Cartography: London

May 1, 2015

Cartography [n.]: Mapping, review

London was an incredible experience. I met with eight Social Venturers in only three days and spent another two days running across town and filming expert interviews for one of my clients. And I actually need to consult my notebook schedule to recall all the people, organizations, locations and contexts of these terrific encounters.

Why is the #UK ahead in driving #SocEnt? Click To Tweet

I ask all Social Venturers which countries they consider ahead in the field of social entrepreneurship, and most of them reply “the UK”. When I met with Stephen Miller, back then evaluation manager at Unltd, he had some explanation: “I think the UK is ahead for two reasons: Firstly, the government has been very committed to supporting social entrepreneurship and, secondly, we had some very strong actors who have pioneered research and programs the field such as Unltd and Nesta.” I buy that. And still I wonder how come that the UK government saw the potential in social entrepreneurship as early as in the nineties and early 2000’s while countries like Germany and France seem to have ignored it. Do the British have more pioneering spirit? The European Union has jumped on the bandwagon of social innovation (better late than never?!) and are investing in research and competitions on European level (BENISI, TRANSITION, European Social Innovation Competition to name just a few initiatives). yet I can’t shake the feeling that other national governments are waiting to see what happens – failing to understand that this is not the way innovation works.

Thames stroll

Thames stroll

I asked Paul Miller at Bethnal Green Ventures the same question and received a similar answer: “The Cabinet Office and Nesta have been very supportive in driving the social innovation space. The enthusiasm of the government to create a market for social investment has been a great driver for researching and trialing different social enterprise support mechanisms. At the same time, I believe that technology has made a difference: If social enterprises were only about brick and mortar, they would be very cost-intensive. Thanks to the growth and access to tech, however, prototyping social ventures has become a lot cheaper and faster. It opens more opportunities to develop a product or service, go to market, test, and refine or start again without the high up-front investment that is required without the use of technology.”

Thanks to technology prototyping social ventures has become a lot cheaper and faster. Click To Tweet

Richard Brownsdon at Impact Hub Westminster adds: “The social enterprise sector is growing both in terms of social enterprises and support organizations thanks to a shift in this generation’s work-life culture. In today’s purpose economy, younger generations work in dynamic ways; they want jobs with purpose and if they can’t find them, they will create them.”


Calling it a night

I spent my third day in London at an event called Business for Good – Good for Business. I interviewed and filmed (social) entrepreneurs and business leaders who are striving for more ethical/sustainable/responsible business in the UK and Europe – broadly speaking. One of my interviewees spoke about the role of digital skills for social start-ups and similar to Richard and Paul, he explained to me what great opportunities the internet and related products and services  offer to this generation of emerging entrepreneurs. Being able to write code, or work with programmers, enables tech-related startups to develop  and test their business ideas at relatively low cost thanks to agile development. Social entrepreneurs, in particular, can benefit from this development through reaching their target markets and campaigning for their cause, spreading the word about their solution and activating supporters beyond a local level. I am not saying that this holds for all social entrepreneurs working in any field, but I have come to understand that we experience a wealth of knowledge and resources that was simply not available five or ten years ago; let alone the opportunities of gaining technical skills even through distance learning at low or no cost (Code Academy, DECODED, various MOOCs).

Nesta HQ

Nesta HQ

Another day of my London trip was devoted to meeting with professionals whom I met with simply to hear what they were working on and talk through some of the questions that had bubbled to the top over the past months. With Jessica Stacey I spoke about her experience in impact acceleration, and finding the balance between research and policy, and working in the field. Lily Bowles shared some insights into her time at Village Capital and why she had opted for a masters at London School of Economics. Madeleine Gabriel and Lou-Davina Stouffs at Nesta introduced me to TRANSITION and the Innovation Growth Lab – both aimed at exploring common and best practices in scaling (social) entrepreneurship and trialing support practices, respectively.

All in all, London was a great mix of meeting with Social Venturers who work in support programs, and meeting like-minded people with similar research interests. London is vibrant with social entrepreneurship support and related research, I have only just dipped a toe into the scene and look forward to coming back and meet more Social Venturers!

Spotlight: Alessandro Palmieri


What drives you?

I believe in the power of people and communities to change the world for better.

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

I have only been in London for under a year but I would say that we have a great number of support offers for social entrepreneurs here in London, more than anywhere else. Many corporates have started to give support to social enterprises through programmes and contests. They’ve increasingly recognized the benefits of reconnecting their people with their social purpose. However, there is a need for a safe space where corporates and social enterprises can come together to get to know each other better.

Currently reading

Leading from the emerging future, by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer


“Back in Italy, I worked at an agency for internationalization before joining a startup that helped users find the right roommate. After graduating from my masters in business management, I went to Australia to take some time off and figure out what I really wanted to do. In October 2014, I obtained a scholarship to start working at Benisi and I have since transitioned to being community manager here at Impact Hub King’s Cross.”



Spotlight: Richard Brownsdon


What drives you?

Life. I am passionate about having an impact, teaching and sharing, exploring the world, living a healthy life.

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

The sector has grown a lot over the last year, in terms of both social entrepreneurs and support organizations. Also, I think the work-life-culture in the sector has shifted. The younger generations are increasingly working in dynamic ways, they want a job with purpose and if they can’t find that, they will start their own business.

Currently reading

  • Influence, by Cialdini
  • Value Proposition Design, by Osterwalder et al.
  • Civilization and its Discontents, by Freud


Richard has worked in the social startup support sector for about five years, including with organizations like ClearlySo, Unltd, and Ashoka.

“Much of my work has focused on helping social entrepreneurs raise money. About three years ago, I went freelance and started testing out my own entrepreneurial ideas, while supporting other social startups too. My main client has certainly been Impact Hub Westminster, where I have been a long term contractor, helping them to develop and deliver social startup support for their ecosystem.”

Richard runs his own company Inspiring Adventures, and launched several projects through it, including social enterprise learning tours for which he won an award:“I love testing ideas of my own, whilst also working to help others with their businesses. I think it helps me understand the needs of the entrepreneur, from the inside out.”

When he’s not working at Impact Hub Westminster, he loves to explore social enterprises and responsible travel opportunities around the world.  This has included 3 months on a not-for-profit cruise ship called Peace Boat circumnavigating the world, to writing an ebook about his responsible travel in Brazil (to be published in November 2015).

Learn more about him here.  



Impact Hub Westminster

I first visited Impact Hub Westminster during my London visit in January 2015. I had met Richard Brownsdon back then who was just about to fly off to work on his own venture – Inspiring Adventures – in a social enterprise retreat in Bali. I figured that interesting people work in interesting places. Back in January we had gotten around to a match of table tennis but not much more and I was keen to follow up with him on this second trip to London.

Impact Hub Westminster is located on a large floor on New Zealand House in Mayfair, close to Piccadilly Circus. You sign in with security, receive a visitor pass and already feel like you are about to witness something important. That day, 180 people (conservative estimate) were working away when I walked in. It was a busy environment that urged me to get going with the interview, too. Time is money.

Impact Hub Westminster was founded in 2011 and is one of the four Impact Hubs in London. I was surprised to find that both programs running at the time were free of charge for the entrepreneurs. Raise Impact is a crowdfunding program that coaches entrepreneurs through the process of setting up and running a crowdfunding campaign. It offers free classes in PR & marketing, creation & logistics, deal structuring and pitching.

copyright by Impact Hub Westminster

copyright by Impact Hub Westminster

Secondly, Richard and his team only just finished the Impact Investment Ready Program – a two-day course on assessing your investment readiness and approaching impact investors successfully. Both programs are funded by the European Union and therefore free to participants. For the first time it occurred to me that offering programs for free is great if you can afford it. At the same time it sets the tone within this sector that some support is for free while other programs may charge for a similar service. I stand by my view that support programs for social entrepreneurs represent a quality service that is worth investing in from the side of the social entrepreneur.

I ask Richard what he thinks makes a good support program. “Give entrepreneurs what they need, when they need it. During their startup phase, founder teams have so much else on their plates, they need to balance their priorities and any good program should be able to provide just in time learning.”

Since my visit in April, Impact Hub Westminster launched Impact Scholarship 2015 – a scholarship program for social entrepreneurs developing clean energy solutions. This is the start of the support that Impact Hub Westminster will be offering to cleantech companies in the coming months and years, with a new cleantech accelerator scheduled to start in 2016.

Impact Hub Westminster is a great example of a local and global community alike, and a co-working space built around it. If you are ever in London and need a co-working desk, make sure to stop by Impact Hub Westminster! With 12,000 square foot it’s huge and you are guaranteed to meet great people!