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.


Yunus Social Business

The interview with Yunus Social Business (YSB) was one of the first I ever held. It was in January 2015 during the Big Social in London. I remember meeting Daniel – executive and program director at Yunus Social Business – for the first time and being positively surprised by his genuine honesty about the opportunities and shortcomings of social entrepreneurship and the support sector (check out his spotlight!). A few months later, I was lucky to also speak to Bastian Mueller, head of partnerships, and get a detailed understanding of their program and objectives.

Program Insights

Yunus Social Business operates in seven different countries (Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, India, Tunisia, Uganda) and is headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. They support social entrepreneurs that have a prototype of  a startup and need help in growing their business, look for partners and financial support. Participants are selected based on their written applications and face-to-face interviews. “We are trialing a bootcamp-style assessment center that resembles a two-day version of our accelerator. As part of our selection process, this allows us to see participants interact in a group and perform under stress.” says Daniel. Successful candidates benefit from a program consisting of training in business skills and social impact by external experts, mentoring, infrastructure support, access to third party support (e.g. legal local assistance), to markets and networks. The local staff of YSB acts as a program facilitator and supports on a process level rather through content and expertise. On average, eight to twelve out of 150 applicants make it into the accelerator. While programs are run locally, the team around Daniel and Bastian works from the German headquarters in Frankfurt.

At @Yunus_SB #SocEnt receive training, mentoring, infrastructure & network access. Click To Tweet

The program is facilitated during evening courses and – where location allows – in-person. Participants from remote areas participate online and via skype. “In general, our social entrepreneurs receive two days of training, one day of coaching and one day of mentoring per week.” explains Daniel. “In total, they go through six intense program weeks followed by two months of working in the field and testing their products during which they are mainly support by mentors and coaches. After the end of that phase, they receive two weeks of additional training that leads up to pitch day at the end.” Yunus Social Business invests in four to eight accelerator enterprises. On a non-dividend basis they invest between EUR 50.000 and EUR 200.000 through equity and debt-financing.

Making Impacts Comparable

One of the central topics Daniel and I got to chat about was impact assessment. “Everybody has a different idea how to assess impact and talk about it. It creates a lot of effort and extra work. If we agreed on a more standardized method with common reference points, we could speak the same language with investors, public agencies and corporates. We are trying to re-define business, not to make profit but to re-think society. By making our impact measures comparable, there is so much we can do to evaluate business on a whole new level and re-define capitalism.”  


Yunus Social Business locations outside Germany

Being critical with yourself

During my conversation with Bastian, I ask what he thinks makes a good support program for social entrepreneurs. “First of all, it needs to be customer-oriented. When offering support, always ask yourself what participants  really need at the stage they are in at the time of joining, and along the life cycle. Beyond that, I think it takes a) good mentoring, b) access to an international network and markets, and c) local supporters in the local scene.”

And they take that part seriously. Yunus Social Business recently ran a survey with their participants to understand how their fledgling entrepreneurs rated their program. The outcome included issues that participants feel they need most support with:

  • Deal negotiation
  • Access to Alumni and other Social Entrepreneurs
  • Access to other investors
  • Financing

As well as skills needed as an aspiring social entrepreneur:

  • Branding & communication
  • Accounting
  • Legal services
  • Talent sourcing/recruiting
  • Web design
  • Co-working

While I think ANY support organization should have these assessments in place, YSB is in fact the first one I have come across to actually do it. As soon as the white paper is published, check back here to learn more! 

The charming aspect about YSB – I find – is their ability to invest in start-ups they have worked with very closely. It allows for more informed investment decisions that factor in the entrepreneurs’ personality and business context which can be crucial in volatile environments such as Tunisia or Haiti. In the pipeline of social enterprise support, YSB works with more mature entrepreneurs guiding them on their way to investment readiness. But how do you find these mature entrepreneurs in countries with historically weaker support systems such as Albania or Uganda? I see great potential in formalizing pipeline partnerships in recruiting participants especially when working in several countries.

Mark your calendars!

Yunus Social Business is organizing this years’ Global Social Business Summit on 5 & 6 November 2015 in Berlin:

The Global Social Business Summit is the worldwide leading forum for social business. This event globally accelerates the awareness of social business, fosters discussion and collaboration between practitioners and stakeholders, as well as presents and develops best practices.



Spotlight: Bastian Mueller

Bastian Mueller profile

What drives you?

Being able to enjoy the work I do is the most important thing for me. I am lucky to work with great people in the sector who inspire me and from whom I can learn. I love the change in perspective when addressing social issues from an entrepreneurial angle.

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

There has been a strong trend that social business is the next big thing and it’s so much better than charity. This brought a lot of high expectations about it being a world-saver. Let’s be honest, social business can only do so much, not everything has a business model (e.g. education, refugee work). I also think that the support industry works too much in a silo: You see the same people at the same conferences. I think we need to start looking for connections outside the industry, such as in the corporate sector, charities, and so on.

Currently reading

The Power of Social Business, by Prof. Muhammad Yunus


“I have always been interested in management with a social purpose. I spent some time working in international development and classical industry before becoming a part-time entrepreneur. I set up a pro-bono matching platform for experts and non-profits called re:frame. After almost two years, re:frame merged with BMW Foundation and continued operation under Proboneo. While I managed this transition I realized that it was time for me to do something else, and I joined Yunus Social Business.”

Want to hear more? Visit The Changer for an interview with Bastian!



Spotlight: Daniel Nowack

Daniel Nowack profile

What drives you?

I am driven by a fascination about the creative potential of entrepreneurship to solve the problems that really matter. With a great team on top of that, it’s just fun to go to work and build something that ideally leaves behind a somewhat better world than we inherited.

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

The maturity that the concept has achieved, not just recognizing but sorting it out and getting more serious about it. People are starting to wrap their heads around how to evaluate impact and consolidate as an industry. It has become less of a jungle.

At the same time, we have seen a lot of premature “celebrationists” who praised the success of social entrepreneurship before any results were assessed and created. When YSB/Grameen started we had to find a selling point in order to get the interest of corporates and the public with little substance. Now we are in a position to focus more on the things that really work. I think we should stay critical with ourselves and manage expectations. Social entrepreneurship is not a silver-bullet, it’s a great idea for now, let’s see what we can do. Undersell, over-deliver.

Currently reading

Reinventing Organisations, by Frederic Laloux (website)


Daniel spent seven years in online marketing before he founded his own web development and online consultancy for SMEs. After a five-year stint as Financial Analyst, he joined Grameen Creative Lab and eventually Yunus Social Business in 2013. “During my time in Berlin I worked with an incubator where I experienced a lot of trial and error in business incubation. I designed a program, got a good sense for the reality of a startup entrepreneur and what kind of people you should try to attract (mentors and advisers, investors).”



Field observation: Testing London waters

February 8, 2015

I just returned from a fantastic week with Unltd and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network – GSEN – in London. I met a whole lot of fellow Social Venturers passionate about supporting social entrepreneurs one way or the other –  pretty exhausted but absolutely thrilled. Time for a little recap.

The Big Social

Monday and Tuesday I attended #TheBigSocial, hosted and run by Unltd. It was a two-day event during which supporters of social entrepreneurs – mainly from the UK – came together to discuss current issues of the field, from peer support and scaling to working with corporates and universities, and so on. For some impressions, check out the Twitter stream #TheBigSocial – the 6th most trending hashtag on Twitter in the UK during those 2 days.

Global Social Entrepreneurship Network

Wednesday through Friday were dedicated to the GSEN Learning Week directed towards its 48 members. After a long-ish Q&A session with Unltd’s CEO Cliff Prior, network members gave insights into their work. I took the opportunity to grab Daniel Nowack from Yunus Social Business and Julian Wolfson from Acumen to run my first Social Venturer test interviews (Spotlights forthcoming!). I was excited to finally be speaking on Social Venturer terms while I frantically took notes (note to self – must start recording interviews) and tried to suppress the occasional gasp when hearing about their career and personal developments. The second   and third day of the Learning week were very much similar to each other in that we addressed different topics that were of different relevance to different members.

Aviary Photo_130770765477065779

Social Entrepreneurship in post-/conflict zones

In the meantime, I met up with Richard Catherall of Katarsis Ventures. Richard works – amongst many other things – with social entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict zones which – I will admit – I hadn’t given much thought until meeting him. I have worked with social entrepreneurs in Pakistan, Yemen, Ukraine and Honduras. In the back of my mind I always knew they had more challenges to struggle with, but during my conversation with Richard I gained a better grasp of the deeper systemic challenges to social entrepreneurship in conflict zones. Challenges that require a different type of support. Richard confirmed an observation I had made myself over the past years: social ventures in fragile environments are more creative and much more resilient than the ones working in more developed countries. “In these regions, conflict has fostered people’s self-determination. For some (social) entrepreneurs, it has shifted their vision of who they are; their gritty way of life has honed them to become their own person. There is lots to go for!”

Social entrepreneurs in conflict-zones don’t have a sector of social enterprise support. Click To Tweet

This won’t come as a surprise: Social ventures in post-/conflict zones develop different kinds of solutions, which we like to call innovative. I believe – and hope to test this hypothesis some day – that they have a different understanding of the issue’s root cause (cultural understanding, personal experience of the need etc.), and work with different resource allocations available to them in these zones. As compared to social entrepreneurs I have worked with in more developed countries, the ones Richard and I were talking about face different institutional contexts and deal with issues of different severity. “These social entrepreneurs don’t have a whole sector of social enterprise support to turn to. They find the support they need when they need it in their local environment. They help each other out and when they come across a support organization they expect it to be sustainable and not dependent on import or limited funding.” I wonder how local incubators/accelerators operate in these contexts and can make use of these strong local ties. How are their programs different from the ones I have met in Europe and the US so far?

Aviary Photo_130770765748719661


I learned three things this week:

  1. Big groups need proper facilitation. Throughout the week I couldn’t help but feel that precious energy was lost due to sessions that ran too long and had no specific objective.
  2. The conversation about Social Venturers’ personal backgrounds are not only inspiring but tend to take up most of the interview time. It is entirely possible that I am the only person who is inspired by the curricula vitae of other Social Venturers, but just in case I am not: I am keeping and highlighting this as one stand-alone aspect of Social Venturers.
  3. I need to sit down and develop a concrete concept for Social Venturers. These test interviews were really helpful in trying myself out as an interviewer and testing the questions in real-life situations, but I need to become more structured and take a stronger lead during these conversations. Hopefully I can follow up with these four to fill some gaps once I have set up the questionnaire accordingly.