By combining social innovation and technology innovation, the Social Good Lab incubator in Paris intends to promote the development of innovative services arising from new information and communication technologies (ICTs), which can have a positive impact on society and the environment.
Social Good Lab is an incubator project set up through a partnership between the Paris Region Innovation Lab and social investment and consultancy firm Comptoir de l'innovation (Centre for Innovation). It is based in the ethnically diverse and economically vibrant 13th district on Paris’ Left Bank. Having invited all young companies working on an innovative project that meets the criteria – combining civic issues with new technology – to apply by April this year for a place on the programme, the incubator publicly announced the members of its first intake on 26 September. Nicolas Hazard, who heads the Comptoir de l’innovation, revealed that among the projects to be supported and developed will be one designed to foster the social integration and independence of disabled people; one developing entertaining methods of cognitive and sensory stimulation for people suffering from autism; and one geared to marketing products to clean up polluted water. He explains that a major challenge with any civic initiative is to widen its reach, to replicate it elsewhere and argues that linking civic initiatives with ICTs should “result in a leverage effect, help to create momentum.”
Six projects to foster development of ‘social innovation’ initiatives
BPI, until recently known as OSEO, a French public-sector company which provides financial support to help innovative smaller companies to scale up and is the project’s main financial contributor alongside the City of Paris authorities, is now starting to place the emphasis on ‘social innovation’. The two partners have already shown interest in civic initiatives with their support for the La Ruche (The Hive) co-working space in Paris and are now looking to make Social Good Lab, a first of its kind in Europe, a model to be emulated. Today “social enterprises and non-profit companies account for 10% of GDP in France and 12% of all jobs in this country,” points out Nicolas Hazard, so the growth prospects for these first six projects being backed by Social Good Lab seem quite good. In addition the basic idea is that the Lab will help to make the tech sector more aware of the extent to which its work can benefit the social and civic domain. When tech companies start to understand the civic impact innovation can have, many of them may become keen to enable people who are in some way isolated from society to benefit from their innovations. Longer term, the project might even foster a hybrid approach involving major corporations. Hazard believes that “building bridges by providing proof that it works” could lead larger firms to draw inspiration from the social enterprise model to drive their corporate social responsibility policy. Last but not least the support given to the BPI crowdfunding portal shows how private initiative can be harnessed to respond to specific social issues.
Public-private partnership to convert the web ecosystem to social innovation
Two types of mentors will be providing their advice free of charge – the first group at the incubator stage and the second at the launch stage. In addition to theme-based round tables, the Paris Region Lab will be giving sessions on technology models while the Centre for Innovation will orient the startups towards the social innovation aspects. The Paris Region Innovation Lab will also contribute a range of services, providing premises – working space, meeting rooms, leisure areas, etc – plus assistance to help the startups grow by putting them in contact with the innovation ecosystem, helping to find opportunities for partnerships with larger firms, and so on. The Comptoir de l’innovation, whose role is primarily to find financing for these fledgling companies, has obtained the services of the French SOS Group, a European leader in social entrepreneurship, to make consultants available to the young entrepreneurs. The initiative already seems to be working. Fabrice Carrega, CEO of Arizuka, a social crowdfunding platform, told l’Atelier how satisfied he was after just one month of incubation at the Social Good Lab, explaining: “What’s really valuable here is that we’re actually in the kind of ecosystem that we’re looking for but haven’t found elsewhere – tech innovation working to help resolve social and environmental issues.”