In Munich, social entrepreneurship is thriving. Here’s how

5 min read
24 Jun 2019

While the Nordics might first come to mind at the thought of notable impact startup ecosystems across the globe, that’s increasingly changing, what with the rise in impact cities in Europe, Africa and elsewhere.

“Munich’s impact startup scene is coming into its own,” cofounder and board member of Munich-based Social Entrepreneurship Akademie (SEA), Andy Goldstein, tells Startup Guide.

People are starting to realize that you can do well by doing good.

“People are starting to realize that we don't have that much time to fix the problems in the world, and you can do well by doing good,” says Andy, adding that he thinks there’s a chance the next stage of Munich’s startup ecosystem will see a boost in social enterprises.

The SEA was founded over eight years ago, at a time when the Bavarian capital’s impact scene was in its infancy. We had a long chat with the executive director of SEA, Kristina Notz, to find out about the ecosystem’s challenges, how it’s developed in recent years as well as local impact startups we should keep on our radar.

[ Read also: ‘A mission bigger than profit’: Meet the founder of Agrikaab ]

Photo: Kristina Notz

How did you get involved in social entrepreneurship?

I've been in social entrepreneurship for more than ten years now. About a decade ago, I founded a national competition. We invited students across Germany to put forth ideas for solutions to the problems in society.

That was my way of entering social entrepreneurship without really knowing that it existed. I'm a political scientist by training. I knew I wanted to create something with a real impact, something that really matters.

The local universities at that time all had entrepreneurship centers. They wanted to do something together that none of us could achieve alone. That’s when the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School (GESS) was born. The program, which launched in 2008, brought students together to develop ideas and solve global challenges. Nowadays these challenges are referred to as the UN’s SDGs, but at the time they were defined as topics like “water” or “overpopulation.”

This experience led to the foundation of the SEA, which been around for over eight years now. I joined seven years ago. We were the first organization in Germany at a university level that offered training, workshops and programs targeting early-stage social entrepreneurs.

SEA is pretty unique in that we’re run like a social enterprise. We get no public money and we finance ourselves. To be able to run our programs, which are mostly free for participants, we fundraise and have cooperations with foundations, private investors, philanthropists and companies.

Munich. Photo: Unsplash/Jan Antonin Kolar

How has Munich’s impact scene changed over the course of the last decade?

Something was brewing in the city eight to ten years ago, though the impact startup space hadn’t really developed yet. It also wasn’t as diverse as it is now.

Some impact startups and impact investing existed. Social investors like Ananda (formerly Social Venture Fund) and Bonventure, for instance, were already around at the time. Now, there’s also Fase, a financing agency for social entrepreneurship.

Social Impact Lab existed then but it was one of a kind; there were no impact hubs or coworking spaces yet. Now it’s totally different. In addition to the SEA, there’s also Impact Hub Munich. Talents4Good is an HR company founded in Munich and Berlin which also focuses on impact.

In the last five years or so, things have changed significantly. It’s very interesting to see the huge development in the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in and around Munich in recent years.

Years ago, there were a few very successful social enterprises here. Now that the ecosystem has developed so well, you have everything you need as a social entrepreneur: space to work, support, training, talent, interns, money, customers, etc. It's easy to start in Munich as a social entrepreneur because of all these resources.

What are some challenges for Munich's impact ecosystem?

One key challenge that impact entrepreneurs encounter here is access to funds and programs that are open to all entrepreneurs. Some entrepreneurs find they can't get in because they are impact-oriented and cannot meet the KPIs that are defined.

Beyond that, living costs and housing is really expensive. What this means for an entrepreneur is you're kind of forced to generate revenue pretty quickly, since it's hard to just start and see how it goes.

In Munich, it's easy to start as a social entrepreneur because of all the city's resources.

For impact entrepreneurs, it’s a bit different as things are a bit slower. You need to convince people more and finding a business model can be more difficult. Impact entrepreneurs might be forced to work part-time or full-time to make ends meet and develop their startup on the side.

Another thing is you need to find your niche or your USP pretty quickly and stand out from the crowd. You need to get people's attention. But standing out from the crowd is a hurdle in Munich as there’s a lot going on; in addition to startups, there are medium-sized companies, big corporates and foundations.

Having said that though, sometimes it’s easier to stand out from the crowd as an impact entrepreneur as you're targeting different problems and of course, the media likes it and people are interested in it.

Photo: SEA

What are the most exciting Munich-based social enterprises to watch?

Social-Bee is a great success story. The startup helps companies integrate refugees as employees in a sustainable way. They're getting a lot of exposure now, which is great.

Joblinge has been around for a really long time. Through things like mentorship, they help disadvantaged young people who are unemployed to get a placement in a job or an apprenticeship for the long term.

RECUP is tackling the waste issue by offering a reusable system for coffee-to-go cups. So for instance, you can get a cup of coffee at a bakery close to your flat before you get on the train. Then you can return the cup and get your deposit back when you get off the train close to your place of work.

Rebento is kind of like RECUP, only with reusable takeaway containers. They equip participating restaurants and supermarkets with reusable food packaging.

Mana Coworking is a brand new coworking space that just opened up a few months ago and unlike many other spaces in Munich, it’s in the middle of the city and it targets impact-oriented entrepreneurs, creatives, etc.

Hawa Dawa is another startup to watch. They tackle the problem of unlimited clean air for cities, businesses and citizens through data on air pollution that provides useful insights.

Main photo of an event in 2018 called Act for Impact hosted by the SEA