Social Impact Lab Frankfurt

After a week back in Germany, I stopped in Frankfurt to visit the local Social Impact Lab. Social Impact itself is a social enterprise founded by Ashoka Fellow Norbert Kunz. Their first Social Impact Lab was opened in Berlin in 2012, followed by Hamburg in 2013, Frankfurt and Leipzig.

As the third of its kind in Germany, Social Impact Lab Frankfurt opened in January 2014. My morning consisted of an early train and the – once again – futile attempt of finding free wifi. Arriving at the Lab I walked past German and English speaking co-workers, and gratefully dove into this familiar space of do-gooders and changemakers.

At @SocialImpactLab, #SocEnt have a work space, receive training and mentoring for 8 months. Click To Tweet

Caro Eissler – host at the Lab – showed me around and gave me an insight into the different support mechanisms at play. They offer co-working and two programs for aspiring social entrepreneurs: “AndersGruender” and “ChancenNutzer”.

Social Impact Lab FFM

All Social Impact Labs hold a pitch event every three months in their locations across Germany to select the four to six most promising social business concepts. Successful candidates move into an eight-months incubation program that comes with a desk in one of the Labs, group sessions on various business skills run by start-up coaches, and individual mentoring by experts. Unlike Berlin and Hamburg, Frankfurt is not necessarily known for its start-up vibe, I was curious how things were going. “We were some of the first ones in this region to provide this kind of support to aspiring social entrepreneurs. Naturally, there was a lot of interest from potential participants right from the start. We are beginning to look into more strategic approaches to advertising our programs to find candidates that meet our criteria.” says Caro. What criteria you ask? Social Impact Labs generally look for social start-ups that

  • Address a societal issue,
  • Show potential for social innovation, and
  • Have a viable business model.

Relatively new in the sector, Caro hadn’t been sure she was an interesting interview partner, but when I asked her what she thinks makes a good support program, I knew she was. “An effective support program needs integrity and lead by example. How can you enable social innovation and sustainability if you are not living it? We work on eye-level with all founders and strive for a balance between structural input and freedom to let things happen, spur innovation. Further, I think granting aspiring social entrepreneurs access to networks is key to a good support program. It allows them to gain new perspectives, meet potential customers, mentors, collaborators, business partners.”

An effective #SocEnt support program needs integrity and lead by example. Click To Tweet

After a little tour around their humongous space, we get a chance to talk about challenges that a support organization in frankfurt faces. Caro: “Three things I am currently working on are

  1. Identifying follow-up funding opportunities for our start-ups,
  2. Finding a good balance between renting the lab for external events, organizing own networking events and keeping a good co-working atmosphere.
  3. Planning workshops that meet the needs and expectations of our entrepreneurs. People seem to think that workshops are the solution to everything while I am convinced that it’s all about assessing participants’ needs, and finding the right expert.”

In terms of programs, the Social Impact Lab in Frankfurt is not much different from the ones I would meet in Hamburg and Berlin in the weeks to come. I can’t help but wonder how such a structure can be used to exchange Lab-related learnings and experiences. Could they build up a knowledge base similar to that of the Hub network, become a micro-network within Germany’s larger support sector? I would address these topics during my field visits at the Lab Berlin a few weeks later.

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