Reflections on 8 years of social innovation in Norway
12 December 2019 - Impact Hub Team

by Silje Grastveit, Founder & CEO of Impact Hub Bergen.

When Impact Hub Bergen opened its doors in September 2011, it was the first coworking space in Norway and there were only a handful of other Impact Hubs in the world. Co-working was hardly a known term at that time. Few spoke about sustainability in relation to business.

When we started to talk about social innovation, there were many who questioned whether such an idealistic approach to business was possible. Today, sustainability and the double or triple bottom line are important topics in the business community. Thanks to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, many have found concrete goals to work towards – this is a fantastic development.

When I first came across the Impact Hub network in 2008, the concepts of co-working and social innovation were still very new. Here in Bergen, I was involved in starting the first innovation conference, called Grow, in 2007, and became the project leader there in 2008. At that time, our office was situated in an early version of the incubator at VilVite, organised by BTO (now VIS). When I presented my business idea for a collaborative space for creativity & innovation to the founder of the very first Impact Hub, Jonathan Robinson, there were only a few other Hubs worldwide. He asked me if I would like to start Norway’s first Hub. After some thinking I said yes, travelled back home to adjust my business plan, and then began a ploughing effort to create an understanding and acceptance for something that was completely unheard of at the time.

I’ve learned that this is one of the most important characteristics to have as a founder. When an entrepreneur is working to create something entirely new, they are often met with resistance. It’s natural for us as humans to try to fit things into predefined categories, because we like to feel safe and often tend to prefer things that seem familiar. One of the most important things we can give to entrepreneurs who are trying to provide something totally new, is to take their dreams and visions seriously and avoid trying to fit them in a familiar frame.

Building communities for impact

Today, the global Impact Hub network has grown to become the world’s largest network for social innovation, with over 100 locations spread across the globe and over 16 000 members worldwide.

Impact Hub Bergen is part of this local-global community of entrepreneurs, working together to realize solutions that improve the quality of people’s lives within the means of our planet. 

Our mission is to inspire, connect and enable social entrepreneurs in realising solutions to our common challenges. We do this by providing an
inspiring space that invites a vibrant community of social changemakers to collaborate through meaningful content, such as collaborative processes and projects that explore new solutions to complex challenges. 

In the Impact Hub network, we work systematically toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Every year, we conduct a global survey that measures both our own performance in delivering services to our entrepreneurs that contribute to their success, as well as the social impact performance of our members – How many people do they reach with their solutions? How do they account for their own environmental and social impact? Are they financially sustainable? 

What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?

If we want to create sustainable business for the future, we need to keep in mind three things: 

  1. Our solutions should contribute positively to society in the form of better quality of life – through social belonging, education, social justice & equality, and through good health and wellbeing. 
  2. Our solutions must use our limited natural resources in a responsible manner – we must use less, dispose of less, choose environmentally-friendly alternatives and save energy. 
  3. And once we have found a solution that contributes positively to people and the planet, it must be financially viable for it to sustain itself.

If we have found a solution that ticks these three boxes, or at least two out of three, then we have created a business idea that doesn’t only serve us personally, but also society at large – and this is called social entrepreneurship.

When we talk about social entrepreneurship, we often find entrepreneurs working on solutions to social challenges such as social inclusion, work inclusion, integration, health or prevention. From a more environmental perspective, we see entrepreneurs working on solutions within food, energy, transport or consumption. 

Impact Hub welcomes everyone working in these areas – startups as well as more established organisations. Transformative social change calls for collaboration between both established businesses and startups, across industries and from all sectors.


Social Entrepreneurship and Co-Creation in Action

Every year, we run innovation programs designed to create and scale solutions to systemic problems by inspiring, connecting and enabling citizens, entrepreneurs and organisations.

The areas we are currently working with are:

  • Mental health
  • Inclusion and celebrating diversity
  • Sustainable food and lifestyles
  • Climate action

We engage with these topics through our programs Impact Challenge, STEP, Testbar and Fremtidspiloten.

Impact Challenge is an innovation program in three phases where we work with a specific social challenge and bring together different actors in interdisciplinary teams to generate solutions. In 2017-18 we explored solutions for age-friendly societies. This year, we have been working on challenges in our systems for mental health and are currently guiding 9 teams through our incubation phase. Next year, we will shift our focus to inclusion and celebrating diversity.

STEP is a pilot project offering business development training for entrepreneurs with an immigrant background.

Testbar is our program for food entrepreneurs. We have found that many immigrants, particularly women, seek to start up their own catering business. So we built a production kitchen with support from Bergen kommune, registered it with the food safety authorities, and have enabled several food entrepreneurs to test and develop their concepts in a safe environment. We have received support from Grieg Foundation to develop the program further next year to include courses, pop-up cafes, social dining and mentorship. 

Fremtidspiloten is a collaboration between Impact Hub, Bærekraftige Liv and Raftostiftelsen, supported by Kavlifondet, where we offer an alternative educational program to train youth in innovation methods. Through a series of gatherings, they learn the links between climate challenges and human rights in a global context. They learn how to develop solutions to challenges that they engage with in their everyday lives, such as food waste, overconsumption and energy use.  

2019: A year of Impact 

2019 has been a successful year for many of our entrepreneurs…

  • Folkelig won a nationwide commission by the Directorate of Health for their project Matjungelen, where children can explore, play and learn about foods that are good for their health and the planet AND their team grew by two members;
  • Previous Impact Challenge participants Lifekeys, an online psychology service, are now expanding their services across Europe, and globally in collaboration with student organizations;
  • Previous Impact Challenge winners Lifeplanner, a digital tool to keep important data, received funding of 500 000 kroner from Design og Arkitektur Norge (DOGA) to invest in the design of their online platform that helps users prepare for life’s unexpected adversities. This design work will happen in collaboration with another Impact Hub member organisation, Kolbrun Retorikk;
  • Beat Technology has had an impressive growth with Fabel, a publishing platform for audiobooks, ending this year with 3.5 million NOK in profit;
  • Both Folkelig and previous Impact Challenge winner Pitstop, who support challenged youth, were nominated as Social Entrepreneur of the Year by FERD.
  • Pitstop has made an innovative solution where they support challenged youth and are expanding nationally. They have received a wide range of support, including fixed funding from the state budget.

…and for Impact Hub Bergen:

  • Kavlifondet joined us as a main partner, and as a core collaborative partner for the Impact Challenge program on mental health together with Bergen municipality, the county of Hordaland and Sparebanken Vest;
  • We are currently incubating 9 teams working on meaningful solutions to mental health challenges for the Impact Challenge Program;
  • We have expanded the Testbar program with several food entrepreneurs and received funding from Grieg Foundation for the next year;
  • We educated 150 high school students in innovation methods for climate solutions, and 60 university students in social innovation methods;
  • We now have a member base of 100 individuals working on realising their businesses;
  • We held over 60 Impact Hub events with over 1100 participants; 
  • And we were chosen as Bergen’s favorite co-working space by;

We owe these successes to the fantastic support of our core partners Hordaland (Vestland) Fylkeskommune, Bergen Kommune, Kavlifondet and Sparebanken Vest; not to mention our amazing membership community, competent board and hardworking team. Thank you!

Be part of the change – join our community in 2020!

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