Although a dream for many, the daily life of any entrepreneur can be rather lonesome, particularly in London’s ever growing Social Enterprise sector. A group of artists, architects and activists met this problem head on in the mid-noughties, by coming together to share workspace. The idea quickly developed into something much more than solely a shared work space; it became a supportive community sharing knowledge, resources and skills, which in turn increased their chances of growing. In fact, the concept worked so well that ten years later there are Impact Hubs in over 70 cities around the globe with over 10,000 members and counting.
The world’s most famous cluster, Silicon Valley, is known for being the centre of some of the most successful technology companies of today. Clusters occur where companies gather in an area and consequently generate employment, innovation and new business. A ‘hub’ accordingly gathers people together to share resources and generate innovation. The word ‘hub’ is originally a technical term for a common connection point for devices in a network. Impact Hub serves as that connecting point for social entrepreneurs at 70 locations around the world. Holding the community together is a shared social and environmental responsibility at the core of each member’s business model.
The LINK Magazine met with Quentin Johns, Head of Business Development at Impact Hub Westminster, one of four Impact Hubs in the British capital. He tells the story of leaving a successful job in retail due to the wish to join a social enterprise and to get closer to his own values. This dedication shines through when he speaks of the many companies and projects of the Impact Hub. He refers to the first space-using model of the mid-noughties as Impact Hub 1.0. Since then, Impact Hub has developed into version 2.0, offering members more opportunities for collaboration and providing business support and educational programmes. Johns has great expectations for the 3.0 model, which he believes will be characterised by a growing virtual community with ever more global collaborations through the network. One day, he would like to see members being paid to be part of the community.
“We believe early stage organisations struggle to survive in isolation. Our environment and services are designed to incubate the growth and impact of all our members through collaboration and support. Start-ups can be a risky business as approximately 75 % don’t survive the first 3 years,“ Johns told The LINK.
According to Johns, Impact Hub has managed to change those figures around, with 75% of members surviving their first 3 years in operation.
Impact Hub Westminster boasts many success stories, with companies exceeding expectations and goals for funds raised as well as winning great commercial popularity. Johns tells the story of OpenDesk, which evolved in Impact Hub Westminster’s early days. The team strove to design furniture which would enable collaboration and produced, amongst other things, desks for the workspace. Created with a CNC Machine, the shapes, which are cut out of wooden sheets, can be put together without screws and nails. The furniture was highly appreciated in-house, hence the idea grew to be a global platform for workspace furniture. Digital fabrication enables designers and manufacturers to connect so that anyone, anywhere in the world, can download the design of a wanted piece of furniture and produce it locally. OpenDesk’s model has economic, social and environmental benefits, all according to Impact Hub Westminster’s requirements. Local, decentralised production takes the manufacturing back into the heart and culture of local communities, bringing back jobs that are intrinsically rewarding and creative. The service is used globally and has gained further trust through a highly successful fundraising campaign on Crowdcube, where the target was reached in just three days.
The next generation of young entrepreneurs want to have a positive impact on the world and are therefore more likely to leave big corporations in favour of social enterprises. The start-ups of the Impact Hubs are living examples of how social responsibility successfully can be incorporated into the business model, according to Johns.
“It is my belief that more and more individuals will move in this direction. Impact Hub Westminster is the working space for individuals committed to creating a better world.”
In 2014, The Young Professionals of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the UK (YP) hosted an event at Impact Hub Westminster. The forum “Virtual Stage Dive” addressed the theme of crowdsourcing and how to leverage your crowd. The speakers; Christer Holloman, author of The Social Media MBA series and Vincent Boon, founder of Standing on Giants, spoke about the many ways for companies to leverage the knowledge and ambitions of their customers through social media platforms. Holloman pointed out that social media goes far beyond Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and argued that it is rather all different platforms where likeminded people can meet. Value can be created through these forums by integrating your community into the business process. Similarly, value is created through the Impact Hub network where individuals can meet, learn, collaborate and produce.
When looking out over the open plan office space at Impact Hub Westminster, one sees small groups of people working together. Conversation, creativity and entrepreneurship will flourish when individuals have the opportunity to work in proximity to each other. On the one hand, the members working here do share both space and resources but on the other, they share something much more, a commitment to create a better world through entrepreneurial ideas.