What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?)

Are your passion and vision enough to start your social innovation project or business? We made interview with eight accomplished social entrepreneurs from different fields, sectors and countries and asked them to share their story. Let’s find out how they got their initiatives off the ground and what advice and tips they have for those interested in moving forward with their ideas and transforming them into reality.

It was always our enthusiasm that drove us more than anything else. If it wasn’t something that we really believed in and wasn’t something we really felt passionate about, I don’t think it would have lasted more than one year. It’s about fun, meeting people and just being creative and expressing what we believe. It’s also about coffee.

Maja Rijavec and Alenka Kreč Bricelj, Smetumet

Firstly, we established the cooperative and made a crowdfunding campaign, because we needed funds for investing in the first roasting machine. The campaign made us think about what we want to achieve, and we put everything into words, videos, messages and pictures.

Živa Lopatič, BUNA

The beginning was very exciting, especially when we realised that we were moving in the right direction. Despite the financial difficulties at the start, when we were reliant on financing from the European Union under the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Slovenia, along with private equity funding, we focused on building up our credibility. Having applied to various social innovation and start-up competitions, our successes opened new and exciting opportunities for us. We are also constantly learning and analysing our approach. With our goals in mind, we always ask ourselves whether we are on the right path and course-correct when we are not.

Željko Khermayer, Feelif

The first efforts were put in by a young group of people who dedicated their spare time to the project in order to get it going when it still hadn’t set up the commercial activity, and thus was nowhere near being financially sustainable. Further on one person in the team, supported by a part-time fund raiser, started moving the first steps towards raising funds for the project to set its foundation in a more solid manner. The first funds were employed to pay the first workers, buy the technical instruments and to cover the first basic expenses. When Progetto Quid products started selling, the cooperative was able to pave the way towards financial sustainability, partially covering expenses with its own income and covering the rest with funds raised thanks to local foundations and national or international prizes.

Giulia Houston, Progetto Qiud

Having come across the idea of audio navigation, and validated it with our end users we designed a prototype mobile application and approached Transport for London (the body that runs the Underground) who facilitated a 4 week trial at one station. This established a successful proof of concept for an audio navigation app for the Underground and received very positive feedback from testers. At this stage, we realised that the greatest possible impact we could have would be to find a way to make all indoor navigation applications more accessible for vision impaired people instead of just making our own app for the London Underground. At this stage we pivoted to the idea of designing a standard for the user experience of an audio navigation app. For vision impaired people to use audio navigation, it is crucial that apps provide a consistent user experience as this reduces the cognitive burden of interpreting and using the information they provide. If audio navigation does not use such a standard, the numbers of vision impaired people using it will be low, as it will be too difficult and stressful to constantly figure out how different apps work.

Tiernan Kenny, Wayfindr

Initially my company was registered in the US, then I transferred the brands to my S.P. (sole proprietorship in Slovenia), then I opened an LLC and invited two partners. Soon after we registered that LLC as a Social Enterprise. Originally I did not know I was creating a social business, it is just that I was considering social aspects of it as part of my understanding of leadership and ethical business practices. As the time passed and I got more involved with the idea of Social Impact I adapted the ideas, initiatives and organisation.

Jose Antonio Morales, Lincoln Island Initiatives

Nefiks grew in another youth organization called Mladinski ceh, which also  had a lot of other projects. One of those was Nefiks but at one point this project become too big for one NGO. It took up too many resources, too much finance, and too many people. At that point, it became a spin-off and became the independent institution, NGO Nefiks. Our main aim today is to organize all the activities that allow young people to meet employers.

Alenka Blazinšek, Nefiks

The Social Impact Award competition played an important role in our start. We didn’t just receive money. We also received mentoring and we became part of the community of social entrepreneurs from Bucharest. Being part of the network of Bucharest really helped us. We gained money that we invested in the project. We rented the space where we have our tailoring workshops. We hired someone and we had money to pay him for two months. We receive mentoring from people more experienced than us and we also had access to a wider network. We started to collaborate with companies from Bucharest, with people experienced in creating websites and in accounting. This is how we started.

Andreea Zaharescu, Upside Down

Would you like to learn how inspiring social innovators answer other important questions such as how to get over your fears and move your project forward or how to raise the money for your social innovation idea?

Check out the Social Innovation Academy – the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation.  If you are interested in keeping up with this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedInTwitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.

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