Prepare for positive impact as cofounders of social-impact catalyst TIIME, Hedda Pahlson-Moller and Cécile Sevrain, take us on a journey of social impact – from entrepreneurship to investing. Passionate, and committed to “hacking minds,”, their mission is clear: Drive the #ImpactImperative to motivate organizations and individuals towards achieving sustainability that values the concept of the triple bottom line: People. Planet. Profit.
(Featured Image: Hedda Pahlson-Moller and Cécile Sevrain / Image Credit: Serge Deuces)
How has the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Luxembourg evolved over the last decade?
H. P-M. When I moved to Luxembourg 14 years ago, you could say there was a disjointed ecosystem with a limited community and no obvious way to share the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur. Just four students attended the executive MBA program I started teaching a few years later at SHU (Sacred Heart University Luxembourg). It was a time when entrepreneurship was seen as something bizarre and eccentric. If you said you were an entrepreneur, people assumed you were unemployed!
As time passed, Luxembourg developed support programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. A small group of us started getting together to share our experiences (good, bad and ugly), and we teamed up with Diego at Technoport to create a community for entrepreneurs – by entrepreneurs. We called it ETFL (Entrepreneurship Task Force Luxembourg) and it soon became a network of close to 100 restless souls. A physical space to meet more regularly became a necessity, and we found inspiration at The Hub in Zurich (now part of the global network, Impact Hub).
“The goal was to scale a platform for entrepreneurs of all kinds – a place to cowork, co-create and gain access to mentoring, coaching and financing opportunities.”
With the support of the former mayor, Paul Helminger, we opened the doors to Luxembourg’s first coworking space: The Impactory. Despite skepticism about shared office space, the community blossomed and attracted entrepreneurs, creatives, consultants and a growing cluster of social enterprises: from asbls exploring new revenue streams to entrepreneurs tackling societal issues through viable business models. It was a home for changemakers in all shapes and forms. When we reached a point where we wanted to move to the next level, we partnered with Business Initiative, headed by Nicolas Buck – and nyuko was created. The goal was to scale a platform for entrepreneurs of all kinds – a place to cowork, co-create and gain access to mentoring, coaching and financing opportunities.
What does the social entrepreneurship landscape look like today?
C.S. I joined LBAN (Luxembourg Business Angels Network) in 2014 at a critical juncture. While developing the community and establishing the values of the organization, it became clear that there were non-financial returns business angels derive from investing in these high-risk projects. These include the reward of supporting an entrepreneur as they follow their dream, become successful, or just being part of an innovative development and job creation.
I met Hedda at the Impactory (bien sûr), and as an LBAN board member she shared her values-based approach to impact investing – and her mission to mobilize capital and resources towards positive social and environmental impact. This resonated with me as I was already coaching at 1,2,3 Go Social, helping people develop socially responsible initiatives.
Soon after, TIIME was created as a joint initiative between a group of us that wanted to inspire more entrepreneurs, investors and corporates to improve positive societal impact in their business models. We saw no reason for business and finance to be separated from social or environmental responsibility. They work beautifully and effectively hand-in-hand.
“Companies are recognizing that if they want to retain and attract talent, or succeed in the long term, they invariably need to incorporate values into their DNA.”
We have seen a positive shift recently where business school students and corporate employees are keen to engage in impact projects. TIIME launched with a focus on entrepreneurs and investors, but we have now developed solutions for corporates, consultancies and financial services providers wanting to know how they can get involved in this ‘movement.’ With all the incredible resources available and the possibility to weave social INTRApreneurship into the fabric of an organization, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is taking on a new meaning. Companies are recognizing that if they want to retain and attract talent, or succeed in the long term, they invariably need to incorporate values into their DNA.
The world is opening up in a big way to social entrepreneurship and social investing: strong communities are forming; incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces are proliferating; new legal structures are being devised to adapt to the unique needs of this sector (like the SIS structure here in Luxembourg); and collaboration across sectors is the new gold standard.
TIIME has always served as an incubation hub for impact ideas. We launched a series of co-creation sessions called ‘Impact Mondays’ for everyone and anyone interested in designing a local impact project (many of the old Impactory crew joined us). When a project was ready to stand on its own, it would spin off to reach its own potential. Remarkable projects such as Connections (initially supporting refugees partnering and exchanging skills with entrepreneurs, companies and engaged citizens, and now a successful ASTI program) and Equilibre (a gender complementarity platform), were designed and managed by TIIME co-founders.
H. P-M. Advocacy is crucial to our strategy, and we believe in the power of inspiration through concrete examples and role models. We travel extensively encouraging diverse audiences to embrace a triple bottom line approach. We work with traditional business and the social sector alike to measure and manage their societal impact. There is no judgment on legal structure or business model (for profit or not) as long as the impact is defined – by design and not by default.
Our impact catalyst, TIIME, is built upon the idea that everyone should understand and recognize their impact, never underestimating the ripple effect of their actions, positive or negative. This is the basis for improvement. We provide training for organizations of all sizes, supporting them as they design sustainable revenue streams to support their impact model, while helping investors mobilize their capital towards impact. The basis of our methodology is leveraging the entrepreneurial mindset to create sustainable practices and view problems as opportunities.
“Our fundamental message about the future is that we are facing societal challenges that cannot be solved by governments and NGOs alone – even with philanthropic support. We all need to start leveraging our skills, experiences, resources and funds to support the type of change needed.”
What does the future hold?
After over a decade of contributing to the entrepreneurial and angel-investing ecosystems, the #ImpactImperative has, in retrospect, been something of a Trojan horse. We believe entrepreneurship (and business in general) will ultimately have to be socially and environmentally responsible with long-term sustainability. We call it ‘social entrepreneurship’ now, but soon enough it will simply be ‘entrepreneurship.’
With the development and professionalization of the ecosystem, finance needs to follow. As Uli Grabenwarter (EIF) demonstrated in his research at IESE Business School, there is not necessarily a trade-off between financial return and a social/environmental return. However, if you want to optimize social and environmental return, it will come at a cost. Hybrid or blended financing models (such as Venture Philanthropy) have been developed to address the varying financing needs of social purpose organizations. We work with financing organizations across Europe (EBAN Impact, EVPA, etc.) to develop socially responsible investing practices. As a matter of urgency, the private and financial sectors need to get more engaged. Entrepreneurs are using their entrepreneurial thinking to tackle problems in new ways; the private sector and corporates need to start addressing their own externalities and systemic deficiencies.
We love innovative ideas where you take unusual suspects and turn your perspective upside down or inside out to find a solution. Just look at Apopo which trains rodents to be HeroRATs, saving lives by finding landmines and detecting tuberculosis. Or Auticon that exclusively employs autistic adults as (remarkable) software-testing consultants. There are endless examples of inspiring (and investment-ready) social entrepreneurial ventures to support.
Our fundamental message about the future is that we are facing societal challenges that cannot be solved by governments and NGOs alone – even with philanthropic support. We all need to start leveraging our skills, experiences, resources and funds to support the type of change needed.
Sustainability is a journey. Impact is a journey. Even empathy (which is fundamental) is a journey. Everybody has their own path – and pace. We focus on positive psychology and the idea of taking small, measurable steps towards positive change. We all need to start hacking our minds and thinking differently to take responsible action. Time (and TIIME) is of the essence!
This article was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of SILICON magazine. Be the first to read SILICON articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.