I came across during this trip. Figuring out business models for support organizations is top of my research list, and I can’t give you an answer yet. What I have gathered so far is that the most promising models have diversified their income streams, work with corporate partners, manage to secure government contracts and have embedded themselves in an active angel investing community. This clearly is a starting point at best. I have accepted that to-date most support organizations rely on philanthropic funding. But let’s be honest here: in order to be credible role-models to the founders we work with, we need to become a lot more creative in generating revenue.

programs and funding long

And I am only just getting started… I would love to share more of the observations and insights I came across during those six months. But they don’t fit into a list of best practices or common learnings, they lie in the space between, are a piece within the bigger picture that we rarely pause to look at. And they differ from country to country. Instead, I invite you to explore the grey area, organizational trends and personal stories on right here on this website – be my guest!

I have come across some great resources for those of you looking for larger-scale data-driven insights into social enterprise support around the world. I recommend “From Seed to Impact” by the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network, Monitor Deloitte’s “Accelerating Impact” and ANDE’s “Bridging the Pioneer Gap”. These guys have done a phenomenal job in gathering and analyzing data that informs best practices in this “industry” of support organizations. They don’t focus on Europe, but they give a good introduction of the space.

Wrapping up.

If you are still reading at this point, I feel obliged to send you on your way with some recommendations based on what I learned. I outlined at the beginning how transient this research is, how out-of-date it will be the moment it’s published. Therefore, I have boiled it down to one single piece of advice: Act like a social entrepreneur.

  • Wrap your programs around the needs of your founders,
  • create a safe space for lean experimentation, failure and learning;
  • be a facilitator and support where and when support is needed.
  • Lead by example, no more and no less.

Plug founders into your local ecosystem and you will create more than a successful support program. You will grow a living, breathing community of socially-conscious founders and supporters.

Log 04: Germany in review

April 23, 2015

Log [n.]: Personal reflection

It would feel so good to say that my trip through Germany opened my eyes to an entirely new view of the support sector, and in Cartography: Germany II you can read to what extent that is true, but apart from that there were little surprising news, which can mean two things:

  • My experience in the sector had me well prepared for what to expect, and little else has changed since I left.
  • I was not eyes open enough, did not speak to the right people, and hence, confined myself to the limits of what I already knew.

For the first, and so far only, time an interviewee tried to sell me a concept instead of sharing program details and insights. I understand that being featured on Social Venturers has some marketing value, but really, with merely 250 followers on Twitter and less than 500 on Facebook I feel flattered at best. I consider us all in the same boat with no need to self-promote our programs. In this very case, my interview partner shared very few specifics and the value proposition made no sense to me. It felt like I was listening to an accelerator’s pitch for investment instead of gaining any actual insights into the program. I ended up not using the material.

If you read Log 03 about my field visits in the Netherlands and Belgium you will know about the humility that I sensed from their Social Venturers. I experienced the same in Germany and am starting to think that it’s less of a culture-specific phenomenon. Most Social Venturers I spoke to in Germany emphasized the importance of founder-friendliness and accounting for the stage social entrepreneurs are in. At the same time, I found many of my interview partners to be very eyes-open about the shortcomings of social entrepreneurship (read Spotlights of Bastian Mueller or Daniel Nowack at Yunus Social Business).

View of Hamburg's Hafencity

View of Hamburg’s Hafencity

But what stood out most to me was the lack of… it hurts to say… enthusiasm. Most of the time I feel inspired and motivated walking out of an interview. Getting a glimpse of a support organization’s vision for a better world is an inspiring and powerful sensation! Speaking to like-minded Social Venturers who share my passion for empowering social entrepreneurs makes me stride through the streets of Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Dublin, Copenhagen purposefully, with my head held high and a greater mission to strive towards. In Germany… well… not so much. There were few surprising or enlightening moments. And don’t get me wrong, I spoke to some brilliant people at great organizations, as I did in other countries. But Germany was different. It is entirely possible that running interviews in my native tongue German makes for a different experience. It is equally possible that we Germans just aren’t easily excited and express enthusiasm in a more subtle way (I’ve heard rumors that Germans only laugh in their basements). It may also be the case that systemic funding challenges and struggles of running support organizations in Germany has disillusioned some of the people I spoke to. Maybe it’s a bit of everything. Maybe it’s just the German way.

Speaking to German #SocEntSupport orgs was different. I can't put my finger on it. Click To Tweet

Fact is: I met many dedicated Social Venturers who do great work in supporting mainly early-stage social entrepreneurs all around the country. I would love to see the sector grow more integrated and spread the support over the entire process of venture development. I would love to see a German-wide network of support organizations to exchange best practices and provide peer-support to each other. I envision something that adds enough value for Social Venturers to take the time to step back from their programs and look at the big picture. The Global Social Entrepreneurship Network is one such networks – will we have a German chapter one day, or an initiative driven from inside the sector? Can support organizations like Social Impact or Impact Hubs leverage their Germany-wide locations and network to spearhead such an initiative? If you hear anything or are thinking along these lines, let me know!   

After a month in Germany, the next stop is London!

After a month in Germany, the next stop is London!

Cartography: Germany I

Cartography [n.]: Mapping, review

My trip through Germany in April 2015 gave me the unique opportunity to speak to eight support organizations in all four corners of the country: North, South, East and West. Six of them focus their activities on Germany and selected cities within (Social Impact Labs, Heldenrat, Impact Hub Berlin), two work with social entrepreneurs internationally (Yunus Social Business, The DO School), and Social Entrepreneurship Akadamie in Munich caters to both national and international social startups offering different programs.

Local & national programs

Social Impact Labs are very similar in the services and benefits they provide as part of their support program Social Impact Start. Locally, though, each Lab has strong local partners and runs pretty self-sufficiently. I wonder if any plans are in place to make use of their Lab-network across Germany (not to mention their program-partnerships with Impact Hub Zurich and Vienna!). The Impact Hub network sets a great example for sharing knowledge and experiences among their Hub facilitators and members (though I still don’t exactly know what that looks like behind their closed doors. Did my Honorary Membership invite get lost in the mail?).

Though still young, Impact Hub Berlin is gaining a lot of traction and seems to have found their niche in the German capital. Their new space is great, no question. Let’s see what kind of programs Leon ad his team manage to line up in the months to come and I shall check back in to see how things are going.

Impact Hub Berlin 2

Impact Hub Berlin

When I first started my research into the field of social venture support organizations, I insisted on the category of pro-bono consultants solely because I had heard of Heldenrat. Strictly speaking I am looking at structured support programs for social entrepreneurs and one could argue that they only partly meet this definition. At the same time, they have a process in place of helping out struggling social entrepreneurs and charities. They are able to fill gaps in the support landscape and connect startups in need with relevant support organizations. I have tremendous respect for the team of volunteers around Tom and Birgit for devoting their free time to being volunteer advisers for startups and nonprofits in need.

International Programs

As far as internationally-oriented programs go I spoke to Yunus Social Business, the DO School and Social Entrepreneurship Akademie. Yunus Social Business is headquartered in Frankfurt and manages their core operations from there. There was little opportunity for insights into their programs at work which take place in seven countries around the world. However, their attempt of using their participants’ feedback to inform their program is remarkable even without my field visit. This seems like an easy and obvious mechanism for many of us who I’m sure have at least heard of the Lean Startup Approach, yet Yunus Social Business was the first social venture support organization who was able to make concrete statements about the effectiveness and relevance of their training schedule and services by gathering feedback from their participants.


DO School Fellows of the Green Store Challenge

While working at the DO School over the period of 18 months I was lucky to work closely with several cohorts of social entrepreneurs. Their one-year program goes beyond supporting them in developing a plan for a social venture (during their ten weeks in Hamburg) and implementing it (ten months after) in their home communities. A lot of work within the program is dedicated to ideation, facilitation and developing participants’ personalities. After all, for the ten weeks in Hamburg, they live and work together 24/7. It’s fair to say that the dedication of Romy and her team make the difference in this program.

How many #SocEntSupport programs assess their relevance and effect through participant feedback? Click To Tweet

Social Entrepreneurship Akademie at the opposite (South) end of the country sets a good example of building up strong partnerships to secure the financial sustainability. Speaking to Kristina I realized what energy (and philanthropic capital) mutually-beneficial partnerships can bring to the table. With their active engagement with the European Venture Philanthropy Forum and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network I think of Social Entrepreneurship Akademie as one of the agenda-setters in the field in Germany, and Europe.


Cartography: Germany II

Cartography[n.]: Mapping, review

If you have read Field Study: Germany, you know that I did some research on social entrepreneurship in Germany before diving in. One of the studies emphasized that strong welfare organizations make it difficult for German social entrepreneurs to establish and position themselves. Talking to Tom Leppert at Heldenrat, I had the chance to discuss this point: “We have a huge social sector that fits the category of social enterprise, we just don’t call it that. Our social economy has always been strong.”, said Tom.


View of Hamburg’s Hafencity after a day at the DO School

Let’s take a moment to clarify what we mean by Social Economy: it basically describes the part of our economy that caters to our social needs as human beings. In other words, the Social Economy delivers products and services to address social issues. Tom: “Just look at Social Economy institutions like hospitals and health care, ambulatory care, labor market programs or youth services. They all run as social enterprises, only we call them welfare institutions. The underlying concept is the same. It’s an industry with an annual turnover of more than 165 billion Euros employing some 4.4 million Germans1)http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/wiso/10615.pdf. It’s pretty big and yet still, we call for the promotion of social entrepreneurship as if it’s the Next Big Thing. Ashoka, for example, has understood that and is getting welfare organizations like Malteser (click here for Malteser International) on board through cooperations. And for good reason. Welfare organizations may come across as from another time, but they have a lot of experience in setting up sustainable business models and acquiring funding.”

Caritas, e.g., runs U25: one of the best peer-based suicide prevention programs for youth Click To Tweet

… that  I have ever seen.”

To tell you the truth, apart from volunteering with the Salvation Army in Paris, I have had very little contact points with welfare organizations, certainly not in Germany (part of my East-German heritage?). Once I started browsing their websites, I was pretty astonished to see how much work they do, for how many vulnerable communities in Germany. As I dove in, I discovered that Tom was right, many of these welfare organizations are in fact registered as limited liability companies with tax-exempt status (gGmbH).

Where does this leave us?

To me, Germany’s reputation as a welfare state has won new meaning. I used to think this was due to generous government funding of welfare – and there’s truth to that. But I have also come to understand that our Social Economy is driven by savvy social entrepreneurs in large established welfare organizations. And suddenly, Germany seems to have a wealth in experience and know-how in social entrepreneurship. How can we utilize this and integrate traditional welfare organizations and the newer German social enterprise movement led by many support organizations that I have met? Can this be one approach to filling gaps in the support pipeline and growing an ecosystem that offers capacity building not only to early-stage social startups, but more advanced entrepreneurs, too? I am pleased to see that large players such as Ashoka take it upon themselves to explore this avenue. They certainly have the reputation and legitimacy to play a lead role in this experiment. At the same time, I encourage smaller support organizations to think in the same direction and see what can be learned from local welfare organizations.

Do we need a #SocEnt label and how do we incorporate all relevant actors and stakeholders? Click To Tweet

I recently spoke to two Social Venturers in Germany via skype after returning to the US. They are concerned with the low visibility of the social enterprise sector in Germany and are looking for ways to increase public awareness and participation which raises another question: How do you represent a sector part of which has been around for so long under a different label (“Welfare organizations”)? Do we need this new label and how do we incorporate all relevant actors and stakeholders?

References   [ + ]

1. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/wiso/10615.pdf

Spotlight: Kristina Notz

Kristina Notz

What drives you?

To give other people the opportunity to turn their ideas into reality and to find ways to turn my own ideas into reality. I am not Gen Y or a Millennial, I don’t have this romantic view on “I want to change the world.” I want to do things and bring ideas to life that have purpose and are genuine.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

In my view, there should be made no distinction between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. To me, they are part of the same thing. But speaking about organizations that focus on supporting mission-driven startups – for the sake of the question – it is incredible what a support infrastructure has developed in Germany over the last years. We have communication agencies (Kombuese), graphic agencies (Jouvo) and some media platforms (e.g. enorm magazine, The Changer) focused solely on social entrepreneurs and organizations. The number of support and university programs geared towards social entrepreneurs has grown and so has the sector of impact investing.

Currently reading

High Rise, by J.G. Ballard,

Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it), by Salim Ismael


Kristina comes from an entrepreneurial family and holds a Masters degree in politics, French and European Law. After some time in political consultancy, she decided she did not see herself in academia and preferred being a practitioner. “I had always been interested in enablement to empower others to develop their ideas. I co-founded an idea- and startup competition called GENERATION-D – that’s how I learned more about social entrepreneurship. After three and a half years at GENERATION-D and almost a year as community manager at the LMU Entrepreneurship Center I joined the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie.”



Spotlight: Thomas Leppert


What drives you?

To help those people who actually get up from their sofas in order to do something. I am not an entrepreneur. When I can meet someone over coffee to listen to his or her idea, and support them in making it become a reality – that’s when I’m at my best. I always ask myself how I can support the ones who are out there to create change.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

It has expanded a great deal, it has arrived in mainstream. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like every German knows what social entrepreneurship is, but it has become a lot more popular, and it has the infrastructure to go with it. These days, if you want to start a social enterprise, it is much easier to find support than it was even ten years ago.

Currently reading

Wanted: Heroes. Project management for honorary posts, by Michael Wurster and Maria Prinzessin von Sachsen-Alternburg


Tom worked as Project Manager in the private sector when in 2004 he came across startsocial. “I was looking for an opportunity to work pro bono and had tried several things but nothing really stuck. At startsocial, I was able to contribute my knowledge and experience as a mentor and coach. I started thinking that the social sector needs exactly that: a consultancy for social projects that do not have the budget for one the large consultancies. Together with my colleague Hilke Posor, we put more thought into this idea and in 2005, we started out as „social startup“ – which is now Heldenrat. I spent the last ten years building up some expertise in the field of social economy and – as part of that – social entrepreneurship; in part through my work for Heldenrat, in part through my dissertation on social entrepreneurship (link).”

Tom now works at Robert Bosch Stiftung as Program Officer with a focus on projects fostering civil society within their department of Education, Society & Culture, and continues to be on the board of Heldenrat.


Spotlight: Birgit Schunke


What drives you?

Our economy can, and should be, human. I want to contribute to that through connecting worlds, through teaching and empowering people and teams, by inspiring them to be open to other ways of operating.

After the war, our motto was “Economy Above All!”; to get Germany back on her feet, people had to function and other areas were subordinated, but I think we’ve been overdoing it for a while now. It is time to find a new balance among economy, social sector and the environment, overall and within companies and within individuals and to learn from each other to make our one world a bit better.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

Whether business or social sector: more and more people feel the need to change something, to live and work socially, sustainably and meaning-oriented. I believe the “worlds” are coming closer together and it is more about being human and integrating the different parts of our lives.

There might be more collaboration and synergies between big companies and social entrepreneurs, for example, it is not green washing but real “making the world a better place”- together.

Currently reading

  • A whole new mind, by Dan Pink (TED talk here)
  • Start With Why, by Simon Sinek,
  • Reinventing Organizations, by Frederik Laloux


Birgit is a consultant for organization and project management, lecturer and facilitator. Since 2008 she has supported social entrepreneurs and non-profits at Heldenrat e.V.

After her international business studies she worked in Marketing and Sales and before switching to the social education sector as branch manager. Since her certification in project management she has been self-employed. Birgit supports social projects from start to evaluation and business projects especially in social aspects. She advises social entrepreneurs, coordinated the start of the Social Impact Lab in Hamburg, gives lectures and seminars at different Northern German colleges and is co-founder of the Heldenrat GmbH.  In all her activities she seeks the balance of economical and social aspects and to bring people and worlds in exchange.


Social Entrepreneurship Akademie

I met Kristina and Dominik from Social Entrepreneurship Akademie at the GSEN Learning week in London in January 2015. We had in fact all worked in the German support sector in 2013/14: Kristina and Dominik in Munich (South) and me in Hamburg (North). We had to take a trip to London to connect in person, months after I had left Germany to go work on Social Venturers.

Half a year in we developed long-term strategies to secure our financial sustainability. Click To Tweet

The Social Entrepreneurship Akademie was founded in 2010 as a joint cooperation of Munich’s four big universities (LMU, TUM, University of Applied Sciences, and Universität BW). Stiftung Mercator and Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft provided initial funding for the first two years that helped set up Social Entrepreneurship Akademie; it is now self-financed. “The idea of the project was not to establish a program only for the duration of the funding. Half a year into our operations we started developing long-term strategies to secure the academy’s financial sustainability. As an educator and enabler we wanted to “walk to talk” and create something that would last and make a meaningful contribution to the social entrepreneurship landscape in Germany”, says Kristina.

Academy Programs

And indeed, based on their understanding as an educational institution and close affiliation with higher education institutions in Munich, they offer a variety of training and support programs for aspiring social entrepreneurs.

In 2011, Social Entrepreneurship Akademie first offered their two-year qualification program in social innovation. During the first year, up to 25 participants, mainly students, learn the theory behind social entrepreneurship and tools needed to turn promising ideas into practice. During the second year, mentors support them in implementing their ideas. Best I can tell, participants are motivated, and most importantly, successful. To date, the academy has worked with 24 teams through their Social Innovation Program; 50% of which have continued their social venture. “Demand for the program has been great; we are currently scaling a short version of the qualification to a European level. Supported by KfW Foundation and together with local lecturers and social entrepreneurs we will implement a two-day seminar with around 50 universities across Germany and Europe.”, Kristina explains

IMPACT:werkstatt on social design copyright: Social Entrepreneurship Akademie

IMPACT:werkstatt on social design
copyright: Social Entrepreneurship Akademie

In cooperation with the university-based Entrepreneurship Center in Munich and – most recently SAP Foundation  –  Social Entrepreneurship Akademie runs the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School. Each summer, students from around the world come together in Munich to work on their social business ideas to address pressing global challenges. Central topics in recent years were Waste (2014), Re-Thinking Education (2013), People on our planet – Challenges of the future (2012) and Water (2011) (for a full list, visit the Review tab on www.globalsummerschool.org). 35 students from all over the globe develop their business idea during business planning workshops and sessions specific to their central Challenge. The ten-day summer school in Munich culminates in a final pitch event during which all teams present their concepts in front of an audience of 200 educators, decision makers, investors and guests. Should you find yourself in Southern Germany on September 24, 2015 – get your free ticket here and join this year’s celebration!

Thanks to cross-sector partnerships @SEAkademie offers 4 #SocEntSupport programs. Click To Tweet

In collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation Germany Kristina and her team annually organize Act for Impact – a competition for the best entrepreneurial ideas to promote social mobility in Germany. Between February and April, teams apply with their idea for a social venture that fosters education and integration. 15 teams move into the second selection round out of which five finalists get to pitch their idea in front of a jury in June. The winner receives EUR 40.000, including business development coaching through the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie to take their idea further. The most recent winner was “Hotel Utopia” a hotel in Berlin offering job training and employment for refugees in Germany.

Beyond that, the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie offers one-on-one coaching for social startups, and workshops/seminars covering anything from “Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship” to “Financing social business models” and “Demonstrating your impact in accordance with the Social Reporting Standard”.

Networks & Partnerships

Clearly, Social Entrepreneurship Akademie is keeping pretty busy offering such a diversity in programs. I ask Kristina what makes their approach different. “We work very closely with universities and our target group is not necessarily founders. We want to get students from all disciplines excited about social entrepreneurship which is why we offer so many different formats.”

What about partnerships? “As a network organization we value and invest in strong, long-term and mutually beneficial partnerships, be it with foundations, universities or even companies. Receiving funding for one of our programs of course is great. But we can do more by asking partners what we can do for them. We believe that creating this kind of shared value is the foundation for a successful and sustainable collaboration with any partner. Of course we don’t lunge into three-year partnerships straight away. We develop a smaller scale project to test-drive the collaboration and see how it goes for both sides. If we see potential, we dream big and offer a big exciting project, with all the risks and uncertainty. So far, it has paid off.” says Kristina.

3 generations of winners of Act for Impact: App Camps (2014), Hotel Utopia (2015) Hero Society (2013) (left to right) copyright: Social Entrepreneurship Akademie

3 generations of winners of Act for Impact: App Camps (2014), Hotel Utopia (2015) Hero Society (2013) (left to right)
copyright: Social Entrepreneurship Akademie

Social Entrepreneurship Akademie is part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network and play an active role in organizing the annual conference of the European Venture Philanthropy Association. “I don’t always have the time and capacity to dive in and make maximum use of everything that is offered.” claims Kristina. “But it’s important to collaborate with other support organizations. We have an elite of big support organizations and many great smaller players that do a lot of grassroots work. Aspiring social entrepreneurs in Germany should have little trouble finding the support they need in the early stages of their venture development. In fact, some social start-ups move from support program to support program without ever really taking off. I think we as enablers should make an effort to align our activities to offer relevant and tailored support. That way, we would avoid competition among ourselves and put impact first again.”

Early-stage #SocEnt in Germany should have little trouble finding the support they need. Click To Tweet

I don’t know if there is anything left for me to say. I think Kristina hit the nail on the head. With a continuously growing number of incubator, accelerators and other support programs for emerging social entrepreneurs I have been wondering what dynamics are at play once the support market becomes as saturated as it is in Germany. Maybe all support organizations enter into fierce competition for funding and the best applicants, maybe they start to coordinate and collaborate to build a strong ecosystem and support pipeline.





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).



Spotlight: Romy Kraemer

Rommy long

What drives you?

Seeing other people grow. On a larger scale, I always want to find out what’s new and what’s happening. I am interested in new and emerging fields, I want to understand them, and then move on to the next thing.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

Having a platform like The Changer has been a turning point. It tells you what is happening in the sector in Germany, and which actors are involved. Also, they are a great resource for jobs, events, interviews and sector insights. Secondly, I think the interest in impact investing has grown a lot over the past five years. There is more to come in that respect.

Currently reading

The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook, by Rupert Scofield (link)


“I have a masters in work and organization psychology. Around 2004 I became interested in the intersection of Corporate Social Responsibility – CSR – and international development and especially the role of highly contested industries like mining & oil in both fields. I started a PhD project on local anti-mining campaigns with a focus on India. While doing field research in Orissa, I learned a lot about the shortcomings of the non-profit sector, the grassroots reality of CSR and development projects. That’s when I started getting interested in social entrepreneurship as another way of creating public goods.

Most of what I do now is learned by – don’t laugh – just doing it! For example, during my PhD in Rotterdam, I co-founded a campus sustainability initiative and learned a lot about stakeholder engagement. To me, the essence of learning lies not so much in listening to well-known experts  but in working with other people (like our Fellows at the DO School) where I learn every day from their questions and challenges. The greatest thing for me is seeing a project succeed that I like or supported myself. Some Fellows come in with an early stage idea, then turn it around 180 degrees during the coaching and make it fly! I get to see this in action almost every day, and that’s great learning right there.”

To learn more about Romy, read her interview on The Changer (google translate if you don’t speak German).