Even though we are a centre of social innovation with the support of five strategic partners, our members, and the community of Bergen at large, we were not exempt from the financial and logistical challenges of 2020, like so many others throughout the world.

Coworking inherently brings people together for co-creation and collaboration. When a pandemic necessitates us to social distance and stay at home, the functionality of a coworking space is diminished. We acted in our community’s best interest and physically closed at times in 2020. At first, the weight of the pandemic forced our hand–we furloughed all four of our employees for a period.

There was a time for reflection, a time for introspection and a time to move forward within the frames of this new situation. We secured our financials by downsizing our space, and instead put our time and efforts this year on our digital impact, with new support from Innovasjon Norge. This reaction is at the heart of so many companies in Norway and the world: resources were reallocated, problems caused by the pandemic were being met with solutions, and companies persevered despite a previous dependence on physicality.

As the values ingrained in a space of innovation weighed heavily upon our shoulders, we were able to practice what we preach: we avoided the familiar frame we were used to and re-envisioned our programs in a digital world.

Once we embraced this mentality, we were able to reach more people and make a greater impact than ever before. In short, our activities in 2020 include:

Despite a challenging time during the pandemic, many of our entrepreneurs have flourished this year…

Even as the digital revolution is cemented, physical coworking won’t disappear. Quite the contrary, 2020 has shown us that the lack of physicality of the digital world must be met with an occasional face to face conversation and collaboration, in safer times.

We will continue our vision in 2021 and we look forward to welcoming you digitally and physically in the New Year.

Thank you, our core partners Vestland Fylkeskommune, Bergen Kommune, Kavlifondet, Sparebanken Vest, Innovasjon Norge and Grieg Foundation; our amazing membership community, our competent board, our resilient team and everyone who innovated with the safety in mind in 2020.

God jul og godt nytt år til alle!


-The Impact Hub Bergen Team

Michelle Zhao, the mastermind behind No Sweet Sour, shook up Bergen’s culinary pop-up scene last year with a number of events at BKB, Allmuen, Landmark, Østre, USF and Impact Hub Bergen. But her entrepreneurial journey isn’t locally grown, it comes with culinary baggage from her hometown in the Yunnan region of China. 


Is Chinese food one-dimensional?

After living abroad for six years, Michelle realised that the recipes and practices that she grew up with would soon be forgotten if she didn’t start paying attention to them, if I don’t start to explain to people about my own cuisine, who is going to? Chinese food is my heritage, I should feel proud to present it to my friends and people in the world.

That nagging responsibility to share her culinary upbringing became her blog, No Sweet Sour, where she shares recipes and culture from her hometown Kunming in Yunnan, the Southwest region of China. Kunming is named “the city of eternal spring” because it maintains a consistent temperature of 20 – 25 degrees celsius, which happens to be perfect growing conditions for the coffee bean. It is also home 25 of China’s 56 ethnic minorities, including the Yi minority to which Michelle belongs. 

Landscape and culture are often expressed in food, and Kunming is no exception. Michelle grew up with dishes inspired by the geography of the region and the culinary history of her people. These dishes couldn’t be found in Bergen until Michelle began No Sweet Sour. 

Although Michelle’s recipes were being shared globally on her blog and Instagram account already in 2019,  she was able to share her vision locally when she joined the TESTBAR program at Impact Hub Bergen that year. She began to host pop-up cafés, workshops, private dining and catering events. In the course of a year, No Sweet Sour hosted food events at Bergen establishments including BKB, Allmuen, Landmark, Østre, USF and Impact Hub Bergen.

No Sweet Sour’s new logo, designed by Heio Studio.

Michelle quickly found that her ideas were unique in Bergen’s food scene: “If I narrow it down to Norway, or even Bergen, so far I haven’t come across anyone else who is from China, or from my culture, or from my city, who is doing the same.” Michelle is bringing the unique dishes of her hometown and her family’s traditional cooking practices to the table, both with the food she serves at the pop-ups and with the methods she teaches at cooking workshops around Bergen.

Michelle’s blog, “No Sweet Sour” is named to challenge the popular fast-food image of Chinese food as a westernised version of a sweet and sour sauce, a sauce that is far from representative of the food Michelle grew up with in Kunming. “Chinese cuisine is not about a one-dimensional flavour and dish,” she explains, “it has so much history behind it, and the preparation of each dish carries a story from each family.” Her local efforts and her blog are a chance for her to showcase the complexity, authenticity and tradition of how food from her region is actually prepared. 

By 2019, No Sweet Sour’s blog and Instagram had grown into a full-fledged community, where followers engage with Michelle daily on food, recipes and “how things should be done” in traditional Chinese cooking. 


“Hello, have you eaten?” 

Most of Michelle’s recipes are her own, she documents her work to share with her followers around the world and she emphasizes using fresh, local products and making the dishes from scratch. The blog and social profiles act as her live portfolios; everything she creates, from a pop-up menu to a new dish, is put online. She uses these digital tools to promote her product and in branding her business as showcasing Chinese and Yunnan food. 

According to Michelle, No Sweet Sour is not only her dossier and a space for her to document Chinese cuisine and culinary culture, but it also a source of interrelation. As the online community has grown, Michelle has realised that No Sweet Sour “is more of a personal connection.” With the internet, it is easy to find answers to questions of tradition and practice, but Michelle found that people aren’t looking for just the facts, they are looking for the authentic experience, “not only when it comes to taste, but also in the personal story behind the dish.” 

Authenticity and No Sweet Sour go hand in hand, one of the first posts you encounter on her blog is the connection point, “Hello, have you eaten?” Michelle explains that this is a common greeting in China, with a typical reply along the lines of, “I’ve eaten, what about you?.” No Sweet Sour is peppered with points of personal connection that readers can engage with. 

A screenshot of one of the immersive pages of No Sweet Sour’s blog.

What lies ahead? 

When the website began to take traction, Michelle decided to go further and make the online aspect more physical for those interested in learning. With the help of Impact Hub Bergen’s TESTBAR project that supports up-and-coming immigrant food entrepreneurs, Michelle was able to establish No Sweet Sour’s Bergen presence with pop-up stands, workshops, social dining and catering. 

Michelle decided early on that starting a typical restaurant would not be the goal of No Sweet Sour. A restaurant would tie her concept down to one location, “a restaurant is just a restaurant – you come, you dine, you leave,” Michelle explained at a Waffle Pitch at Impact Hub Bergen, “but I’m thinking why not go further? For example, create an experience where guests participate in making their food. People are looking for that kind of authentic experience, they want to be part of it and hear your stories.”

She enjoys adding the dynamic factor to the dining experience that can be found in social dining and workshops. Social dining, also a TESTBAR concept, is an evening curated around food and sharing a meal with strangers. Social dining conjures excitement, nerves and is presented in an unexpected format, things that do not transverse a normal Friday dinner out. 

Likewise, workshops are atypical. The focus of her workshops is more than in the taste of the final product, “workshops add to the authentic experience, because you’re working for your own food and you become more social because you’re teaming up with other people to make this happen.” Michelle is aiming to host these nights in other cities around Norway, like in Oslo and Stavanger. 

Michelle Zhao is making most of her ingredients from scratch, like the noodles in the traditional dish.

Although she sources mostly local, fresh products, vegetables and raw materials, sometimes she depends on importing some key ingredients and spices to maintain the traditional cuisine and cooking practices. Michelle plans to become an importer, because of her knowledge of the region, freshness and sustainability of the products. Because many of her ingredients must be imported, she came  up with the idea of selling merchandise at her social dining events and workshops. That way, “if guests return home and decide they want to make that dish that they’ve been taught, they can purchase a package of local and hard-to-find imported ingredients.” This merchandise could also be distributed through No Sweet Sour’s online presence.

A mocha with extra topping?

The long game for No Sweet Sour is to enter a new adventure, importing coffee from Yunnan. Michelle would like her business to grow into something that directly connects both of her homes, China and Norway. Ultimately, she wishes to give a Norwegian platform to fairtrade coffee producers from Yunnan.

Upon moving here, Michelle discovered that Norway has a strong coffee culture, “I wasn’t into coffee before I moved to Norway. Back then I considered coffee to be a Starbucks latte or mocha with extra whipped topping.” Her Norwegian friends quickly introduced her to hand-brewed coffee; it wasn’t long before she recognised what to look for in a good cup. On a visit to Yunnan, she noticed the same roasting and flavour notes at a local coffee shop that she found in Norway. After discovering that the bean was from her region, she realised that “perhaps the connection to [her] hometown that [she’d] been looking for was – coffee.” 

Michelle visiting a coffee plantation in the Yunnan region.

Michelle plans to establish a connection and relationship between coffee producers in Yunnan and roasters here in Norway and Scandinavia, to ensure that the trade is made at a fair price and in a sustainable way towards the farmers. The beans she imports will be roasted locally and distributed as a part of the merchandise under her label No Sweet Sour. 

In the meantime, Michelle is immersing herself in the world of coffee to learn as much as possible. Her ultimate goal is to build an audience that has an interest in the Yunnan region, “that could become customers of the coffee when the product is finally out.” Combined together, coffee and cuisine from Yunnan is a strong concept that can’t be found in Bergen, yet.

Where can you find Michelle next? 

To support Michelle’s and No Sweet Sour’s journey, find her at one of these events around Bergen: 

To find out more about Impact Hub Bergen’s TESTBAR program and their group of entrepreneurs, visit testbar.no.

We asked Michelle Zhao from No Sweet Sour in five questions why new food entrepreneurs should consider joining TESTBAR at Impact Hub Bergen in 2020. 

Michelle Zhao, originally from the Yunnan region of China, is the owner and creator of No Sweet Sour. She has grown what first started as a blog and Instagram account featuring delicious, authentic Chinese dishes and recipes, into a catering, dining, workshop and pop-up café venture in Bergen, Norway. Last year, Michelle joined the TESTBAR program at Impact Hub Bergen, which gives food entrepreneurs guidance, resources and contacts to grow their businesses for free thanks to support from Bergen Kommune, Kavlifondet, Vestland Fylkeskommune and the Grieg Foundation.

Dumplings Workshop with No Sweet Sour. Photo: Lana Zaychenko

  1. Why TESTBAR in the first place? 

Last April, I decided to grow my business beyond my digital subscribers and was seeking a space to test out my culinary ideas. A friend tipped me about Impact Hub Bergen, a coworking space and innovation center in the heart of Bergen and their test kitchen, where aspiring chefs can create their dishes for a community of entrepreneurs. 

  1. Michelle’s main goal with No Sweet Sour? 

With No Sweet Sour, I hope to create a business with products that give my customers value and at the same time, are able to provide me with a liveable income. Identifying and defining the underlying purpose of your business is something that is emphasized at Impact Hub Bergen; TESTBAR participants get access to tools that helps them outline and develop their business plan.

Photo: instagram.com/nosweetsour

  1. So what has TESTBAR done for her lately? 

Since joining a little less than a year ago, TESTBAR was able to provide me with a base for my workshops, small catering events and pop ups. Most important, however, were the connections that came out of my free Flex membership at Impact Hub Bergen. By accessing the coworking community, fellow members eventually became clients and collaborators. With some new established contacts, I have been able to grow my competence and business while earning income. 

  1. So, why should food entrepreneurs apply to TESTBAR? 

For me, it has built confidence. As food entrepreneurs get more involved in the TESTBAR program, they gain experience in a variety of activities. Impact Hub Bergen sets up challenges that help food entrepreneurs to push themselves in a safe environment, such as, budgeting member lunches, hosting food workshops, presenting at a Waffle Pitch, catering in-house events and creating pop-up weekends in the Café. 

Lunch for members of Impact Hub Bergen by No Sweet Sour. Photo: Heidi Aas Kvalheim

  1. And her best advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs? 

Be passionate and true to your ideas. As a food entrepreneur starting out in a new field, many things are unfamiliar and insecure. In a safe environment, however,  it can be a little easier to trust your gut, so to speak. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

The new round of TESTBAR in 2020 has even more to offer aspiring food entrepreneurs, including:

To apply to the 2020 program visit testbar.no.

“What I’d like to achieve is to integrate effectively within a community, share my skills and develop my work in a sustainable way.”

Gurdish Haugsdal, an artist and designer from London, is the founder and creative behind Dish Art in Bergen. When she is not in her studio or involved in projects around town, she is using Impact Hub as her workspace and to find collaborative partners. Gurdish’s strong designs and eye-catching projects are characterised by distinctively dark lines and tones. They have been described as feminine, powerful and seductive. Her large scale paintings and murals can be found in cafes, schools, and window displays around Bergen.

This illustration by Dish is called “Sauvage Devine” and is a portrait inspired by Sideshow Royalty of Missy Macabre.

During her Waffle Pitch at Impact Hub Bergen, Gurdish presented her artwork, ambitions, and two projects she has been involved in at places of social impact. These pieces have served as an inspiration to patrons and have even helped to shape the identity of the institutions themselves. 


Hyssingen Production School 

The Hyssingen Production School is an alternative school where students acquire skills such as cooking, craftsmanship or design through workshops and practical exercises. Gurdish was the creative behind a large mural painting in the school’s student-run cafe and bakery. The café and bakery is a practical exercise run completely by the students, and the art has played a part in forming the café’s identity, adding to the purpose and authenticity of the project for the students. 

Gurdish sitting at the café at Hyssingen Production School. The café at Møllendalsveien 65B, is open to visitors from 10-15:30 on Tuesday through Friday.


Salvation Army Bakkegaten

Gurdish also worked on a project with the Bakkegaten Salvation Army in the neighborhood of Sandviken, an organisation that supports those with addiction problems. Because it can be quite “an emotionally heavy place to be,” Gurdish wanted to effect change in the everyday perspectives of the residents through her art. She started by covering the walls with bright colours and painted large botanicals in all four corridors. Dandelions, which are considered a tough flower with a sunny disposition, were painted on the floor of the emergency room. 

During this project Gurdish noticed that attitudes at the institution shifted, “you can actually see that the murals have an effect on the moods of the people living and working there, by changing the environment and bringing colour. Residents and employees reported less aggravation and a calmer atmosphere. I feel like I am getting  back just as much as I am giving”. She is also collaborating with Salvation Army Bakkegaten by helping them to set up an art room for some of the women that live there. Through daily practice, residents might receive an outlet for the stress and chaos they experience in their everyday. 

Gurdish painted a mural of Catherine Booth, the co-founder of the Salvation Army with her husband, William Booth at the Salvation Army on Bakkegaten. Booth was a champion for women and children’s rights and was an inspiration for Gurdish on this project.


A Network of Female Entrepreneurs

Moving from London to Norway meant Gurdish was challenged with starting her career over in a new place. Luckily, Bergen was a place that she had already been visiting for fifteen years, so contacts from her frequent visits helped her to establish her business here in the beginning. She emphasised that 90% of her network in Bergen is actually made of women entrepreneurs.  

Gurdish’s personal vision for her art is to “integrate effectively within a community, share [her] skills and develop [her] work in a sustainable way.” In 2019, Gurdish hosted workshops for children at the Ocean Festival and Bergen Biblioteket, with her “Dish” project, where she guides the decoration of dishes sourced from vintage shops. She is looking forward to working more with the youth, hosting more workshops and getting the opportunity to paint murals in public spaces, “art comes in many forms and I am adaptable.” 

Dish is presenting her project at the Salvation Army on Bakkegaten at Impact Hub’s weekly Waffle Pitch, where members and externals can receive feedback on their business or project from a diverse group of entrepreneurs.

You can find out more about Gurdish Haugsdal on her website or Facebook and Instagram @dish_kunst

Would you also like to present your business or idea at our weekly Waffle Pitch? Get in touch with us at [email protected]!

Located in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Bryggen, the wooden walls of the coworking space Impact Hub Bergen date back to the 18th century. Hidden staircases and historic artifacts contrast the colorful furnishings and modern office equipment, providing an inspiring backdrop for social innovation, technology and the realization of ideas.


What is Impact Hub?

Impact Hub Bergen was founded in 2010 by Silje Grastveit, a Kaospilot programme alumni. Silje had a vision for a space that would invite interactions between unlikely allies in the name of creativity and sustainable innovation. In September 2011, Impact Hub Bergen opened its doors and became the first of its kind in Norway. Today, it has grown into a community of more than 50 changemakers that share knowledge through curated community events and programs.



What is happening at Impact Hub?

Impact Hub Bergen also uses social entrepreneurship as a tool to empower and include marginalized groups in Bergen. Some of the programs include STEP, a social entrepreneurship training program for immigrants; Gründermatch, where unemployed individuals are matched with start-ups; Fremtidspiloten and Social Innovation Camp, educational programs for high school and university students about sustainable innovation; the Test Kitchen initiative for food entrepreneurs, which has worked as a springboard for immigrant women starting their own businesses in the catering industry; and Impact Challenge, an innovation program that brings together different actors to generate realizable solutions for pressing social issues. 

The Impact Challenge program guides entrepreneurs from idea to incubation, and is supported by Kavlifondet, Bergen Municipality, Hordaland County and Sparebanken Vest. Last year, the program incubated several successful startups around the theme “age-friendly societies”; this year, a selected number of teams will be tackling pressing issues in mental health services. 


What is happening during Innovasjonsuken OPP?

This Thursday, Impact Hub will receive a guest visit from VKST accounting services for a lecture on liquidity. The Liquidity Lunch is catered by one of the Testbar’s food entrepreneurs, No Sweet Sour. This presentation will be in Norwegian and will be held in the The Café from 12:30-14:00.

Typically on Fridays, Impact Hub has a weekly “Waffle Pitch” event, where an entrepreneur gives a brief pitch of their business or a specific challenge they are working on. This sparks exciting discussions from the audience around sustainability topics, and – every so often – new collaborations. Join the Waffle Pitch during Innovasjonsuken OPP with Impact Challenge participant Lifekeys, on Friday 20th May from 12:00 – 13:00.

Also on Friday, Silje Grastveit will present Impact Challenge: a program for social entrepreneurs. Those interested in the process of business development for social causes, from idea to launch, can meet in The Café following the Waffle Pitch from 13:30-14:30 for an informal talk.

Following a launch of a tool for pricing graphic design work for start-ups, created by one of Impact Hub’s longest members, Kolbrun Retorikk,  Impact Hub is inviting Innovasjonsuken OPP attendees to wind down at theAfter Work Winedown. After an exciting week of inspiration and events, have a drink together with other entrepreneurs in a relaxed environment at Impact Hub Bergen. The first visitors will receive a free aperitivo.


Interested in meeting our community?

Impact Hub Bergen is open during the week of Innovasjonsuken OPP for anyone who would like to try out coworking at Bryggen: Register here for your free day pass.