The Austrian Development Agency (ADA) called for a Social Entrepreneurship Challenge in December of 2015. The idea behind the challenge was to encourage the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs) in other countries through new ventures.
1 million euros in grants were allocated to the winners, who participated in workshops helping them develop their ideas for 18 months. The winners also pitched their businesses to Impact Hub Vienna recently as part of the ADA program and we caught up with one of them – HubCouture.
We spoke with Joana Adesuwa Reiterer, CEO, and Pauline Kolm, Network Director, of HubCouture, to discuss how the venture started, the key lessons learned along the way, and the next steps for the venture now that the program at Impact Hub Vienna is about to come to an end.
What made you start your venture?
Joana: I had been supporting victims of human trafficking in Austria with my NGO, EXIT, for more than 10 years when I realised that there must be more one can do to prevent people from being trafficked in the first place. The strongest push-factor in regions affected by human trafficking is the lack of job opportunities and dire future prospects. If young people have enough money to take care of themselves and their family, and are able to see a bright and promising future, the risk of being trafficked diminishes so the issue is: how can we improve their livelihood? In these regions, there are many vulnerable people who have excellent handcraft skills and can make amazing products such as leather, fabrics, fashion, and jewellery. However, the problem is that due to structural and financial reasons, it is almost impossible for them to bring their beautiful products to the global market. So the solution to me was clear: I needed a platform that would directly connect these eager and dedicated producers to the consumers, which would then give them access to the global market. Today, I can proudly say that I am the CEO of HubCouture.
What were the difficulties you encountered during your entrepreneurial journey?
Trafficking is a complex issue and developing a business model that improves the lives of vulnerable people while generating the funds to keep the venture going was a significant challenge. Our platform is not one that will generate significant amounts of revenue in the first few years so finding financial backing is critical to get us from one stage to the next. On the long journey of setting up a business, you come up with many ideas about how to do better and what to improve. While working through these ideas, the easiest and cleverest way becomes difficult to grasp and you are unable to see the wood for the trees. The greatest difficulty for our team has been to stick to one solution, to believe and to fully commit, and to pull it off instead of trying to integrate too many ideas at once.
What made you apply to the program?
Two reasons: financial support and expert guidance. And I am happy to say that these are two things you surely get once you are accepted into the program. The goals of the program were exactly aligned with what we wanted to do. It gave us the space we needed to experiment and to properly develop our business.
How has the program helped you?
Thanks to the helpful guidance of the many experts throughout the program, we have been able to come up with a few ideas that are now firm components of our business strategy.
What are the 3 key lessons you took out of the program?
- Put your social impact in concrete numbers.
- How to pitch. It’s extremely difficult to get it right but so important.
- Good marketing strategies and specific business growth strategies.
We’d also like to add that the community at the Hub is fantastic. Speaking with the other ventures during the program and listening to their difficulties, there’s a great sense of community here and it motivates us and keeps us going.
What are your next steps after completing the program?
Joana: We will continue working as hard as we are now. The fact that so many people are dependent on HubCouture makes the team want to be even more successful. We are excited to take HubCouture to the next level.
What is your advice for somebody wanting to start a venture targeting the SDGs?
Keep the focus on the social impact. Never forget why you started!
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Photos in this article (c) Aneta Pawlik