Digital responsibility

Our European society, which consists today of 27 Member States is transforming rapidly due to technological, societal and cultural change. Changes in the field of digitalisation and automation influence the way we live and work faster than before. These trends reshape European and global economies in fundamental ways.

Creative- and digital businesses, high-tech manufacturing, and knowledge-intensive services are taking advantage of technological change and add increasing value to our economies. On the other hand low-tech industries, labour-intensive manufacturing and routine jobs are at risk of disruption.

In light of this development I came up with the idea for the European Social and Digital Innovation Program (ESDIP), which can be seen as a solution (in concept form) among other European tools to enhance digital transformation. ESDIP advocates digital transformation by means of applying entrepreneurship as an economical agent and through bilateral collaborations between economically different regions / cities within the EU.

The idea is to develop a sustainable and holistic startup ecosystem for early stage ventures, which is largely operating on the basis of cloud computing technologies and where collaboration with geographically diverse infrastructures forms an important element of the framework in order to digitally bridge between the different regions.

The innovative capacity of the project is captured in its framework (or conceptual structure) and anticipates on two drivers of change – social innovation and digital transformation. The combination of several features (USPs) makes the framework an unique and inclusive startup ecosystem. I’d like to elaborate two of the most interesting features:

1. Pan-European approach and ideology: ESDIP is created with the idea that a pan-European approach has the greatest potential to enhance economic relations between different European regions. The good thing (to be validated) about this approach is that it could enable a positive societal and economical effect on economical diverse regions. In advocacy, (bilateral) collaborations are key and I’d like to call it the collaborative advantage of Europe.

Social innovation and digital transformation can change the course of the future. Economic prosperity shouldn’t only benefit the lucky few (Western- and Northern EU Member States) – it should provide equal opportunity for all.

2. A startup ecosystem which is independent from privately owned physical space and geographic location: The concept introduces a new approach for incubation and digitally bridges between economically different regions / cities within EU. At the same time it overcomes existing incubation problems.

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The idea is that ESDIP establishes partnerships with existing coworking spaces as well as educational and cultural institutions in pre-defined cities / regions. These so-called “partner hubs” are essential as they provide different startup teams a physical location with necessary facilities (e.g. workplace, internet, meeting room etc.) Regardless of their geographical location they form important communication- and distribution channels to reach out to potential startup entrepreneurs and stakeholders. Great effort to scout suitable hubs should be invested through collaboration with regional partners like Economic Development Agencies.

As part of the ideation process I presented the NRW-Forum the basic principles of the concept. Alain Bieber, the Artistic Director of this cutting-edge contemporary museum, is naturally interested in supporting cultural and digital entrepreneurs. The idea to provide cloud-based incubation services for talented entrepreneurs is in line with his long-term digitalisation strategy. We believe it would be a good thing to bring this concept to a next level and eventually collaborate with / transfer to a third-party.

Writing concepts like ESDIP or Sustainica makes me aware of the challenges, opportunities as well as (technological) inequalities surrounding us. Even as technology becomes more affordable and internet access seems increasingly ubiquitous, a “digital divide” between rich and poor remains. Feel free to drop me a line in case you’d like to know more about this collaborative idea.

North to South

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.Climate-KIC Germany Accelerator

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.

Learning the basics

On the 9th of March our team of the Sustainable Startup Program will be hosting CSR Hub NRW — a series of workshops about the basic elements of Corporate Social Responsibility at the Factory Campus in Düsseldorf.

The event is especially interesting for startup entrepreneurs (to be) from various industries and people with an interest in sustainable business. What to expect — a practical introduction to topics related to social, ecological and responsible entrepreneurship as well as innovative business models.

kerbholz_madeincologne_wearecity_koeln-17During the workshop Moritz Blees, co-founder of the successful Cologne based startup Kerbholz will share his insights into their Business & Revenue Model (they make wrist watches and sunglasses out of wood) and our team will moderate a topic about the Sustainable Business Model Canvas. We will elaborate on the canvas building blocks social costs and social benefits — an interesting theme for my next post. I’m also very excited that we managed to join forces with the CSR Hub — an initiative of the Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP). In 2016 I had the opportunity to work with CSCP during the Sustainica conference.

I believe that the workshop offers a great opportunity to get familiar with the CSR-basics and is free of charge (taught in German). And our team has the opportunity to advocate sustainable business practices among startup entrepreneurs in the region. Feel free to join us on the 9th in Düsseldorf!