Lessons Learned: Five years of analyzing Impact Hub’s data
14 December 2016 - Impact Hub

Since 2011, I have had the privilege to work with Impact Hub on designing, implementing, and making sense of the annual Global Maker and Member surveys. The surveys are Impact Hub’s main impact & performance measurement tool, collecting information on demographics, ventures, impact and more of Impact Hubs and their members.If you are a Maker (i.e. a founder or staff member of an Impact Hub) or member, you have probably already seen some of this work in the form of global and local reports, or reflected in the decisions taken by your local teams.  In this post I would like to share a brief non-exhausting list of things I have learned about the network from the perspective of a social science number-cruncher:

Impact Hub Members are a distinct group… in an unexpectedly homogenous way

This feeling you have when you enter an Impact Hub for the first time– it is also there in the data: Impact Hub members are quite unique. The analysis of over 2,000 responses in this year’s survey paints a lively picture: 98% are involved in activities that create some sort of positive social or environmental impact. For 62%, having positive impact on society is more important than generating financial income. In order to achieve this impact, members build on a broad base of knowledge and experience: over 83% of members have a university degree and more than 68% have previously worked as entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, these characteristics are rare in the general population but seem to be fairly universal within the Impact Hub network across countries, cultural contexts, and time. This suggests that Impact Hubs have indeed been living up to the goal of attracting a “network of collaborators focused on making a positive impact in our world”.

International collaboration is ingrained in the network’s DNA

Another characteristic shared by many members and their organizations is international orientation. More than 44% of Impact Hub members’ ventures operate on an international or global scale and most members spend a good part of their time abroad (in 2014, members said that they travel abroad an average of 6.8 times per year). The same is true for Impact Hub Makers. As results show from this year’s survey, almost every Impact Hub is engaged in international collaboration with other Impact Hubs in other countries. Using CIRCOS, a tool that is normally applied to visualize relationships in the human genome, I visualized these collaborations based on 2016 survey data (see figure 1).

The picture shows an interesting set of relationships: While some Impact Hubs and Impact Hub Company  (the global management entity of the network) serve as nodes, the network overall is decentralized and characterized by a large number of connections between Impact Hubs that hold fewer relationship each. These connections reflect a multitude of links based on joint programs, interest, geography, and personal relationships. This picture is very different from the relationships of hierarchical organizations’ networks and suggests that collaborations is embedded deep in the Impact Hub network’s DNA.


Figure 1: Visualization of Relationships between Impact Hub Makers with CIRCOS, Source: Maker Survey 2016.

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Being a member actually does make a difference

Impact Hub Members engage in a range of impactful activities, reaching millions of people through diverse means, including business, politics, social services, and advocacy.  However, the critical question for a community like Impact Hub remains: how much of this would have happened anyway if members had simply worked from home or sought the help of a different community? And how much of this impact can be truly attributed to the benefits of the membership, the community and programs? Essentially these questions boil down to understanding the role of Impact Hub: is it just a selection mechanism for individuals who create great projects and organizations, or is it able to add value by connecting and supporting members to be more impactful?

While such calculations are always speculative, survey results suggest that at least some of the impact of members can be attributed to Impact Hub. We asked members directly to reflect about the role of Impact Hub in the success of their activities. Only 8% attributed no importance to being part of the community. 66% of respondents even indicated that the membership had been important or very important for their success. The degree of success attribution is correlated with the hours spent in Impact Hub, satisfaction with support services, the numbers of new connections made and the quality of collaboration. This suggests that the community is indeed co-authoring some of their members’ success stories.

Support Needs: One size does not fit all

One of the aspects we pay special attention to in the Impact Hub Member survey is learning about the kind of needed support. Results show that support needs are very different from what conventional wisdom and management literature suggest. The most highly rated support needs include “feeling part of a community”, “strengthening personal motivation” and “connecting to advisors and experts”. Surprisingly, “acquiring financial capital” and “finding good staff” are only important to significantly fewer members. These patterns are consistent across membership types, including virtual members and members with limited access (the kind of people you only meet at a party once a year).

At the same time, support needs vary strongly between members. Depending on the development stage of their projects and ventures, their impact-orientation, and income model, the importance of certain resources can be very different. For example, later-stage ventures care most about marketing, internationalization, and scaling, which play virtually no role for early-stage ventures. More impact-oriented members seek additional support in terms of advocacy, networking, and impact assessment, but require less support in sales. (If you are interested in further details, take a look at the working paper we published in 2015, sharing some preliminary results.)

These findings underline that one-size-fits-all strategies will not be successful for supporting social entrepreneurs. To have real impact, policies and programs need to go beyond traditional venture capital narratives and make sure they provide the right kind of support and learning opportunities for their ventures.

Bonus! Check out our 2015 Impact Report:

Impact Hub Report 2015.  *The mural design on slide 26 of the Impact Cards was created by Alfredo Carlo of Housatonic Design Network.

Peter Vandor is senior researcher at the WU Vienna (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and co-founder of the Social Entrepreneurship Center and Social Impact Award. In his position, he has been leading 50+ collaboration projects with organizations such as CERN, United Nations and ERSTE Foundation. He is a member of Impact Hub Vienna and global research partner of the Impact Hub network.