Cartography: Amsterdam

March 24, 2015

Cartography[n.]: Mapping, review

In this second part of the review of my field visits to the Netherlands and Belgium, I share some lessons learned from Kennisland, Discovered, Social Enterprise NL and Impact Hub Amsterdam.


Though not a typical support organization, Kennisland taught me a thing or two that can be transferred to the more specific challenges of social enterprise. Quick recap: Kennisland is a think tank facilitating social innovation through civic participation. One of the tools they employ are social labs in which they bring a variety of relevant stakeholders such as government representatives, local service providers and the target beneficiaries to the same table to develop context-specific solutions to a shared community issue.

Any #SocEnt should run a social lab focused on their central issue before getting to work. Click To Tweet

In working with social entrepreneurs – and the lean start-up method is supporting this claim – I have found that they often shy away from talking to their beneficiaries and understanding the wider context of the issue they are trying to solve. I go as far as to say that any social entrepreneur should run a social lab focused on their central issue before getting to work, to understand the stakes of each party involved in or affected by this issue.

By the way, Kennisland has a brilliant website that I highly recommend checking out! Research insights, updates from their desks directly to the landing page and lots of background information with each post. Swing over to – worth a visit!


Discovered was the first social entrepreneur I spoke to about their general incubation experience and needs, in their case at a stage between acceleration and investment readiness. This is what I took away:

#1: Classifying and categorizing start-up stages helps us get a sense for the maturity of an enterprise. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that there aren’t soft borders and overlaps between those stages. Though I’m sure this seems obvious to all of us, we must keep this in mind when designing support programs, and make sure we have mechanisms in place to respond to support needs that come up in-between stages.

#2: I have come to understand that there are gaps between what support organization offer, and what the participating enterprises find valuable. Again, this is obvious, but the conversation with Discovered re-emphasized that we need to constantly assess whether the services our programs offer are what start-up and later-stage social enterprises need. What is the relation between perceived effectiveness by entrepreneurs as opposed to the outcomes programs hope to achieve?

Consult with your participants to fine-tune your #SocEntSupport to their needs! Click To Tweet

#3: An on-going discussion I have had over the last months was about the level of standardized vs. customized support for social enterprises. Part of the answer lies right here: Ask your participants to fine-tune your portfolio suited to what they need at any given point within the program.

Social Enterprise NL

Apart from trainings and services offered to members, Social Enterprise NL works in what they call Agenda Setting: The team around Stefan Panhuijsen represents social entrepreneurs’ interests in conversation with the Dutch government. In 2014, they published a policy agenda calling the  Dutch government to:

  • Recognize and acknowledge the entrepreneurial form “social enterprise”
  • Increase the availability of capital
  • Facilitate access to markets, and
  • Institutionalize social enterprise legislation and create targeted tax incentives.

Read more here (I recommend google translate!).

So far, I have not come across any other advocacy organizations for social enterprise and I wonder who takes it upon themselves in other countries. I can only speculate here but based on the social enterprise concept’s visibility and popularity as a newcomer in fields like academia or the start-up world, I assume it is a lonely job to represent the interests of entrepreneurs who fit neither in the profit-driven private sector nor into the world-saving charity category that we have so conveniently put in place.

Who are the agenda setters, advocates and lobbyists for #SocEnt in Europe? Click To Tweet

The one thing I did learn about advocating for social enterprise is: If a support organization wants to be their members’ voice, it can’t speak FOR them unless they speak WITH them, and keep a close eye on current issues and trends. I hope this list will grow substantially over the next months. But first tell me, dear readers, who ARE the agenda setters, advocates and lobbyists for social enterprise in Europe?

Impact Hub Amsterdam

My conversation with Wieke Van Der Zouwen about Impact Hub Amsterdam felt a bit like peeking through the keyhole into a whole new world of supporting social entrepreneurs through a tightly-knit network, franchise model and a pool of shared experiences and knowledge. Not to mention some exciting EU-funded research such as BENISI and Impact Hub Scaling. Impact Hubs are part of a closed network that generates a lot of know-how and best practices through their day-to-day work with social enterprises in over 60 locations across the world. But it is hard to gain access as an outsider. They do hold an annual summit called Unlikely Allies (click here to learn more about the June 2015 summit). The registration fee ranging from  EUR 1,200 to EUR 2,000 probably doesn’t allow many of us to participate. If anyone wants to throw Social  Venturers a free ticket for next year to see what it’s all about, get in touch!

What I do like about the Impact Hub model is that they lead by example in terms of financial sustainability. If you think that you can’t support social entrepreneurs unless it’s for free, think again.

Questions that I will take to my upcoming meetings with other Impact Hubs:

  • How do you organize your network-internal knowledge exchange?
  • How can the Hub Network open up and start collaborating with other support organizations?


Cartography: Rotterdam

Cartography: Brussels


Spotlight: Wieke van der Zouwen


What drives you?

I’ve been privileged to be born in this country and we are not looking at a long-term sustainable world in which everyone strives. On the contrary, we are living at the expense of others and nature. I have the great opportunity to enable others to do good, and that’s what I feel obliged to do.

Biggest SocEnt trend have you seen over the last 5 years?

There has been quite a big shift in the thinking about impact. People have started to see that you can make a profit and have an impact at the same time. We are finally moving out of the traditional NGO field.

What are you currently reading?

The Startup Game – Inside the Partnership between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs by William L. Draper


Wieke studied International Development studies, Spanish, and holds a masters in International Relations. As a project manager she worked for various social enterprises in fields such as IT and education. Wieke’s experiences as a freelancer help her relate to the struggles of the start-up entrepreneurs she works with. “The most influential experience in my career so far was joining Impact Hub Amsterdam. If you ask me, it takes guts for social entrepreneurs to think outside the I-have-to-earn-money box and out impact first. That has been a real motivation.”



Impact Hub Amsterdam

“Profit is not a dirty word here.”

On day two in Amsterdam I met Wieke van der Zouwen who runs an acceleration program at Impact Hub Amsterdam, and we followed up a couple of days later during an insightful conversation about the Impact Hub Network which I had been keen to learn more about for years.

Creativity beats the Grey

Impact Hub Amsterdam is located in an old industrial complex in the middle of Westerpark in Amsterdam (Looks an awful lot like North Amsterdam to me, but what do I know?). The city continued to wrap me in grey-ness and damp air through which I fought my way to Westerpark. Even the daffodils looked beaten up by the lack of sunshine while pedestrians were walking by with their heads down against the wind and drizzle. The outlook of sleeping in a ten-bed hostel room that night was not necessarily my light at the end of the tunnel. Impact Hub Amsterdam, on the other hand, is a bright open space that invites collaboration and creativity. When I first stepped in, I was almost blinded by chalkboards with information of all colors and fonts scribbled all over, a large wooden kitchen table that seats over 20 people, and big industrial-looking light fixtures. It cheered me up to feel like I had just walked into a craft workshop, surrounded by fifty or so crafts(wo)men typing and chatting away. I was up for it, “Let’s get to work!”

Aviary Photo_130766795088115151

Speaking to Wieke was exactly that – getting to work. Precise and matter-of-fact information about their working model made it one of the most efficient and productive interviews I had had to that point. I suppose if you run a co-working space for social innovators, this attitude keeps your head over water. And with success: Impact Hub Amsterdam, like other Impact Hubs, manages to finance itself through entrepreneurs’ fees and venue renting. Whoever thinks there is no revenue to be made through social entrepreneurs – watch these guys!

Apart from co- and networking, Impact Hub Amsterdam functions as an incubator and accelerator alike, providing support to more than one stage of social entrepreneur. The Business Model Challenge offers start-ups at the prototype stage a five-day workshop covering business modelling, storytelling and pitching which culminates in a one-day final pitch event during which start-ups meet potential clients and business partners. They benefit from peer-to-peer as well as mentoring from industry and business experts, join sessions and master classes different business topics, and become part of the Impact Hub Network (three-months membership).

And social entrepreneurs pay for that package - why not? Click To Tweet

For more advanced social entrepreneurs in their post-revenue stage, the Investment Ready Program provides 12 program days over four months leading up to an investor forum; the winner is awarded EUR 50,000. Tailored towards the needs of social business that have moved on from the start-up stage, this program focuses more on strategic planning, financing, and leadership skills and business acumen.

Scaling Social Enterprise

About the recently launched  Scaling Program Wieke says:”Innovative entrepreneurial solutions that tackle Europe’s major social and environmental challenges are all around us. Impact Hub Scaling is a program designed for social enterprises ready to scale locally & internationally. For one full year, up to 100 participating social entrepreneurs will be immersed in the Impact Hub network and acquire knowledge, skills and advice from top mentors located in Amsterdam, Athens, Bucharest, London King’s Cross, Madrid, Milan, Stockholm and Vienna.” I should learn more about this during my visit to Impact Hub King’s Cross a few weeks later.

'Profit is not a dirty word here.' Click To Tweet

“Entrepreneurs need profit to become sustainable and make investments towards their long-term success.” And the Impact Hubs seem to be getting this part right. Making a profit to secure your program’s sustainability for generations of social entrepreneurs to come also means practicing what you preach. Amen.