A new partnership between The Hague’s impact initiative ImpactCity and the Euclid Network of social enterprise support organisations is taking aim at obstacles inhibiting the traction of high impact startups and scale-ups in the city of The Hague. The partners hope their combined networks and expertise will offer a model that can be replicated and expanded by other European cities looking to strengthen their impact ecosystems.
Euclid Network (EN) and ImpactCity are no strangers. EN, whose network of social enterprise incubators, universities, research centres and investors has a presence in more than 40 countries, established its headquarters in The Hague at the invitation of ImpactCity in 2019.
‘Euclid Network was looking for a new hometown,’ says Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes, EN’s executive director. ‘The Hague is so unique in its set-up – this drive to be the world’s impact city coming from within the municipality. It’s a really good fit for us.’
For ImpactCity, EN’s relocation was a vote of confidence for The Hague’s ambitious and pioneering experiment in recasting its business ecosystem as a force for global good. EN also expanded ImpactCity’s access to Europe and the policymakers setting the EU’ sustainable development and innovation agendas – a crucial link for a city known to the world for its global peace, justice and human rights institutions, and for a local entrepreneurial ecosystem that is unique for its global development focus.
The organisations have since worked together to improve transparency and access to EU startup and innovation funding resources for The Hague’s entrepreneurs; engaged with practitioners and local and regional stakeholders as part of the European Social Economy Regions (ESER) initiative; partnered on EN’s Impact Summit and ImpactCity’s ImpactFest, two events which convene a global base of delegates in support of the impact economy; supported data platform Dealroom’s development of a dedicated impact deals database for Europe; and implemented an annual assessment tool for local impact ecosystems called the Better Entrepreneurship Tool, or BET.
‘We’ve based our programmes together on the six pillars that are central to ImpactCity’s efforts – access to finance, for instance, both from investors and the European funding that’s available,’ says Irene Samwel, senior account manager for ImpactCity. Through such initiatives, she adds, both ImpactCity and EN have come to recognise how much ‘relevant knowledge is being exchanged and how many connections are being made.’
Now, ImpactCity and EN are looking to scale up their combined efforts. In addition to established collaborations and forums, the organisations will work together to strengthen the ‘local’ voice of cities and social entrepreneurs and to advance national-level interests in EU impact and innovation policymaking. To help achieve this, ImpactCity was a key supporter to EN in launching the European Social Enterprise Monitor to convey data and information on local startup ecosystems across Europe to municipal, national and EU decision-makers in hopes of driving better policy and closing resource gaps.
They will also work to strengthen impact investors engagement in The Hague. EN is media partner of the European Impact Competition, a partnership between ImpactCity and Get in the Ring, to boost investor connections and other resources for impact entrepreneurs in the six participating European cities. ImpactCity is using the BET assessment to identify opportunities to strengthen The Hague’s impact ecosystem.
‘We’ve already been doing so much work together,’ says Wisse-Huiskes. ‘We have similar goals. We’re allies. This partnership is really just putting a ring on it.’
A new innovation phase
The formalisation of EN and ImpactCity’s partnership comes at an important point of transition for Europe’s innovation agenda.
The European Innovation Council recently announced €10 billion in new funding under Horizon Europe (the replacement to Horizon 2020) to ‘identify, develop and scale up breakthrough technologies and game changing innovations’ between 2021 and 2027. Funding opportunities of up to €1.5 billion will be available this year alone, including €1 billion in grants through the EIC Accelerator.
ImpactCity and EN’s collaboration aims to help impact startups tap into such significant funding resources by serving as a translator, so to speak, between resource-constrained startup ventures and EU policymakers whose goal is to ignite innovation in Europe.
‘Startups and the EU-level designers of these programmes are clearly aligned on goals,’ Samwel observes, but she adds that it is not always evident to entrepreneurs how to identify EU funding opportunities or navigate the application process.
ImpactCity already offers advice to Hague-based startups and scale-ups which are applying for EU funding schemes through its Make Impact: Get EU Funding programme. A key objective of ImpactCity and EN’s strengthened partnership is to escalate ground-level challenges, like navigating the myriad EU funding opportunities for impact entrepreneurs and communicate policy needs and ideas to the EU. To facilitate access to EU finance, EN developed the EU Funding Toolkit.
Starting at home
Last year, ImpactCity sought out EN’s support in identifying its local impact ecosystem gaps and opportunities for improvement. Now in its sixth year, ImpactCity understands that The Hague is unique in the intention and ambition of its impact agenda. The organisation is also aware that there are resources which the city’s entrepreneurs need to thrive – and which The Hague needs if it is to succeed in attracting new talent and innovators.
EN worked with ImpactCity to conduct a BET assessment to review its public policies and programmes supporting the city’s social entrepreneurs. The tool, which was developed by the OECD and the European Commission, is designed to help municipalities and regions benchmark their impact ecosystem progress annually. The Hague was the first city to implement it.
Giselle van der Star, founder of the sustainable fashion brand Atelier Jungles, was among the many stakeholders in The Hague’s impact ecosystem to provide input.
Van der Star launched her business just before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold. The lockdowns and isolation have challenged the most established businesses. For Atelier Jungles, the challenges were amplified, both as a new brand, and because of its social mission: the company employs people who are disadvantaged in the job market.
‘The employees in our workshop, many of whom have financial or emotional challenges, all come from the Den Haag Werkt project, which strives to get people back into the job market,’ Van der Star explains.
Van der Star says the company has been supported by connections it has made through ImpactCity’s co-working hub Apollo 14. ‘I worked with another tenant for our crowdfunding pre-order campaign at the start of our collection launch. We have also expanded our network a lot locally.’
In her feedback on the types of local support that would benefit a new social enterprise like Atelier Jungles, Van der Star puts support for her employees at the top of the list.
‘The candidates we work with don’t receive the support and coaching they might need to become stable in the job market and successfully grow towards other employment in the future,’ she says. ‘As a small social entrepreneur, I’m not always qualified to make sure they get the support they need.’
She says that for small brands like hers, stronger linkages into large supply chains would also be greatly beneficial, as this would help startups foster sustainable revenue growth. ‘A client such as the Municipality of The Hague could be a game changing chance for these companies.’
Marc Nijmeijer, managing director of WellDecommissioned, a company that helps energy companies plan the retirement of aging assets like oil rigs, spotlighted talent in the BET assessment.
‘At the moment we are experiencing growth both in Europe and other continents,’ he says. ‘The question is where do we hire additional people?’
The company, which deals with energy providers all over the world, is based in The Hague but recently launched a software division in the UK. For Nijmeijer, where to expand is a matter of access to the skills and energy.
‘It’s about where the people live who have the most excitement and energy for this,’ he says. ‘Finding the right investors and clients is important. But finding key employees is maybe even more important because they’re going to propel our idea and extend our network.’
Learning and building
Local entrepreneurs’ feedback naturally helps The Hague in its impact-ecosystem building mission, because it exposes the gaps in the ecosystem at the startup level and helps the municipality to direct its resources more effectively. But the hope is that such insights can also be better leveraged to strengthen local impact ecosystems across Europe, too.
‘There’s a lack of data on impact driven organisations, and that’s because we rarely ask them directly,’ says Wisse-Huiskes. ‘All the information we have comes from a higher level. It was when the pandemic hit that we realised we need information from the source itself.’
This is why EN decided to launch the European Social Enterprise Monitor (ESEM) with Impact City as the one of the founding sponsors. The project is aimed at bridging the gap in data relating to social enterprises by providing policy makers with meaningful insights into what resources and policies are needed to build thriving impact economies centred on social entrepreneurship.
‘The hope for these two tools – and our partnership with EN more generally – is to better position The Hague as Europe’s premier impact city,’ Samwel explains. ‘We also hope that our work together will enable other cities and regions to develop their own roadmaps for their local impact economies.’
‘The information will feed into the European policy work as well,’ Wisse-Huiskes adds, ‘because it really makes clear what is needed at social enterprise level, and to how to address the challenges being faced by social entrepreneurs and other stakeholders.’