Cartography: Brussels

March 26, 2015

Cartography[n.]: Mapping, review

In this third part of the review, let’s take a look at the field visits in Brussels, Belgium. Visiting Oksigen Lab and Social Innovation Factory in Brussels in a way represented two opposite ends of a spectrum. The former is financed privately, the latter publicly. Read on to see what I took away from these visits.

Oksigen Lab

Oksigen Lab is unique in their approach of supporting social entrepreneurs on an individual basis. Like a conventional consultancy, clients (social entrepreneurs) pay a fix rate per consulting day. Over the last months, I have witnessed an on-going conversation among support organizations about the balance between personalized, individual support vs. standardized programs for a group of social entrepreneurs. Oksigen Lab fares well in the former. Based on my experience, however, a number of topics can be addressed very well in groups (e.g. basic accounting, fundraising, marketing etc.) which makes it less resource intense: it is more efficient and entrepreneurs may actually learn from each other.

What is the right balance between individual support vs. standardized programs for #SocEnt? Click To Tweet

I see great value in their individual consulting approach for social entrepreneurs, but I also know it is hard to pull-off financially. I see two directions Oksigen Lab can take this: Either they offer their services to social enterprises that run net-positive revenue and can afford this quality of consulting, or they start to offer a more standardized support program for early-stage social enterprises that is complemented by individual, fee-based consulting for those start-ups that require and can afford additional support. I am curious to see what Vincent and his team come up with and how they can use the ecosystem in Belgium, their proximity to the Netherlands and their involvement with EU research to further develop their model.

Social Innovation Factory

Most support organizations I have met and spoken to are constantly struggling to raise funds and keep operations going. I almost want to call it “refreshing” to meet an accelerator that has this part figured out thanks to their government funding.

Intake session at Social Innovation Factory

Intake session at Social Innovation Factory

Sociale InnovatieFabriek can employ qualified staff, focus on developing a strong peer support network, and research. Knowing where staff salaries will come from next year, a support organization – like many non-profits – thrives with a different kind of energy. This is what I experienced at Social Innovation Factory. Three team members took the time to talk to me, director Kaat Peeters met with another group of social innovators looking for an accelerator blueprint and everyone seemed just very focused on creating real lasting impact.

Business models for #SocEntSupport

Funding security has a strong impact on the job quality and satisfaction in the support sector. Who wants to initiate a research project that is funded for half the research period? Who is not tired of constantly writing funding applications, attracting new donors and reporting to existing ones? And who is not – just every now and then – wondering if it’s all worth it when looking at our friends with corporate careers?

The resources required to just keeping a support program alive are disproportionate to the resources allocated to creating a lasting impact through program activities. Not every support organization can have a level of government funding like SIF – nor should they. But it is fair to say that the days of purely philanthropic funding for social enterprise support organizations are over.

There are business models for #SocEntSupport organizations - run with it! Click To Tweet

Throughout this first Europe trip, I have identified a number of stakeholders – social entrepreneurs, local/super-/national governments, impact investors – and income streams – co-working space and venue rental, corporate partnerships – to set up support organizations in a way that they can plan long-term, invest in staff training and retention, research and experiment with new models of social enterprise support.Resources for support organizations are available, public, governmental and corporate interest in our work is growing. Let’s put this to use and run with it!


Cartography: Rotterdam

Cartography: Amsterdam

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