Impact Hub creates startup underworld in Caracas

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On the 17th floor of a building in Los Palos Grandes, a main business district in Caracas, there is a spacious office. Large windows let in natural light and a panorama of the city skyline, from the mountain Ávila to the Francisci de Miranda air base.

The polished cement floor is littered with wooden table and chairs. Colorful walls are adorned with billboards. It has everything the perfect office space needs - meeting rooms, private offices, a conference space, booths to make calls. The Internet connection - so precarious in Venezuela - is optimal. In one corner is a dining room, equipped with refrigerators and microwaves, where there is always water and coffee to share.

In a city with crumbling social and physical structures, the Impact Hub Caracas seems to be an underworld. And it is.

Impact Hub is a co-working space for social enterprise startups. Companies can join the community by purchasing a membership - there are different rates depending on the needs of each entrepreneur. All members should aim to generate social impact, while acknowledging the challenges of reality. Expert advice is offered for each project, to ensure ideas are feasible and attainable.

Impact Hub merges a social innovation laboratory with a business incubator. It is part of a global network that was born in London in 2005 and now spans the world with more than 17 thousand members in more than 102 cities, in 60 countries from Amsterdam to Johannesburg, Singapore to San Francisco.

The person responsible for bringing Impact Hub to Caracas is Claudia Valladares, an engineer who has always been passionate about social entrepreneurship.

For Valladares, the impulse to want to help others is natural. When she was only eight years old, she asked to be allowed to be part of her school’s missions that collaborated with an indigenous community in Gran Sabana, in the south of the country.

As soon as she graduated from university, Valladares went to Mexico to work in a program called "Compartamos", which she helped design and develop, to transform an indigenous community of native Oaxacan families located in a very disadvantaged sector on the edge of a railroad.

In 2011, after working in different institutions linked to social development, Valladares learned of Impact Hub.

“I fell in love with the idea, because I believe deeply in social entrepreneurship. I think it is a way to provide solutions to the problems that our societies have. And I think that using the talent of entrepreneurs, their creativity and their innovation to solve problems (...) is wonderful,” Valladares said.

Impact Hub’s co-working space creates an energetic and productive atmosphere. Photo: Erick Lezema

Impact Hub’s co-working space creates an energetic and productive atmosphere. Photo: Erick Lezema

She proposed to start an Impact Hub in Caracas. In 2014, when the country was already shaken by an unprecedented crisis that still does not stop, this colorful office opened its doors, like a bunker of peace in the middle of a war.

Four years later, Impact Hub Caracas has become home to over 170 ventures. Valladares refers to them as if they were shiny pieces of a hopeful present.

There are projects like City Wallet, which seeks to optimize electronic payments through a sticker; and English Chick, a community made up of mothers who exchange or sell baby items. There’s Volunteer Venezuela, an organization that encourages volunteer activities in private schools and Tracing Spaces, a project trying to build pride through transforming public spaces. There is a personalized travel agency and an artistic project trying to connect the stories of Venezuelans. Bloxie School is a community of experts who inspire and empower the talent of people through practical knowledge; and CcsEn365, a program that promotes urban travel and the enjoyment of heritage for reconciliation with the city.

The Caracas branch office of Impact Hub has established alliances with embassies and other organizations to develop social assistance programs. For 12 weeks, low-income girls received technological training as part of the Technovation Venezuela program. In September 2018, the My Life in My Hands project was started with the aim of training young people in values and life skills, with a focus on the prevention of teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol consumption, as well as the promotion of non-violent communication to generate spaces for peace.

Impact Hub Caracas was one of the first ten Centers of Excellence on a global scale of that network.

"It’s good news, something that is surely lacking in our country," said Valladares.

Erick Lezama