IMPACT HUB LEADERSHIP INTERVIEW with Lena Gansterer, Barbara Inmann and Florian Bauer
We sat down with Impact Hub Vienna’s new leadership team to get their insight on what this next chapter has in store for our organization and community. Here’s what they had to say about collaboration with the global network, continued activities in the CEE region, and development of the social innovation ecosystem in Vienna.
Tell us a bit about your backgrounds.
BI: I started my journey with Impact Hub Vienna back in 2008 when I was searching for solutions on how to bring business and social ideas together for my master’s thesis. I was one of the first members and am also one of the organization’s crowd investors. It was three years ago that I left the world of corporate and NGO work and officially joined the team. I’ve been learning to speak the language of startups ever since and using my background to support the impact ecosystem.
LG: I was one of Impact Hub Vienna’s first employees and worked as a project manager for our flagship accelerator program–the Investment Ready Program. Together with a small team, we built Impact Hub’s acceleration machine from the ground up. We helped scale the Social Impact Award in partnership with WU, expanded IRP into new regions and steadily added new programs to our arsenal–quite a labor of love let me tell you.
FB: For the last 11 years I worked as the Chief Operating Officer for REEEP – the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, a non-profit that aims at accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency systems in low and middle-income countries. I was responsible for internal operations (Finance, HR, Governance) and IT & Knowledge Management in the organization. Working in a multilateral environment, with so many people dedicated to improving the lives of the most vulnerable populations was an invaluable experience for me. Coming to Impact Hub was a very natural progression, as the missions are very much aligned.
Impact Hub has evolved from a co-working space to a startup accelerator to a local epicenter for everything social impact. How will that take shape in the future?
BI: Looking back, it’s really incredible how this organization has progressed over time. Our first business plan included a headcount of around 2.5 people. Now, we’ve got 20 employees and a mix of revenue streams. Through it all, we’ve held one core belief–we don’t just sell coworking space or accelerator programs or event space, we are building a community. That will remain true in the years to come, but we’ll take it to the next level. We’re currently working on finding more opportunities for stakeholders like corporate companies, NGOs, and government organizations to form stronger collaborations with our community and understand how their expertise and resources can contribute to building a more sustainable, inclusive world.
LG: I’d add that over the years, we’ve also learned a lot about the needs of social entrepreneurs. We are focusing on how we can adapt our accelerator programs to improve our support of these founders and ensure they have the right resources and network they need to be successful.
FB: I agree that we need to take Impact Hub’s core mission of community to the next level by engaging with new stakeholders, and I think we have an interesting mix of backgrounds that put us in a great position to do just that. Barbara has a legacy of work with large corporate companies, I have a background working for an international non-profit, and Lena is heavily embedded in the impact investment scene. We’ll be working on showing these stakeholders how to approach innovation through the lens of social entrepreneurship to realize the economic, social, and environmental benefits.
While Impact Hub Vienna was one of the first innovation centers in Vienna, many other players have since entered the space. How do you see Impact Hub’s relationship with the competition?
LG: Impact Hub started as one of the first co-working spaces and we have always been very collaborative within the co-working and startup communities. I think a lot of players in this space act as “partners in crime” because we’re all building up an ecosystem for entrepreneurial action, and in order for it to succeed we simply have to support each other’s efforts.
FB: Impact Hub Vienna and our community have a very strong identity. We have been a successful innovation center for more than seven years and it’s largely a credit to the team’s dedication to building an authentic place for the local community to come together and focus on impact, sustainability, and supporting people with an entrepreneurial spirit who share our core values. I think our approach remains very unique, even with the new players entering the ecosystem.
IH is a global brand, yet functions on a local base. How with your relationship with the global network continue to shape work at Impact Hub Vienna?
LG: We’ve always had a strong relationship with the global network on both strategic and network levels. The global headquarters is right here in Vienna, and we’ve worked side by side with them as Impact Hub grew from 20 Hubs to over 110. Impact Hub, as well as our members, benefit immensely from the cross-collaboration. Looking forward, we as a network are working on how to better connect our members cross-regionally, so an entrepreneur in Seattle can easily connect with a founder in Singapore to share knowledge and insights. There is incredible potential in our global network and we’re still exploring all the ways we can leverage this community.
FB: Agreed. There are over 6400 startups in 50+ countries in our network–a huge asset to Impact Hub Vienna, our partners, and our members. For social impact startups, the opportunities such a network allows when they begin to scale operations into new locations is invaluable.
BI: We’re also always learning from other Impact Hub’s and visit them often to get introduced to their models. We tap into each other’s expertise in community building, hosting, and use our collective knowledge as a network to better serve our community and support the movement of social innovation globally. We also frequently host other Impact Hub teams to share our journey and lessons learned, as Impact Hub Vienna is considered a center of excellence within our network.
Impact Hub Vienna has expanded its accelerator programs throughout Europe and beyond. What do you see as Impact Hub’s role in continuing these programs throughout Central and Eastern Europe?
LG: Our Investment Ready Program was set up as an international project since the beginning as was Social Impact Award. Each of these programs grew internationally with Impact Hub Vienna as their headquarters. It’s really a testament to the fact that this team and partners in this region are key actors in the spread of social entrepreneurship. Now, Social Impact Award has grown so much it’s become its own entity operating in over 20 countries. Impact Hub Vienna will continue to focus especially on the development of social impact in the CEE region. Currently, we work closely with partners like the Austrian Development Agency to develop projects in the western Balkan region, which we will continue to do in the year to come. Our regional activities help these countries learn about the potential of social entrepreneurship and build academies.