Empowering social entrepreneurs and socially conscious businessEmmett Skiles, former Director of Operations, and current consultant for Impact Hub in Boulder, Colorado, a member-powered co-working space and event venue for social entrepreneurs fostering positive global impact. Here, Emmett talks to MissionBox CEO and co-founder, Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, about creating space for like-minded people to create positive social change.
Tell me what Impact Hub does.
Impact Hub, located in Boulder Colorado excels in connecting local Boulder community initiatives to change-makers as it applies to social innovation and sustainability causes. At our core, we offer flexible working spaces and facilitate collaboration for organizations with an impact-first priority as part of their mission. We also attract conscious businesses that have sustainability as a common thread, which includes areas such as leadership development, natural products and the health/wellness fields. Many other Impact Hubs throughout the world have a similar mix of these types of organizations working at their locations. At this time, there are just over a hundred Hubs in cities around the world. In North America alone, there are about 18 Impact Hubs, with other locations sprouting up in new cities all the time.
Impact Hubs go through a candidacy process to get established and obtain a franchise license to operate as part of the larger global network of Impact Hubs. The Impact Hub in Boulder started about five years ago and has been going strong ever since.
These Hubs are actual physical locations that provide coworking spaces?
There are shared workspace options that can accommodate anything from a private office, dedicated desk, or an open-seating, co-working setup. If say, a company doesn’t need an entire office space, they can select options where they only pay for the space and work frequency they need. We can accommodate teams or individuals. In this open space concept, workers can connect to fast wifi, have access to a printer/scanner for no extra cost, and grab a cup of coffee or tea. Everything they need to have a productive work day is within reach.
The main system that helps Impact Hub manage the many aspects of our business is called Nexudus, which is a software platform that is used commonly in co-working spaces. Not only does it take care of our billing for member accounts and the booking of conference rooms, it also handles the social networking aspect of what we do so that people can communicate with each other. Through accessing their member portal, workers can find out who is in the space at any given time, can send them a message, set up a meeting or an outing for coffee can be arranged between members.
What other services does Impact Hub offer?
We’re excited about the introduction of many new programs coming out this year for our members! Our signature program is called Communities for Change. Communities for Change applies the Theory U model, developed through MIT and the Presencing Institute, to drive system change at the local level.
For example, Impact Hub invited stakeholders in the Boulder area who work within the field of climate action and resilience. We put out an open call for applicants who were concerned about climate change and wanted to make a difference, with a local environmental initiative. We then selected 28 applicants out of about 60 and sponsored them to go through an 8-week change process of Theory U, which gave them new insights and more clarity surrounding their projects.
At the end of the eight weeks, a big event was hosted at Impact Hub Boulder to showcase the work the cohort had done, present their results, and offered a facilitated taste of the process as one of the sessions of Boulder Startup Week. We also offer mentoring sessions from seasoned professionals and entrepreneurial training sessions called Impact Labs as part of the continuing support for participants of that program.
Do the same activities happen at all the Impact Hubs, or does each Hub put together their own special projects or services based on what their community needs?
Some of our program initiatives are developed by the global organization and then brought down to the individual Hubs. The most recent example of that is Communities for Change and it is still in a prototype phase itself. There were five other Impact Hubs across the global network, in addition to us in Boulder, who committed to rolling it out this year.
Most Impact Hubs have ongoing classes, workshops and networking groups as part of their regular programming that’s offered to members, as well as to their larger communities. We also offer free space and limited marketing support for our members to hold “lunch and learns” where they can share their professional skills and trainings with each other. Our global headquarters recently published The Impact Hub Global Impact Report 2018 which details many of the insights and lessons learned from 10+ years of supporting social and sustainability focused entrepreneurs.
These programs sound well thought out and very cohesive. What’s the application process like?
Any of our members and office holders can participate and sign up for our programs for no additional charge. I should clarify that the Communities for Change program was unique in that it did have a structured application process and was open to community participation more widely than just among Impact Hub members. A very small percentage of participants of that particular program were members of the Hub. It was an opportunity for Impact Hub to partner with the City of Boulder and other large businesses within our local community and include participants that otherwise would not have been working out of the Impact Hub here in Boulder.
I like the sound of these programs and the commitment that went into crafting this project. How did you, personally, get here?
It’s been a long journey for me to get to my current role with Impact Hub. I have a varied work background in everything from corporate, to self-employment, to nonprofit management. On the nonprofit side, I worked for a cancer support organization in Austin, Texas, for about four years as a program director and eventually, became its executive director. I have a deep understanding of the nonprofit field — how they run from both the staff side and also of being a nonprofit board member. I especially enjoyed making connections within communities around a certain cause or social challenge.
Before working in nonprofits, my career involved working in finance and accounting for the first 10 years or so. I experienced a big career transition around the age of 35. I wanted to be more in a position to give back, so I attended graduate school and received training in holistic health education and social services.
I wound up in Boulder because I had a lifelong dream of living near the mountains in Colorado. I spent many vacations here as a teenager and decided that one day I would live here. And during my last job transition, I decided that it was a good time to make the move to Boulder from Austin, Texas in 2015.
Why are you passionate about what the Hub does and your role in it?
When I first landed in Boulder, I immediately started researching companies that focused on social causes and more conscious-focused businesses. While doing company research I would often come across an Impact Hub logo on their website as one of their partners. I kept running across it, time and time again. With curiosity, I started researching Impact Hub and their mission.
When I had the chance to visit the Impact Hub in Boulder, I immediately fell in love with the mission behind it. I got involved in networking there and soon found out they were hiring. I accepted a part-time position, which then led to my full-time role as its Director of Operations that I held for 2.5 years. I am now moving into a new consulting relationship with Impact Hub to implement a social knowledge exchange platform called MindQuilt.
My various roles at the Hub have resonated with me because of the prior community and impact focused work from my nonprofit background in the health and wellness field. My evolving roles have been extremely fulfilling as I’m able to apply my previous knowledge to scale up how I make a positive impact, now through supporting social entrepreneurship. I really like being part of that growth and support of the extended ecosystems that seek to make the world a better place. This work continually allows me to be able to do that in new and interesting ways.
Currently, on a global scale, Impact Hub is focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals as identified by the UN. We have partnered with the UN and SDG’s are a big part of how we determine what areas of impact we will focus on and how we will support our members, both at a local and global level. Impact Hubs focus on many different SDG’s, depending on the member mix present at their different locations which include, for example: reduced inequalities, climate action, gender equality, good health and well-being.
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Impact Hub is headquartered in Vienna, Austria and has over 100 locations in cities around the world, delivering over 200 programs to members annually. Impact Hub partners with global and regional organizations to strengthen and encourage social entrepreneurship. 6,400+ startups were founded at Impact Hubs between 2012 and 2016.