Is Social Entrepreneurship Norway’s new export?

Hedda Pahlson-Moller is an international Angel Investor and a juror for Ferd Sosiale Entreprenører’s competition Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2017. As an early stage investor, she invests in entrepreneurs and small companies with the potential for scalable impact. We caught up with Hedda to get her perspectives on the potential of scaling Norwegian social impact businesses to other European markets.

Is there a potential for Norwegian social entrepreneurs to scale their businesses to the European market – and what advice would you have for them?

Absolutely! I’ve discovered many innovative and hardworking Norwegian social entrepreneurs that clearly have the potential to extend their business and impact models to other European markets. The baseline requirement is being truly passionate about the impact objective. Without unwavering commitment, it will be difficult to overcome the considerable obstacles and challenges they will face along the way. The true secret of any successful entrepreneur is tolerance for failure – and to be open to pivot their business model. Finally, they must be willing to do their homework and understand the cultural and regional context in which they plan to operate. It is important to get the know the local ecosystems to and thereby strengthen the company’s competitive intelligence.

Are social entrepreneurs in the Nordic countries different from social entrepreneurs in Europe?

Social entrepreneurs are diverse and unique individuals. But of course, there are also some common denominators. For example, they have all adapted to their social context and share a passion for social change. They are driven by their visions and dreams. Social entrepreneurs see a problem they want to solve and an opportunity for a business model that can sustain itself and potentially grow and make scalable positive change. They have the self-esteem to believe in their own ideas and come up with innovative (and sometimes a bit crazy) ways to solve problems. They capture our hearts and imaginations.

However, there are also differences. Social contexts vary in countries and regions all over Europe, and social entrepreneurs are formed by their country’s social traditions, systems of government and the local social sector. Norway is well known as a socially and environmentally responsible society with a strong sense of community and collaboration. Based on this tradition, one could easily assume that social entrepreneurs in Norway would be met with a positive attitude and an intuitive understanding for their visions of social impact. But entrepreneurs are not always welcome at the table when the table is full! Or if their approach is considered disruptive and non-collaborative.

Clearly the government and social system in Norway are extraordinary sources of social innovation and support. There are many highly qualified employees that innovate from within the system, who can be called social ‘intrapreneurs’. To find their place in the market, social entrepreneurs ideally work in partnership with the active social sector and other relevant stakeholders. It can be counterproductive to insist on a unique and revolutionary approach if it comes at the expense of running programs. Collaboration is key. Co-creation between an entrepreneur and public players is a powerful combination, and something I believe the Norway can lead the way as an example.

As a social investor, what are you looking for in potential investment objects?

I am first and foremost looking for entrepreneurs that have a clear social and/or environment impact objective alongside of a viable business model. Ideally, they will have their own impact metrics established. They need to open to collaboration and adjusting their approach to ensure the sustainability of their organization. I am a hands-on investor and want to be involved and be part of the team – I will always contribute with more than financial support. I am partial to projects in the domain of social integration and addressing problem of marginalized groups in society. Investors have different preferences, requirements and criteria, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the entrepreneur. I must believe in their vision and in their own conviction. Perseverance and resilience are important characteristics. And all entrepreneurs need a strong team surrounding them.

Do you have any advice for Norwegian entrepreneurs that want to succeed on the European market?

Believe in yourself. Be passionate, be dedicated… and be prepared for failure – it is the operating cost of success. Find other entrepreneurs and organizations to partner and collaborate with. Be clear about your own personal ambition, your driving force and motivation – it will become part of the DNA of your organization and needs to be transparent to everyone involved. You can scale your business by replication in other markets or working with/through existing partnerships and networks. There are trade-offs for all scaling strategies that require thought and consideration, and ultimately will tie back to who you are and what it is that is driving you. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

About Hedda Pahler-Moller

Hedda Pahlson-Moller is the founder and CEO of TIIME, an Impact Solution organization. She invests privately through her VC entity, OMSINT. She sits on the board of the European Business Angel Network (EBAN) running EBAN Impact, the Luxembourg Business Angel Network (LBAN) and Board and Lead Investor of  Rising Tide Europe (Women’s angel fund). She also sits on the advisory board for the Vodafone F-Lane Accelerator for Women Empowerment.

Her board engagement with the European Venture Philanthropy Association (EVPA), Luxembourg Microfinance Development Fund (LMDF) and as country representative with Ashoka reflect her commitment to mobilize resources towards sustainable projects that value ‘Triple Bottom Line’ (People, Planet, Profit). Hedda is part of the CSDD (Conseil Superieur de Development Durable) as an advisor to the Luxembourg government for sustainable development strategy.

Hedda co-founded the Impactory, the first co-working space in Luxembourg for entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs (now NYUKO) as well as EquiLibre, a Think Tank for Gender Complementarity. She is Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Sacred Heart University’s Exec. MBA program, lectures on Social Enterprise & Social Innovation for the University of Luxembourg and is an Executive Fellow at Essex University.

Hedda is Swedish-Canadian and lives a colourful multi-cultural life with her Belgo-Moroccan partner and three children in the booming metropolis of Luxembourg.

TEXT: ANNIKEN GRUNDT