Spotlight: Wieke van der Zouwen


What drives you?

I’ve been privileged to be born in this country and we are not looking at a long-term sustainable world in which everyone strives. On the contrary, we are living at the expense of others and nature. I have the great opportunity to enable others to do good, and that’s what I feel obliged to do.

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

There has been quite a big shift in the thinking about impact. People have started to see that you can make a profit and have an impact at the same time. We are finally moving out of the traditional NGO field.

What are you currently reading?

The Startup Game – Inside the Partnership between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs by William L. Draper


Wieke studied International Development studies, Spanish, and holds a masters in International Relations. As a project manager she worked for various social enterprises in fields such as IT and education. Wieke’s experiences as a freelancer help her relate to the struggles of the start-up entrepreneurs she works with. “The most influential experience in my career so far was joining Impact Hub Amsterdam. If you ask me, it takes guts for social entrepreneurs to think outside the I-have-to-earn-money box and out impact first. That has been a real motivation.”



Impact Hub Amsterdam

“Profit is not a dirty word here.”

On day two in Amsterdam I met Wieke van der Zouwen who runs an acceleration program at Impact Hub Amsterdam, and we followed up a couple of days later during an insightful conversation about the Impact Hub Network which I had been keen to learn more about for years.

Creativity beats the Grey

Impact Hub Amsterdam is located in an old industrial complex in the middle of Westerpark in Amsterdam (Looks an awful lot like North Amsterdam to me, but what do I know?). The city continued to wrap me in grey-ness and damp air through which I fought my way to Westerpark. Even the daffodils looked beaten up by the lack of sunshine while pedestrians were walking by with their heads down against the wind and drizzle. The outlook of sleeping in a ten-bed hostel room that night was not necessarily my light at the end of the tunnel. Impact Hub Amsterdam, on the other hand, is a bright open space that invites collaboration and creativity. When I first stepped in, I was almost blinded by chalkboards with information of all colors and fonts scribbled all over, a large wooden kitchen table that seats over 20 people, and big industrial-looking light fixtures. It cheered me up to feel like I had just walked into a craft workshop, surrounded by fifty or so crafts(wo)men typing and chatting away. I was up for it, “Let’s get to work!”

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Speaking to Wieke was exactly that – getting to work. Precise and matter-of-fact information about their working model made it one of the most efficient and productive interviews I had had to that point. I suppose if you run a co-working space for social innovators, this attitude keeps your head over water. And with success: Impact Hub Amsterdam, like other Impact Hubs, manages to finance itself through entrepreneurs’ fees and venue renting. Whoever thinks there is no revenue to be made through social entrepreneurs – watch these guys!

Apart from co- and networking, Impact Hub Amsterdam functions as an incubator and accelerator alike, providing support to more than one stage of social entrepreneur. The Business Model Challenge offers start-ups at the prototype stage a five-day workshop covering business modelling, storytelling and pitching which culminates in a one-day final pitch event during which start-ups meet potential clients and business partners. They benefit from peer-to-peer as well as mentoring from industry and business experts, join sessions and master classes different business topics, and become part of the Impact Hub Network (three-months membership).

And social entrepreneurs pay for that package - why not? Click To Tweet

For more advanced social entrepreneurs in their post-revenue stage, the Investment Ready Program provides 12 program days over four months leading up to an investor forum; the winner is awarded EUR 50,000. Tailored towards the needs of social business that have moved on from the start-up stage, this program focuses more on strategic planning, financing, and leadership skills and business acumen.

Scaling Social Enterprise

About the recently launched  Scaling Program Wieke says:”Innovative entrepreneurial solutions that tackle Europe’s major social and environmental challenges are all around us. Impact Hub Scaling is a program designed for social enterprises ready to scale locally & internationally. For one full year, up to 100 participating social entrepreneurs will be immersed in the Impact Hub network and acquire knowledge, skills and advice from top mentors located in Amsterdam, Athens, Bucharest, London King’s Cross, Madrid, Milan, Stockholm and Vienna.” I should learn more about this during my visit to Impact Hub King’s Cross a few weeks later.

'Profit is not a dirty word here.' Click To Tweet

“Entrepreneurs need profit to become sustainable and make investments towards their long-term success.” And the Impact Hubs seem to be getting this part right. Making a profit to secure your program’s sustainability for generations of social entrepreneurs to come also means practicing what you preach. Amen.


Spotlight: Jacquelien Bunt


What drives you?

My career has always been about doing things I like and challenging myself into new areas… And by doing that, I can help people make a better life for themselves, which makes it even better.

Biggest #SocEnt trend in the last 5 years?

Social Enterprise has definitely become “hot” in the last five years. Now we have the challenge of upscaling from “projects” and “pilots” to viable businesses and making sure that the fact that we are “social” is not what sets us apart because being social is the norm.

Currently reading:

  • Professionally – Happy Profit by Herman Toch
  • Personally – Amsterdam. A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto.


With a background in industrial engineering, Jacquelien worked in telecommunications in the Netherlands and Asia before setting up her first social venture that was aimed towards providing job opportunities to Vietnamese school dropouts. Jacquelien says “I couldn’t really get my foot in the market and thus wasn’t contributing to the changes I hoped to see.  So I decided to work on other projects such as micro-finance and then joined dance4life where I could help to bring about change. When I learned about Discovered, I was interested because it coupled my passion for using business as a way of enabling people to improve their lives with my love of handmade products and the experiences I had as a project manager.” From her experience at discovered, I ask what her advice is for other social entrepreneurs: ”Make sure that you do it. Having a theory of change is fine, but there is also a rough reality. Don’t be a perfectionist, roll your sleeves up and start doing! It always gets you somewhere. And remember, it is always easy for others to point out what you are not doing. Don’t listen to the cynics.”

twitter @dscvrd



Through the eyes of a Dutch social entrepreneur

Between my field visits to Kennisland, Social Enterprise NL and Impact Hub Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to meet with Jacquelien Bunt to look at the offers of Dutch support organizations through the lens of a social entrepreneur. As someone who works at an online marketplace for artisanal and upcycled fashion from emerging economies, Jacquelien had cycled to our meeting in her high heels and as I pointed it out (very nice shoes, she is a pro!), she countered: “Oh, cycling is the easy part, heels don’t matter. Try running from meeting to meeting and it’s a different story.” Jacquelien seemed to me as Dutch as they come: Bicycle as an extension to their legs, pragmatic yet humble opinions and always straight to the point. We hunkered down at the large wooden table in the Impact Hub kitchen and started chatting.


Support needs

Discovered is a marketplace that connects rural artisans from emerging economies with ethical consumers in Western markets. Originally, founder Gijsbert van der Sleen saw products during his travels abroad that were not available for sale back in the Netherlands. He was sure there was a market. The idea for Discovered was born and started to develop in collaboration with Enviu in 2012. With Enviu as founding partner Discovered has had its share in other incubation programs.

As a start-up, you don't lack ideas, you lack resources. Click To Tweet

About her experience with incubators Jacquelien says “With some programs, they are all about generating ideas, but when you are a start-up there is no lack of ideas, but of resources. Secondly, programs will often tell you what to do, but not so much how to go about it. They will tell you that you need to revisit your marketing plan, for example, but I need to know where to start, with whom to consult, where to focus and put emphasis, how much to spend. Generic programs can’t do that. What we need at this stage, for example, is access to potential investors, to networks of partners and customers, and advice from experts in areas that we are still building up.”

Stuck between incubation and investment readiness

Discovered has a working product and is operating. Too advanced for an incubator, it is too early for them to participate in an investment ready program as offered by Impact Hub Amsterdam. “We need support working on our finances, marketing and sales, as well as distribution and market access. Until we have these areas figured out, we don’t need coaching towards investment readiness. We are in between, and need a program that suits these needs between early-stage and growth.” Jacquelien has little choice but to find this kind of support through her networks, which are rich thanks to her being located within Impact Hub Amsterdam.

How can we support #SocEnt in between programs? Click To Tweet

The questions this conversation has raised in me are how we as support organizations can help and empower social entrepreneurs within various phases of what we call “early stage” and “growth”. In addressing support gaps how can we organize to build a pipeline and offer tailored support to social entrepreneurs that do not fit into the programs currently offered or need a different mix of support services?


Netherlands Warm Up

Before heading to the Netherlands I came across a 2011 report by McKinsey & Co. “Opportunities for the Dutch Social Enterprise Sector“. It is four years old, the researchers analysed 700 social entrepreneurs, 100 of them in more detail – I figured this was as close as I was going to get to a country-specific report on the social enterprise sector.

Observation #1: Willemijn Verloop seems to be the person to know. Along with some introductions, another Social Venturer sent me an article about Social Enterprise in the Netherlands, featuring Willemijn Verloop. Co-author of this McKinsey report: Willemijn Verloop. Founder of two support organizations for social entrepreneurs in the Netherlands: Willemijn Verloop. The book “Social Enterprise Unraveled – Best practices from the Netherlands” that some interview partners recommended – written by: Willlemijn Verloop. I didn’t get to chance to meet her, tracking down this mastermind seems difficult. But if you read this, Willemijn, I’m waiting by the phone, coffee is on me!

Observation #2: The Dutch seem to have it together when it comes to being and working with social entrepreneurs. The report starts of with defining social enterprise as “a company with the primary goal to deliver social value in a financially sustainable and independent way”. Concise and without much lingo. I like it.

Dutch social enterprises: challenges and supporters

If you are one of the 4,000 – 5,000 social enterprises in the Netherlands, you are most likely active in sectors of biosystems, cleantech, economic development, civic engagement health and well-being, or education. Secondly, the challenges you are most likely to encounter are these:

  1. Developing business models – at the time only 42% of social enterprises under study were profitable
  2. Becoming a manager both internal and external: leading the company through a stage of scaling and growth, and in the process managing an increasing number of clients, data, and responsibilities
  3. Gaining access to venture capital
  4. Legislation
Challenges of Social Enterprises in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p.10

Challenges of Social Enterprises in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p.10

Let’s get to the juicy bits: The report has an entire chapter dedicated to support networks for social entrepreneurs internationally, and the Netherlands more specifically. Giving social venture support organizations concrete marching orders is great! If every country report ever written on social enterprise did that, I wouldn’t be doing this work. So, should you ever write a report for me, or with me, or about me, please include a chapter that talks about and to support organizations directly. Dankewell! For the Dutch sector the report lists four main types of support organizations:

  • coaches and education facilities
  • investors and match-makers
  • researchers, and
  • lobby organizations (to improve legislation)

The core of the report is a set of recommendations in which the authors call for

  • Promotion: awareness and visibility of the sector in the Netherlands
  • Education: gearing more talent towards the social enterprise sector
  • Support: management support in developing triple bottom line business models, coaching and access to relevant networks
  • Capital: access to seed and especially growth capital and matchmaking intermediaries
  • Guidelines: (inter)national standards for measuring both financial and social impact
  • Government recognition and support: for example in creating right conditions and opportunities for Social Enterprises to grow (e.g., supportive legislation)
Current Providers of Seed and Growth Capital in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p. 12

Current Providers of Seed and Growth Capital in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p. 12

To be fair, this was the first report of this kind that I have come across (point for the Dutch sector already), and with little material for comparison, I think it’s very concrete and direct. I was already looking forward to what I would find in the following week!


Sourcing Social Business Concepts from the Crowd

“Enviu emerged in 2004 when society looked pretty much black and white at the evil corporate sector in one corner and the do-gooders from the charity/nonprofit world in the other. The founding group of Enviu, headed by official founder and current Director Stef van Dongen  wanted to get young people involved in breaking open these crusty paradigms. Under the mantra “Inspire. Engage. Make it happen.” they started Enviu.” This is how Wouter Kersten introduced me to Enviu in March 2015.

After a week in Scotland I stepped off the plane in Amsterdam on Tuesday afternoon and made my way to Rotterdam where I was going to visit Enviu. Fast forward 2 hours and I found myself at Panekoekstraat (pancake street – promising, I could tell already!), stomping up the stairs with my backpack and burst into their very silent large office introducing myself. The next two hours of that sunny afternoon I talked to Wouter Kersten – innovation manager – about the challenges and upsides of developing lean social businesses and – in several cases – crowdsourcing ideas for social innovation.

Initiating Social Enterprise Concepts

As a support organization for very early stage social entrepreneurs, Enviu is an idea incubator for pre-start-ups. Many of the ideas they are working on come either from inside or individuals outside the organization.They ideate, develop and test (validate) new social business concepts with two outcomes: either they prove to be viable (launching customers, partners and investors) or turn out not to work (better catch it early).

In various cases, there is not a single idea as starting point. The purpose is to mobilize the wisdom of crowds through a process revolving around co-creation. Together with their partners (at the moment primarily, family offices, larger foundations and governments), they design a challenge and call their community of innovators to come up with possible solutions. These innovators are individuals who have an interest in the subject and are keen on co-creating with others. “In the process, inspiration, concrete ideas, enrichment thereof and entrepreneurs are brought together.

The ideal outcome is one or more social business concepts that can be developed towards start-up. Click To Tweet

The community that is created usually results in various network spin offs (people connecting to each other) and inspiration (people using the challenge as starting point for own endeavors)” Wouter says.


The most promising concepts go on to the second stage of “business development” during which ideas are refined and various stakeholders – including the (potential) entrepreneur, experts, customers, partners and investors – work together in teams towards validation. Only then the start-up process starts, at which point the entrepreneurs have a validated business model thanks to initial testing with early customers and other stakeholders. Wouter: “At any given time we have between five and ten concepts – in various stages of development – running.” Start-ups are then ready to begin operations. The entrepreneur is now in charge and Enviu remains involved as minority shareholder.

What makes co-creation for a third party difficult?

There are many reasons why any approach has its challenges. Two specific ones when trying to combine co-creation, entrepreneurship and social business development are:

#1: The partner suggesting the challenge will in some cases have an idea in mind about what the solution should look like when, in fact, the process of Social innovation does not work based on assumed, desired outcomes. I would go as far as to say that pre-defined expectations and the need for certainty are detrimental to generating innovative ideas and thinking the unthinkable.” In Wouter’s words: “The outcome is by definition uncertain, so partners must (learn to) be comfortable with this.”

Social innovation does not work based on assumed, desired outcomes. Click To Tweet

#2: Finding the right mix of people who are willing to co-create. Everyone who has been involved in promoting a support program, and further, in the selection process of participants, knows how difficult it is to find entrepreneurial minds who are coachable and good team players. Enviu’s model specifically aims to trigger a community of social innovators who enjoy the process of presenting their ideas and working on them with others, always at the risk of dismissal or adaption-beyond-recognition in the next step. While the Lean Startup preaches the idea of rapid testing and – possibly – dismissal of a product idea, it is difficult – in particular for early stage and less experienced innovators – to put their ideas under the scrutiny of a larger audience.

Enviu is looking for entrepreneurial team players with a great idea. Click To Tweet

Enviu manages to activate a great number of individuals to contribute their ideas to Challenges, Wouter also recognizes that you need different types of people to take the “right” idea forward. This is why they are all brought together in the process: ”In the end, to succeed we need individuals that make good entrepreneurs, have a great idea, and are willing to co-create! It’s rare to find all three qualities in one person. Amen.

Enviu in review

When I asked what makes an effective support program for social entrepreneurs, Wouter responds “Having own experience and having ‘skin in the game’: “If your stake is the same as the entrepreneur’s you can truly co-develop. Click To Tweet” If you only ‘facilitate’ or ‘provide network’ you stand to lose very little.”

Enviu’s program taps into a large pool of people who suggest new and enrich existing ideas. At the same time, working with external partners requires skills in managing expectations. I need to find other support programs that apply the crowdsourcing approach and explore how they facilitate the process online and through web-based platforms.


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Calling it a day in Rotterdam

Spotlight: Wouter Kersten

Wouter Kersten

What drives you?

Combining positive impact with entrepreneurial activity. I like to boost that process (whenever necessary) by making new connections and restructuring information, for example by asking different questions, testing them and conveying these attitudes to others. “Only if you ask different questions will you get different answers.

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

Seeing platforms like Social Enterprise NL pop up in the Netherlands has proven that there is a lot of momentum in the field. We are all doing something relatively new here; social entrepreneurship is still in its early childhood years, certainly in the Netherlands, so we are all trying out different approaches to find the right balance between being efficient and being relevant with what we offer.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I am reading „Gone Girl” which got adapted into a movie which was screening last year;
My last sort of work related book was Art of the Start 2.0 by Guy Kawasaki;
And the next book I am looking forward to is the autobiography of Mark Twain.
The next ‚work related’ book I will read is WISER. Getting beyond groupthink to make groups smarter by Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie.



Wouter has a background in industrial engineering and management. He joined a telecommunications company because, as he says: ”I like working with people and solving problems, but at some point I was fed up with solving problems for big companies, earning them another million with something that for me did not seem very valuable for society. I thought moving to a smaller company would change that, but it still wasn’t the kind of meaningful work I was looking for. So I decided to invest in my new future; I did a one-year master program in Environmental Science, during that time I encountered Enviu (which at that time basically was a cool name, a pilot with a few interns and a web-site) and became involved in setting it up. Unplanned, but in hindsight not by coincidence, for the last 10 years I almost always have had two employers in parallel because I like operating in the two worlds of academia and practitioners.” Right now, for example, I work at Enviu and at the University of Delft: I love making new connections between ideas and people, and see the sparks when the two worlds meet!”

Read Wouter’s guest blog post on efficiency and relevance!



A Multi-Stakeholder Approach to Social Innovation

My second day in the Netherlands starts with a very early train ride from Utrecht to Amsterdam. I drop Spivet at the hostel that will provide my bed for the night. Some people are still stumbling their way home. The bartenders working the morning shifts in Warmoesstraat are taking the trash out dumping it on the narrow sidewalk. 8.30 a.m. The Social Venturer is on schedule. Perfect. I am watching my left and right more than usual, hundreds of bikes – and this is not a metaphor – swarm through the streets and over the bridges. I’m in the Netherlands. The grey weather comes as a bit of the surprise as I walk across the De Dam covered in the misty morning light. I march on along the canals, the chilly humid air making me shiver. 20 minutes later I arrive at Keizersgracht, right around the corner from Anne Frank House (which – in case you ever wanted to visit – has queues winding around several blocks). My first field visit of the day: Kennisland.

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Amsterdam Centraal

First of all – great place. Similar to Enviu everybody was working in utter silence (pun intended) sitting around large desks typing away on their computers. I agree, changing the world through entrepreneurship and innovation requires focus – I’m all for it. Don’t let me interrupt. Nora van der Linden had agreed to meet with me on very short notice and I was thrilled to be able to fire all my questions at her after having read their report Lab Matters on the train from Utrecht earlier that morning (click here for their latest publication on Social Labs).

Kennisland is a think tank that has been working to “make society smarter” (their humble mission, love it!) for more than 15 years. Their issue portfolio includes education, government, cultural heritage, copyright, the cultural sector and social innovation. As I soon found out, public responsibilities in the policy area of work and income, youth care, and long-term care for the elderly had recently been transferred from central to local governments.

How do you ensure that the services provided to vulnerable citizens match their real needs? Click To Tweet

This transition challenged the latter to find local solutions, and Kennisland has positioned itself to develop such local approaches. As we speak about their work in Social Labs, Nora helps me understand this approach: “With already limited resources, how do you ensure that the services provided to vulnerable citizens match their real needs and desires? This is what we try to figure out in Social Labs.”

Social Labs – User-centered design to develop local solutions

A Social Lab focuses on a specific issue in a certain area and is often commissioned by local government authorities. Kennisland sets out to analyse the context and understand the issue from different angles. They then identify the relevant community around that issue and invite local citizens, professionals and (local) government officials to assess the situation (week 1) and derive possible solutions (week 2). Based on a recent neighborhood example (read more about it here) Nora explains: “We first go out and collect stories of the people in that neighborhood trying to understand their life situation, needs, and how they are affected by the issue we want to address. We publish the stories, collect feedback and re-evaluate until we get it right. Based on these findings, we spend the second week talking to local service providers and municipalities taking the beneficiaries with us. We start a dialogue about the current situation and its challenges, and develop opportunities to solve the issue. We look for quick fixes as well as long-term solutions.” Every Social Lab ends in some type of festival or closing event where all stakeholders come together, present solutions and – if available – prototypes, and have a chance to discuss on how to move forward.

Questions of Sustainability

An obvious dilemma is the question of the sustainability of the developed solutions. Who takes the lead after the Social Lab experience, once the Kennisland team has gone back to their offices? To what extent do you manage to identify and equip community leaders within the short time frame of such a pop-up Social Lab, and support them in the long run? For now, Nora says “We managed to secure a follow-up project and can go back to the community for a longer period.” To me, Social Labs are a great tool to raise an issue and ignite a first spark in the search of long-term solutions and change. What follow-up mechanisms are available to pick up the work after a Social Lab?

Kennisland now also runs other labs that cover a longer time frame. In Dordrecht and Nijmegen they work with municipalities on questions affecting their young population and work issues for several months, with ‘Lab days’ each week.

Social Labs and Social Entrepreneurs

Throughout our conversation I was trying to figure out how social entrepreneurs fit into this equation. We had talked a lot about civic participation and involvement of different stakeholders. Nora helped me out: “Some individuals feel compelled to implement a social business to address a need that is not met by any other stakeholder within that community.

Social entrepreneurship can be a tool for social innovation, but it’s not the only option. Click To Tweet

Very much in line with what I would learn from other social innovation enablers over the coming days. The Dutch chorus seems to be “Social entrepreneurship can be a tool for social innovation, but it’s not the only option.” I had and would hear it a lot more on my field visits. So what can we learn from Social Labs?

Learnings for Social Enterprise Support

Social Labs are a great way of tackling a specific issue securing the buy-in from all parties involved. I sometimes find that social entrepreneurs participating in incubators or other support programs tend to work in isolation from their target beneficiaries without fully understanding

  • the root causes of the issue,
  • the impacts on the community,
  • the consequences for beneficiaries,
  • the involvement of other stakeholders in the issue, and
  • their potential contribution to the solution.

A Social Lab approach borrows from the Lean StartUp Method and is a great way of getting social entrepreneurs out of the building, their support program, and potentially develop business models that consider the above-mentioned issues.


Spotlight: Nora van der Linden

Nora VDL

What drives you?

My current question is “How can we make sure education creates equal opportunities and outcomes for all children instead of reproducing inequality? And how can we develop new inclusive approaches (like the social labs) to work in and around the education system?”

Biggest #SocEnt trend in the last 5 years?

Social entrepreneurship and being engaged with society, nature and the world around you more generally is becoming the norm. If your product or service is not sustainable or not contributing to a better world, you have to explain yourself. And this is not a bubble of only the elite, it’s a slow transformation into a more reflective society where people are aware of the consequences of their actions.

What are you reading right now?

  • Paul Jungbluth, on inequality in education
  • Het F-boek, on feminism today
  • The Bible for non-believers (Bijbel voor ongelovigen), Guus Kuijer
  • Ik kom terug, Adriaan van Dis
  • Different articles for some research on accelerators and incubators


Nora studied sociology and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and in fact had her first job at university. “At that point I was asking myself: ‘How can you not only think about change on a theoretical, academic level, but actually make it happen? At Kennisland, I had the opportunity to put many of my previous ideas into practice and learn how to make them work.” About her work in education and social innovation she says: ”This whole innovation language is the language of those who are already in the space rather than for people who are new to it. We need to be open and inviting, and among many other things, we need to break that language barrier.” Nora is involved with organizing the European Competition for Social Innovation and you can stay up-to-date with her work on the Kennisland website.


photocredit: Giorgos GripeosCC BY 4.0