Meet the lifelong entrepreneur behind Impact Hub Basel
mpact Hub Basel is part of a global network of over one hundred organizations dedicated to supporting impact-driven businesses and community. The Basel hub’s cofounder Andre Moeri shares how he brought Impact Hub to his city, and what he’s learned along the way.
Andre Moeri can chart his personal growth as an entrepreneur in parallel with the development of the Swiss startup scene. A serial entrepreneur with a history of focusing on social impact, Andre cofounded startups in his twenties, thirties and even into his fifties, with his third venture being Impact Hub Basel.
Impact Hub Basel is one node of a 101-hub network that traverses five continents and includes more than seventeen thousand members. The hub aims to support social businesses and the local ecosystem through coworking, incubation and acceleration programs, and networking opportunities.
Andre’s first company, Sirius Technologies, was founded in 1989 as a traditional IT company that went on to specialize in providing software for measuring corporate responsibility, sustainability and HSE (health, safety and environment).
Andre’s second company, Medgate, founded in 1999, revolutionized Swiss telemedicine services. Today, the company has more than three hundred employees in Switzerland and five hundred worldwide, and Andre serves on the board of directors.
He then founded Impact Hub Basel in 2017, establishing another node in a global network of accelerators aimed at supporting social-impact startups worldwide.
Choosing to do what’s right
“At the very beginning, we were just two guys studying at the University of Basel,” says Andre. The two cofounders met while working in the IT department of one of Novartis’ predecessor companies, Ciba-Geigy, and thought that they could do what they were doing just as well, or better, on their own.
Wanting to see how their economics studies translated into real life, the duo founded their first company, Sirius Technologies, at the age of twenty-two. Ten years later, they were able to build Medgate out of Sirius Technologies.
Over the course of those ten years, they were able to invest; they already had offices and knew how to start up a company and what to avoid doing, having already made the requisite first-time founder mistakes.
We wanted to have both, of course: the safety and security of a corporate job and a little bit of entrepreneurship on the side
Before creating Sirius Technologies, the two founders had quite safe student gigs in Ciba-Guigy that were well paid to boot. However, they couldn’t be employees and founders at the same time.
“The unfortunate thing for us was that our boss at the time said, ‘Either you work with us or you make your own thing,’” says Andre. “We wanted to have both, of course: the safety and security of a corporate job and a little bit of entrepreneurship on the side.”
So Andre followed what has become some of his “best advice:” choosing to do one thing right, because you can’t do both things at the same time.
Making an impact
Third time’s the charm, or so they say. In Andre’s case, the third company he cofounded was the Impact Hub Basel, a global network of independent, bottom-up organizations that work to foster and support local ecosystems and businesses.
To Andre, the main purpose of Impact Hub Basel is to help businesses come together to work toward the UN’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been defined to solve many of the planet’s biggest challenges by the year 2030.
“It’s always about entrepreneurship and supporting companies that take care of the SDGs,” says Andre. “Those are very important to us, so we try to support companies and initiatives with entrepreneurial means and measures, methods and tools to achieve those goals on a local level.”
On top of the local work the Hub does, Andre and company work on a national level in Switzerland – there are five Impact Hubs in the country – and on a global level with the one hundred Impact Hubs dotted around the globe, each with their own local agenda and agency, with an overarching global vision for impact.
“All of them have similar missions and similar statements focused on collaboration,” says Andre. “It’s a new way of working, where you’re not just money driven but purpose driven. But to be purpose driven, you also need money; otherwise, you’re not sustainable, you’re just dead.”
Andre cofounded the Impact Hub in Basel because there were a lot of sustainable and SDG-focused initiatives coming out of the city, and a distinct lack of an Impact Hub. “We were wondering why no one had created one before,” says Andre, who felt that since Zürich, Bern, Lausanne and Geneva all had an Impact Hub, Basel deserved one as well. “It was more filling a niche than going forward in something completely new.”
It’s a new way of working, where you’re not just money driven but purpose driven. But to be purpose driven, you also need money; otherwise, you’re not sustainable, you’re just dead
Looking at social impact through entrepreneurship
Andre points to two major things that keep him personally motivated. The first are his two children, now eighteen and sixteen years of age, and growing into an uncertain world.. “I want to make sure that the world we’re living in is also kept for them so that they can live well,” says Andre. Social impact through entrepreneurship for him is more about the next generation than the current one.
The second point is about actually giving back. Andre feels he has been quite lucky with the companies he has founded so far, and wants to give back to people and to society.
For Andre, entrepreneurship and tech have an important role to play in social impact. “I believe impact at scale is only possible through entrepreneurship,” he says. “If you really want to have an impact, it needs to be done in a way that you can make a living out of it.
“My field is entrepreneurship, so that’s why of course I’m biased, but I believe you can really achieve that impact at scale through entrepreneurship.”
While the Impact Hub is there as a support network, Andre reminds startups and other companies and initiatives that they should create and follow business models that allow them to grow and scale by themselves.
Speaking to the new generation of entrepreneurs
Andre started his very first company when he was just twenty-two years old, and has continued to pursue entrepreneurship into his fifties. When asked what advice he would give to new entrepreneurs, he simply says, “I’m not the one giving advice; I’m the one receiving it.
“I’ve been told that whatever we’re doing, we should be less modest about it, but as a person, be more humble,” he says. “It’s not about me; it’s about the project. It’s not about my ego; it’s about promoting what we’re doing.”
Andre does offer his learnings from his years building company and team culture, having utilized several models of how to organize a company and its structure, each with its own values and purpose.
As a medical company, Medgate was very hierarchical, and as an IT company, Sirius Technologies had a flat hierarchy. The Impact Hub’s structure turned out to be even flatter in terms of its structure.
It’s not about me; it’s about the project. It’s not about my ego; it’s about promoting what we’re doing
Invoking the book Reinventing Organizations by Frédéric Laloux, Andre says that in Impact Hub you don’t have hierarchies, instead implementing a system where you opt for groups or circles of teams that work together and decide for themselves what’s best for their group or, in some cases, the company.
“It’s very different but very interesting,” says Andre. “The Impact Hub, as we see it, is sort of a test field for those newer forms of organization. I don’t know if they’re better, but it just feels better. I really feel a difference.”
As a lifetime entrepreneur, Andre’s expertise extends past the company sphere and into managing the work-life balance, health and wellness of people in the entrepreneurial game.
What’s helped Andre along the way is that he’s constructed a self-checking clock for himself, so he’s able to take breaks when things become too much. He also does yoga or other sports, and states that a break of a few hours or days is a great refresher. It’s important to also add in family time to the overall balance.
Andre points out that people on their death beds don’t bemoan not having worked harder or more hours. “They usually say [they would have liked to] spend more time with their family or with their loved ones,” he says, noting that he actively tries to think like this now.
“It wasn’t always like that, but probably that’s the privilege of getting older: you can always do that without having an excuse or needing one.”
Basel and its benefits
The city of Basel itself is rather small, though for Swiss entrepreneurs, says Andre, “a city with 200,000 people is big.” Basel has a lot to offer, including verdant nature, lakes, mountains, ski areas and other spots for outdoor sports. There are museums aplenty, and other cultural activities to dive into.
“Sometimes it’s quite provincial and sometimes it’s very world class,” says Andre. Many expats have settled in Basel, due to how much it offers despite being a pretty small city, and because it houses the headquarters of two top-five Swiss pharmaceutical companies.
In Basel, people are very approachable, and work well with foreigners, with Germany and France as neighbors. The international culture is quite interesting as well. Andre says, “for example, most of the events that we do are in English – and that’s not even a question because people speak English or French or German or probably all three.”
Hope for the future
Given all the work Andre has done at the Impact Hub, it’s of course necessary to ask him about his hopes for the future, both in general and for the future of entrepreneurship.
“Of the future of entrepreneurship, I’m very hopeful,” says Andre. “Of the future of the planet itself, maybe not so much.”
This of course doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel. We have to try to make the planet a better place for us, and for the many generations still to come. “With the means that you have – my means are entrepreneurship – you should nevertheless keep trying.”
A version of this interview appears in Startup Guide Switzerland, alongside other exclusive interviews, unique insights and practical tips.