Social Impact Lab Hamburg

Tucked away near Hamburg’s famous St Michael’s church you will find Social Impact Lab Hamburg. As the second ever established Social Impact Lab in Germany, it opened its doors in 2013 to support social entrepreneurs located in Northern Germany. I was around in the early days and this felt a bit like coming home. It is one of the smallest co-working spaces I have been to and fits about six startup teams as well as co-workers from Ashoka and lab host Dannie. As the initiator of Hallo Frau Nachbar – a local community market in Hamburg’s neighbourhood Schanze – Dannie was on the phone when I came in, vigorously arguing with some bureaucrat. Let’s just say I was glad not to be on the other side. (And I’m wagging my finger at municipalities that make it hard on neighborhood initiatives to run events that strengthen urban communities. Shame on you!).

Social Impact Lab Hamburg

Pitch time at Social Impact Lab Hamburg

Dannie and I go back a few years; we were both part of a group of young women working in the social enterprise space in Hamburg. During my time there, we used to meet for dinners every eight weeks or so with six to ten women, cook together, talk about life, career choices, and working for a better world. A great circle of women! (Note to self: Find other changemakers and re-enact this tradition!)

Thanks to their corporate partnership, each team at the Social Impact Lab is mentored by SAP… Click To Tweet

As you may have read in the field visit to Social Impact Lab Berlin, the Social Impact Start program consists of personal coaching, consulting on business-specific topics, a Lab desk, peer support and access to potential investors. Thanks to the partnership with SAP, each team in Hamburg is also mentored by SAP employee(s) to further develop their concepts. As a very early-stage incubator, the aim of Social Impact Start is to prepare their participants to the point of their legal incorporation within the eight months of the program. Alumni remain part of the network and attend events.

I ask Dannie what she thinks makes an impactful support program. “Meet entrepreneurs at the point they are at when they join the incubator, rather than forcing them into a standardized program. Help them start their business, offer consulting and coaching along the way, but see yourself in an accompanying, guiding role.” Very much in line with what I learned at Heldenrat and the other Social Impact Labs.

Social Impact Lab Hamburg 2

One of the startup teams refining their business model

To me, Hamburg has always felt a bit of an outpost for the impact community in Germany. On the one hand, you have five or so support organizations with a focus on impact startups, and a strong history of entrepreneurship in general. Yet, attempts of founding an Impact Hub Hamburg have been unsuccessful and the few networking events that take place end up drawing in the same crowds, it just doesn’t FEEL very dynamic.

Does the strong presence of foundations disincentivize social entrepreneurship in Hamburg? Click To Tweet

I know that there is a great variety of social initiatives, especially in the creative and charity sector, but the pendulum doesn’t seem to swing too far in the direction of social entrepreneurship. In that sense, I believe that it is harder – compared to Berlin – to generate traction and build an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs in the Hanseatic region. Could it be that its impact community is just not very interested in entrepreneurship as a tool, but prefers charity? Does the strong presence of foundations (1,300 registered foundations in a city of 1.6 million!) disincentivize social entrepreneurship? According to Dannie, support organizations have started collaborating. A little bit. “There is a lot of room for improvement!”


Speak Your Mind