As part of our series featuring leaders in innovation during Global Entrepreneurship Week, we spoke with Eric Hauck, the Director of Impact Hub in Barcelona, Spain. Impact Hub is a global network of social innovation incubators with 7,000 members in more than 60 cities worldwide. In Barcelona, the Impact Hub is based in the Plaza Real amid the city’s historic gothic quarter, which is the cultural heart of one of the world’s most visited destinations.
For a city known for its architecture, food, art, and its fierce political and cultural independence, Hauck provided his perspective on the global events over the past two decades that have shaped Barcelona into something new — a center for social impact and entrepreneurship. As Hauck explained, “In the last weeks and months, many people from Berlin, San Francisco, London, Singapore — cities that are more developed in terms of social impact ventures — are turning their heads toward Barcelona. Barcelona is a good place to seed a startup, because we have a creative atmosphere that creates a kind of color that attracts social innovators.”
In many ways, the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona catalyzed the city’s status as a world-class cultural center and destination. The wide-scale development of new infrastructure for the Games enabled the city to begin welcoming more visitors, a figure that now stands at over seven million visitors annually. For Hauck, the Olympics as a force for cultural understanding, collaboration and impact looms large – a precursor for modern day global organizations like Impact Hub.
The new leadership of the Generalitat, the government of Calatonia, has also helped to develop a flourishing social innovation ecosystem by making it a key priority. Public institutions in Barcelona provide seed funding to early-stage ventures and have been a convener of entrepreneurs. Social innovation in Barcelona traces its roots back to the first-ever Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona in 2004. Hosted by the Spanish Government and UNESCO, convening hundreds from around the world to address the linkage between sustainability, culture and peace. Despite the elevated attention and powerful partners behind the event, in Hauck’s estimation it was a philanthropic vision that came too early and was not well understood in Barcelona. One key legacy of the Forum was that it produced to the first group of social impact incubators. Copperfield, a social impact incubator founded by Hauck, emerged from this event.
Hauck spent his early career as a journalist, serving as a foreign correspondent in Sarajevo during the Siege. Reporting on the destruction of Sarajevo – a sister Olympic city with a vibrant, cosmopolitan culture reminiscent of Barcelona – was a pivotal experience for Hauck that developed his sense of his ability to have a positive impact amid horrific tragedy. After the Siege, Hauck stayed to lead aspects of the reconstruction effort to revive Sarajevo’s social and cultures institutions, employing a strategy focused on corporate partnerships and global collaboration that would become a blueprint for much of his future work in Barcelona. His team established a formal link between the Sarajevo and Barcelona by having the war-torn city declared the 11th neighborhood of Catalonia’s capital city – a relationship that remains in place. In Barcelona, Hauck has played a key role in fomenting the social innovation movement and more importantly, has been instrumental in integrating the concept of social impact into mainstream thinking.
He strongly believes the venture capital community should be involved in social innovation. Even if venture capital firms don’t fund projects, the mentorship of venture capitalists can help social impact companies on the whole grow into a sector with reliable business models. To that end, Impact Hub Barcelona has developed relationships with U.S. VCs to help Barcelona companies reach the North American market. They have developed a three-month program to incubate Barcelona companies in the U.S. and to teach Spanish entrepreneurs how to market to North American customers.
Impact Hub knows it has started to succeed, in part, because multinational corporations now approach them to explore ways they can tackle environmental sustainability and affect real change. In Barcelona, the critical social issues include youth employment, low income housing, and building a sustainable tourist industry. Entrepreneurs at the Impact Hub are tackling these issues one by one. We specifically spoke about tourism, as Hauck explained, “Sixty million tourists visit Spain every year and spend at least one night in Catalunya. We would like to create a culture to integrate tourists and welcome them as temporary citizens. We want to offer them real things, real experiences so that Barcelona doesn’t simply become a theme park.” Giving tourists the experience of Barcelona as a place, rather than a tourist destination, will change their experience of the city, educate visitors about social innovation in Barcelona, and, of course bring them back.
To do this, Barcelonans are looking toward the sky — they are reconquering the rooftops. Impact Hub, which has a large rooftop, is teaming up with the Barcelona Rooftop Association to open to the public 3 million square meters of rooftop for cultural events and initiatives. Musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, students, and importantly, tourists hanging out in the Plaza Real will be invited up to join. Hauck said, “We want to convince those outside of our community of the value not only of social impact, but to bring them here and treat them as citizens of Barcelona. Back home, they have their own ecosystems. But if they are simply passing through Barcelona, they won’t take the opportunity to join us. We want to create opportunities for them to contribute to our movement and to be part of our ecosystem.”