by Tom Moroz
Impact Hubs are part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center. They offer their members a unique ecosystem of resources, inspiration, and collaboration opportunities to grow impact; they believe a better world evolves through the combined accomplishments of creative, committed, and compassionate individuals focused on a common purpose.
The concept started in London in 2005 and since has grown to a global network of 62 Impact Hubs, recently growing at a rate of one new Impact Hub per month. In 2014, new Impact Hubs have been established in Philadelphia and in New York City. Is it time to create an Impact Hub in the Lehigh Valley?
Essentially, an Impact Hub consists of three distinct elements:
- a vibrant community of passionate and entrepreneurial people who share an underlying intention to bring about positive change and act as peers to cross-fertilize and develop their ventures.
- a source of inspiration that provides meaningful content through thought-provoking events, innovation labs, learning spaces, incubation, and facilitated conversations that matter.
- an inspiring space that offers a flexible and highly functional infrastructure to work, meet, learn and connect.
The magic happens when these three elements connect and are brought to life through the Art of Hosting (a methodology for effectively bringing people together to reach consensus and achieve greater impact. [www.artofhosting.org]
There is much happening in the Lehigh Valley in terms of transforming from the old industrial economic base to a more diversified local economy, but much of the work seems to be happening in a fragmented manner, without effective collaboration between local governments, the business community, and the non-profit sector. Establishing a place such as the Impact Hub could help catalyze the relationships between people in different sectors and with different perspectives, helping to engage the entire community in the transformation that is taking place. There are many stories to tell from across the globe since the first Impact Hub was established in London in 2005 and an Impact Hub in the Lehigh Valley would connect us to this global community of practitioners and resources.
The Lehigh Valley has a history of working with traditional business incubators such as Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center. An Impact Hub in the Lehigh Valley would fill a niche by addressing the needs of social entrepreneurs and bringing together diverse groups of people committed to working on complex local and regional challenges. A more detailed market analysis will be done in the coming months to determine who would likely belong to and/or benefit from an Impact Hub in the Lehigh Valley. In other Impact Hubs, membership & participation has included:
- business enterprises working on social and environmental issues
- non-profit organizations
- local universities and other institutes of higher education
- social entrepreneurs and independent consultants
- branches of government offices collaborating with the private sector
For the past three years, the Envision Lehigh Valley project has been an effective public outreach effort designed to engage the citizens of Northampton and Lehigh Counties to create a sustainability plan for the Lehigh Valley. The output of this 3-year initiative, funded by a $3.4 million HUD grant, has been various studies and reports covering topics such as local food, transportation, housing, economic development, climate, energy and the environment. The HUD grant established a consortium of local leaders from both the government and non-profit sector. It is not yet clear how these initiatives will continue, now that funding from the HUD grant has ended, but the establishment of an Impact Hub could be beneficial to carrying out the projects that have been prioritized in the EnvisionLV draft reports.
In addition to the work defined above, the Lehigh Valley also has many of the necessary ingredients for an effective and robust Impact Hub:
- rich natural resources and infrastructure
- strong, educated workforce
- vibrant network of higher education institutions
- proximity to large markets in Philadelphia and New York
- cooperative, though somewhat fragmented local governments
There is a growing interest to take this concept from an idea to create an actual place where we can come together to share our knowledge and resources to resolve the social, environmental, and economic challenges of our region. If you are interested to learn more and to participate in this process, contact me by email or join the ‘Impact Hub Lehigh Valley’ community on the Sustainability Commons.
by Tom Moroz
Tom is a Knowledge Management and Organizational Development Specialist, currently working with the Open Future Institute and serving as a Senior Advisor / Consultant for Techné Verde.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)