Oslo Startup Day reshapes our expectations of Social Entrepreneurship
What do you think of when you hear “social entrepreneurship”? To me it’s meant people who mean well, but I also associate it with misguided business models (as if other entrepreneurs have it all figured out). But I have a newfound respect after attending the Oslo Startup Day, an event where sustainable business models for socially positive businesses were the main talking point.
Norway isn’t the first place you would expect for innovative concepts in this area – the country has a strong welfare state that presumably takes good care of its citizens. But competing agains the government for “doing good” just might be the right motivator to build lasting and sustainable concepts compared to countries where people looking to do good may find themselves rely on donations or grants.
As a case in point, take a look at Epleslang, a growing business that any opportunity-spotting entrepreneur has to respect.
What you first have to know is that Norway has a thing for their apples. The conditions in Norway, especially on the west coast, provide the cold conditions that give apple lovers the right type of acidity and flavors they’re looking for. Many Oslo residents have apple trees in their yards, but unless you’re eating those apples like it’s your job, you’re likely to end up with more rotting on your lawn than ending up in your mouth.
Epleslang’s market opportunity is right in their name – the word in Norwegian is what little kids would call stealing an apple from the neighbor’s tree. The team, led by CEO Anne Dubrau, knocked on doors to ask if they could use their leftover apples and hired people with disabilities or outside the working life to collect them and transport them to where they could be processed into juice.
Oslo Business Region’s Stian Skarelven says that Epleslang has even won awards for the best apple juice in Norway. It says a lot considering their high standards, and might have something to do with how they were able to collect apples from older, plentiful trees.
It’s a cute concept, but it doesn’t have to stop there. “Anne [Dubrau], who runs the company, is looking into how she can expand the concept like with oranges in Valencia, or Olives in Sicily. They’re starting to think about the same model and scale it up around the world. I think thats when it starts to get really interesting,” says Skarelven.
For those looking for more information on Oslo’s Social Entrepreneurship scene, dig into So Central, a coworking space that hosts a number of social enterprises and it’s own incubator for providing acceleration with a focus on sustainable business models. A few of their tenants include NOTE Recruiting, which focuses on recruiting and mentorship for 18-35 year olds; Explorable, which creates tools for mental health treatment and research; and Birk, which provides web video technology for sharing knowledge. Soon So Central and the incubator moving to a new location, where they’ll be joined by healthtech startups.
The story of entrepreneurs is to spot something that should be done better and then to make it happen, and after Startup Day you see that responsibility and profit aren’t mutually exclusive.