During a five-day-visit to Berlin my colleague and I crossed the city multiple times to meet & greet with different companies like coworking hubs, incubator-and accelerator programs, a Business Angel Association as well as a think tank. They all work with startup ventures and provide services for entrepreneurship. Five out of 11 companies focus on sustainable entrepreneurship* and their scope differs considerably; social entrepreneurship, green technology, smart cities, mobility and everything in between.
During these meetings it became clear that they support and coach entrepreneurs in their own way through the different stages of building a company. I also gained a better insight what particular role social entrepreneurs play as change agents in the public-/private sector.
On the surface, many social enterprises look, feel, and even operate like traditional businesses. But looking more closely, one discovers the defining characteristics of the social enterprise: mission is at the centre of business, with income generation playing an important supporting role. Value for the social entrepreneur lies in the social benefit to a community or transformation of a community that lacks the resources to fulfil its own needs.
To me it is inspiring to understand how companies like Social Impact Lab manage to create a comprehensive ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, where startup founders can rent a physical space for working, participate in networking and exchange, and have access to business advice and start-up support. Also our visit to Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership – Climate-KIC – with focus on climate change was very inspirational. They help startups with innovative ideas in the field of e.g. Urban Transitions, Sustainable Production Systems and Sustainable Land Use. They aim to turn the climate challenge to a business opportunity and their mission is to enable Europe to lead the global transformation towards sustainability.
Another example is the independent not-for-profit research institution Borderstep that advocates the green economy by researching different topics like e.g. Green IT, Smart energy, environmental technologies and Sustainable Entrepreneurship. They also advocate the use of the Sustainable Business Canvas (German) for the systematic development of sustainability-oriented business models.
To summarize my findings after an inspirational week in Berlin: I experienced that sustainable entrepreneurs enact a holistic approach to a venture startup that embeds environmental, economic and social sustainability dimensions. The result is a social enterprise that applies commercial strategies to maximize social impact and environmental well-being alongside profits for their shareholders. It is nonsense that social businesses are not able to support themselves financially – in fact their business models are as competitive and in many cases more innovative than traditional businesses!
*Sustainable entrepreneurship stands for a business driven concept of sustainability which focuses on increasing both social as well as business value – so called Shared Value.