Fishbowl Discussion: Fostering the growth of impact entrepreneurs
25 June 2018 - Impact Hub Berlin

What unites us and The Hague? You guessed right: impact, baby! The Hague is the first ImpactCity in the world designed to support impact entrepreneurs in succeeding and scaling. With their soft landing, housing and financial support programs, they have created a vibrant support ecosystem for impact ventures that work towards the SDGs – connecting NGOs, research centers, knowledge institutes, companies, governments and many young and creative entrepreneurs who are ‘doing good & doing business’.

While the social innovation scene in Berlin has been growing constantly and is becoming more and more visible, also thanks to initiatives such as the Social Entrepreneurship Network Deutschland (SEND e.V.) amongst many others, our local governmental institutions are still struggling to provide an infrastructure for social entrepreneurs that enables them to succeed and scale. Especially bureaucracy and affordable housing are key barriers (impact) entrepreneurs face.

To address this issue and to discuss how and to which extend cities and governments can foster impact entrepreneurs, we hosted an open Fishbowl discussion together with the ImpactCity Den Haag on June 20, 2018. Our panel consisting of Nele Kapretz, our Co-Founder & Managing Director, Erik van der Rijk, Director of Urban Economy, and Anna Menenti, Program Manager of Impact Economy, both responsible for ImpactCity, was joined by Katrin Elsemann from SEND as well as members from the audience. Birgit Leverenz from the Berlin Senate Department for Economics, Energy and Public Enterprises also joined us in the audience.


The key findings were:


  • Innovative power comes from cities rather than countries. City governments should realize their responsibility to foster local innovation ecosystems that are attractive for impact startups and impact investors. Job creation is the key term here!
  • Cities can play a crucial role in promoting the visibility of impact entrepreneurs. By offering a platform to explain and display the role of social enterprises, they become visible to impact investors and talent. As Berlin is becoming more and more popular, it was suggested to use this visibility to promote social entrepreneurship.
  • Impact entrepreneurs can fill gaps that cities struggle to address and local governments should take advantage of that. With their Startup in Residence program, the ImpactCity manages to bring the government and entrepreneurs together to solve local problems. Every year, the city posts challenges addressing local issues such as waste management, access to information or political engagement, which citizens can create and hand in innovative solutions for. Once selected, the municipality of The Hague slips into the role of the customer and helps to bring the idea to life. The concept, which is also used in other cities such as San Francisco, has proven to be very successful in fostering collaboration and understanding between governments and citizens / startups. Might be an interesting idea in Berlin, where problems pile up and there are not many incentives for citizens to step in yet!
  • Bureaucracy is a major burden for most (social) entrepreneurs. “It takes 1 day to found a startup in The Hague and 300 days to do so in Berlin.” Let’s change this – so that impact startups can concentrate on what they do well: doing good and doing business!
  • It is not a city’s task to invest in social startups, but to facilitate investment. Investing in infrastructure to attract investment and encouraging private-public partnerships were mentioned as the key ingredients for a supportive ecosystem.
  • Partnerships between cities should be encouraged to make scaling for impact entrepreneurs easier. Soft landing programs such as the one in The Hague are great baselines for that. As our guests pointed out, creating a welcoming environment for startups is not stealing entrepreneurs away, but rather helping them to succeed on a larger scale!
  • We have to be able to find a common language that translates between city governments, entrepreneurs, corporates and investors to deepen an understanding of the needs and collaboration opportunities.
  • Involve the universities to get students interested in impact entrepreneurship.


Thank you to everyone who participated in our Fishbowl discussion!

If we have forgotten to include key findings you noted or if you want to be connected to someone at the event, please get in touch with Vera.