Lucian Gramescu

Lucian Gramescu: «This is how I make social enterprise grow in Romania»

4 September Sep 2018 1652 04 September 2018
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Interview with Lucian Gramescu, Scaling Manager at Impact Hub Bucharest, the first hub for enterprises in Romania. Over the last two years the social enterprise sector has evolved a lot in Romania, with much more professionalised and quality products

Founded in 2012, Impact Hub Bucharest is the first hub for entrepreneurship in Romania. It is part of a global network with more than 100 locations in five continents and a community of more than 15.000 members.
«Our community is in constant growth and, together with it, the resources and the infrastructural needs of our members and partners», explains the website of the Romanian organisation. That last year moved to a new office, which covers 1600 m2 and is 2.5 times bigger than the previous office. An average of 150-200 members per month and 500 per year works in the coworking space. In 5 years 500 events, participated by 12.000 people, have been organised. We have met Lucian Gramescu, Scaling Manager at Impact Hub Bucharest, on the occasion of the third European day of Social Economy Enterprises, organised in Brussels by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Impact Hub Bucharest is one of the four innovative and successful best practice that were presented during the day.

What is Impact Hub Bucharest?
It is an organisation that supports both social and profit entrepreneurs in the process of scaling up nationally and ideally internationally, through a coworking area, growth and incubation programmes, conferences and events and a crowdfunding platform. Impact Hub Bucharest connects enterprises to local players and stakeholders in new places.

Impact Hub

What do you do?
We grow the economy and support entrepreneurs in three ways:
- We work directly with the entrepreneurs, supporting and mentoring them, and providing them the learning opportunities that they need, like acceleration for instance
- We create a creative community based on our coworking space and the facilities that we have, a community of people coming from different areas and environments, experts, entrepreneurs, even academics, people who around the topic of social innovation, entrepreneurship, green innovation, can provide inspirational stories or consult the entrepreneurs we are working with. We have a series of events where we put these people together, making these connections between them.
-We also organise workshops where entrepreneurs dedicate time to think about their business in a structured way

Do you also have funding for entrepreneurs?
Yes, there is the investors’ option but we also have experience in supporting entrepreneurs through innovation awards. We have provided for two years the total award of one hundred thousand euros for entrepreneurs who are in the second stage of their business. We are now running a programme with Pepsi, called Reuse Hub, that invites Romanian startups to propose innovative recycling and waste management solutions. Entrepreneurs who come up with the best solution according to the jury will receive a 50.000 euro grant as well as consulting services from Impact Hub Bucharest and PepsiCo experts in order to develop their business idea.

What other programmes have you launched?
In 2016 we launched “Made in Social”, the programme that develops social enterprises, aiming to raise their revenues by closing some social-to-business contracts with several companies. The programme's goal was to create a favorable context for this sector by creating strategic partnerships between social enterprises and companies.
We are also part of the Impact Hub Scaling programme, that connects 8 European Impact Hubs with a common goal, which is helping social entrepreneurs grow and increase their impact. Thanks to the programme, up to 100 social entrepreneurs are integrated in the Impact Hub network and gain skills, knowledge and consulting services from top mentors located in 8 Impact Hubs across Europe: Amsterdam, Athens, Bucharest, London, Madrid, Milan, Stockholm and Vienna. This programme gives support to achieve successful growth, to promote innovation and create a positive impact.

How many startups have you supported so far?
Over the last 5 years we have worked with 400 entrepreneurs, 100-150 of whom are social entrepreneurs. We support social entrepreneurs and also profit entrepreneurs. I think social enterprise all around Europe represents a unique opportunity to fill those social gaps that legislation is not able to cover. However it would not be sustainable for us to only focus on social entrepreneurs: as an organisation we feel we would miss many interesting opportunities.

DSC 6968 Vista

Impact Hub Bucharest's office

What are the most successful social enterprises in Romania?
We have noticed that the most successful social enterprises in Romania are the ones that have learned how to sell business to business, that is social enterprises going to corporations not as charities or Csr suppliers but as normal suppliers. Therefore in these cases corporations and institutions buy from social enterprises because the products or services they offer are competitive in quality, service and price. I think social enterprises have to reach that point in which individuals and companies buy their products not because of the story but of the quality and the price. The story is the reason why, being equal the product, the consumer decides to buy from that social enterprise and not from the competition.

How was the Romanian social enterprise ecosystem born and how is it developing?
The ecosystem was launched especially by Ngos and existing organisations on a classical model of funding for Ngos that started doing some spin offs and launching some more entrepreneurial oriented products in their areas with three purposes: first, raise consumers’ awareness by selling products made by people in at risk situations or with handicap; second, supplement their revenues with something that was more continuous; third, create workplaces for people at risk. This is how the ecosystem looked like in 2010. At that time in Romania there were lots of products selling stories but not necessarily quality. People would buy these products to make a gift rather than to have a quality product. Now the sector has evolved a lot, even if there are still many small social enterprises, and over the last two-three years the products have become much more professionalised and gained much more quality.

Can you mention some examples of successful, professionalised and quality Romanian social enterprises?
Concordia, a social enterprise that has opened a hostel and a coffee shop, “Bread and breakfast”, in the centre of Bucharest. The project provides professional training to young people at risk coming out of the social care system and offers very good quality products. The social enterprise Mama Pan manages bakeries offering job opportunities to single mothers or mothers in difficulty. Also in this case products have a very good quality and the story behind the product is the reason, being equal the product, for consumers to buy from them and not from other competitors.
Another interesting example is Mesteshukar ButiQ - MBQ, a social enterprise that trains Roma communities, teaching them how to work as cooperatives and how to use their traditional skills in fields such as goldsmithing, handicraft, and building small furnitures. Roma people have great artistic and handcrafted skills but lack of abilities in packaging and design. Therefore this social enterprise works in collaboration with high level foreign designers in order to create new products. The production is carried out by the designers together with the Roma community.

Opening picture: Lucian Gramescu. All other pictures: ©Impact Hub Bucharest