After coming to Graz, I wanted to find out how the Austrians worked in the social business. As a trainer on social entrepreneurship,I started researching this area and found the opportunity to be a guest at a training for local entrepreneurs with social project ideas.
It was a big challenge for me because the training was in German, and I had just started learning it. And at the same time, I know this topic very well, so it was possible to understand what they were talking about in general terms.
History of social entrepreneurship in Austria
As usual, all searches for answers to questions begin in Google. And he showed that this type of business appeared here more than 20 years ago. Not surprisingly, Vienna has become the center of the concentration and development of social innovations. There is an institute that has been actively involved in this area for a long time. However, other cities also have institutions working in this direction.
First of all, I was interested in Graz. And the first organization that came to my attention on the city street was ISOP. As it says on their website, ISOP — Innovative Social Projects — is an intercultural, politically independent non-profit organization that has existed since 1987 to support: — Equal opportunities in society and the labor market through the initiation and implementation of social, educational, and cultural projects. — Distributive equity and inclusiveness through the active social, labor market, and education policies. — Human rights and anti-discrimination in asylum and migration policy.
I had a chance to look at this organization from the inside because they provide German language courses for immigrants and refugees. And, having the status of temporary protection in Austria for Ukrainians who fled the war, I passed preliminary tests there on the level of knowledge of German in order to enroll in a suitable group.
Further searches brought me to the Social Business Hub Styria site, which is located in Graz. And surprisingly, it was created in 2022, just a few months ago.
Social Business Hub Styria: acquaintance
As the author of the book “Humane Business: Realities and Prospects,” I wanted to learn more about the differences in approaches to social entrepreneurship education and the basic definitions of this type of business in Austria and Ukraine. Having studied the information on the website of this business hub, I decided to write to the team, briefly talking about myself and asking questions that interested me.
A few days later, I received a response with an invitation to talk in person. We met with Dr. Kirsten Tangemann at the University of Graz, where the Social Business Hub Styria is located. We discussed the experience of starting social projects and business training based on social impact for more than an hour.
During this conversation, I became even more interested in how they conduct training for entrepreneurs with ideas for social projects. Therefore, we agreed I would be a guest at their three-day training in September 2022.
Training, people and projects
To get in on this training, it was enough to have a project idea, register, and receive an invitation. It didn’t matter here whether you come alone or with a team; have a barely articulated idea or business plan ready to present to investors.
Everyone had the opportunity to work on their project, practice pitching, get advice from teachers, and hear feedback, questions, and ideas from other participants, allowing them to strengthen the project at this stage or in the future.
It was a pity that due to my poor command of German, I could not understand the questions that the participants raised during the discussion and self-study. As well as the opinions they exchanged regarding projects.
The methodology of such introductory (basic) training is very similar to that used in Ukraine. The concepts of social projects developing and finding resources for their implementation in both countries are more alike than different. The same is about mentoring support programs for entrepreneurs developing their social start-ups with something in common.
For those who intend to get serious about social business, Ashoka launched a part-time pioneering executive Visionary Program in September 2022. During the training, I asked the participants to briefly describe their projects in English. Everything I heard made me admire the ideas and the people who undertook to implement them.
Top 3 projects in my personal rating
Among all those presented at the training, the leader is the project proposed by Michael Fuchs (he is in the photo above):
Konomondo is an interactive role-playing game (RPG) that teaches the player mathematical content based on his/her existing knowledge in either single or multiplayer mode.
The focus is on playfully designed exercises embedded in the game’s story, which are intended to lead to an active learning process. Play and story are at the forefront of the game. Initially, the game is purely geared toward mathematics at the upper school level and will later be expanded to other school levels and subjects.
The goal is to promote cost-effective, cross-class, and cross-subject teaching.
Me and my co-founder Gerhard Dorn just received our first funding from AWS (Preseed Innovative Solutions) with which we are currently working on our prototype. We are planning to found the company mid next year. A website will be online in January.
In second place is Norbert Rainer with the project “ChaaargeUp.”:
We make Electric Vehicle Charging super easy.
In third place is DI Bettina Sticher, with a building renovation project.
What is the difference between social entrepreneurship in Ukraine and Austria?
In training, I was convinced by talking with Dr. Kirsten Tangemann and later with Mag. phil. Rüdiger Wetzl-Piewald that such a difference does exist.
In Austria, after the basic training, they offer a long-term paid program for the work with a project, providing good opportunities for this, but the cost of this program is also decent. And in Ukraine, similar accelerator programs were carried out on the basis of grant funding from international organizations and domestic sponsors.
However, the differences, first of all, are in each country’s laws governing the entrepreneurial activity. Although doing business in Ukraine has its unique characteristics, in general, comparing the conditions for starting a business and taxation, starting a business in our country is much easier than here.
In Austria, even at the initial stage, when preparing for business registration, everything is much more complicated. However, having dealt with local laws and accepting these conditions, you will work according to clear rules in the future. This is almost impossible in Ukraine because our legislative field and the business control environment are too changeable.
Another significant difference is in attracting funding since, for the past 8 years, many international funds and institutions have opened up more opportunities for Ukrainian charitable foundations and public organizations to receive targeted grants for social projects.
At the same time, in Austria, the terms of grant programs declare the financing of innovative and technological start-ups.
How does the economic situation in the country affect social projects?
Even at the stage of searching for information on Google, the most noticeable thing is that in Ukraine, social projects are mainly:
1. Social entrepreneurship, i.e., individual and small business, built on solving urgent problems of socially vulnerable categories of citizens, including those affected by military operations in 2014 and their consequences.
2. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), i.e., projects that are implemented by large businesses by allocating part of the profits or involving employees in volunteer activities in sponsored organizations. Often these are charitable foundations that take care of children left without parents, lonely older people, and those who need treatment for serious illnesses. In the conventional “CSR portfolio,” projects related to culture and education have a significantly smaller share than the rest.
And in Austria, a country with more robust social and economic stability, is predominantly social innovation. Here, projects are more technologically advanced and aimed at improving the quality of life of the selected target audience or improving society’s whole life.
In other words, society’s economy and social structure generate a differentiation of ideas and goals of entrepreneurs and, consequently, the direction of business development and the country.
Im Rahmen des ffg-Projekts „Wirtschaft für Morgen“ arbeitet der Social Business Hub mit seinen Partnern an neuen Formen unternehmerischer Nachhaltigkeit. Dazu wird aktuell eine Betriebsumfrage durchgeführt….