by Julian Jackson
Impact Hub is a global network of small businesses and entrepreneurs. Started in Islington ten years ago, Brixton is the latest hub to go live. Down in the bowels of Lambeth Town Hall, the hub opened its doors in May of this year, and now has 70 members. It held an Open Day on Friday. Around the lunch table, as my tastebuds were being stimulated by spicy Ghanain cuisine, I saw the synergy of the hub in action. Kitchen Table Projects explained that they were a kind of accelerator for exciting new food products, but they hadn’t found premises yet. Three of the open day visitors were property consultants and they started a dialogue with KTC’s Tara and Nicky on how they could leverage short term renting of retail property in Brixton to get their project off the ground.
The hubbers are a disparate bunch. Lambeth Council provides the space, and a light-touch management, but keeps its hands off. Collaboration is the name of the game. The hub is about to launch its own internal social network, so people can exchange skills and ideas online as well as in person.
Enter the Brixton Pound. This is one of the most successful alternative currencies in the UK. Tom Shakhli, engagement manager of Brixton Pound explained how a local currency stays local, thus benefitting local businesses. It has stimulated the Brixton economy since 2009 and its physical notes have become collectors’ pieces after David Bowie endorsed it. It can also buy local food, coffee and even Brixton Brewery Beer. The council allows you to pay your business rates in Brixton pounds. Most of the transactions use the ecurrency rather than physical pounds.
The Hub’s day to day operations are in the hands of startup director Kristina Glushkova, who also runs a group called Makerhood, which sells locally made art, beauty products, food, homeware, jewellery and other artisan-made items. Lambeth is cutting its number of offices from 14 to 2 so the idea of partnering with Impact Hub made sense. Lambeth Enterprise Manager Gail Rowe says, “Whenever we asked local entrepreneurs what they needed most, the answer came back, “affordable premises”, so we decided to make use of this underused space in the basement.” Basement conjures up a gloomy image, but the area is bright and filled with hot desks, a meeting space, and a tiny garden area.
Kitchen Table Projects, run by founder Tara Sundramoorthi and Marketing Executive Nicky Skinner, has a plan to take innovative food products, give them an opportunity to reach the public in a combined retail outlet and cafe. Tara says, “Tech entrepreneurs have lots of support and opportunities, but people with new food concepts are not so well served. They are usually one person in a kitchen, and we want to nurture them so they come to the marketplace.”
Another of the projects is Africa business intelligence service TrendType, run by Ben Longman. He specifically joined the hub so he could be in a “work-type environment” surrounded by other people. He is used to working in an office, and with his new project, he didn’t want to be isolated at home. TrendType analyses the consumer markets of Africa, making sense of poor or contradictory information, then selling reports or subscriptions to business customers. Ben realised there was a niche available in the marketplace as most people couldn’t name the 54 countries in Africa, let alone know what age women get married at in Ghana (for your information, it’s either 19.7 years, or 21.4 – Ben hasn’t yet reconciled two different databases). He relies on collating published information, but is also building up a network of specialist researchers in Africa. As Africa becomes more wealthy, there is be a need for businesses looking to export to these countries to have quality data which Ben can provide.
Duncan Law of Transition Town Brixton was there. He is mentoring local entrepreneurs and putting together frameworks for local businesses or tradespeople to collaborate for mutual advantage. The idea is to back local entrepreneurs to reinvigorate the Brixton economy. “We are building support networks to enable businesses to solve common problems and synergise their connections and energy.”
Gail Rowe exlained that Lambeth had a remarkable amount of talent and ideas, and that the objective of the Impact Hub was to give them the space and support to realise those ideas. There’s a feeling of laid-back energy about the place, if that makes any sense. If the other 50 or so members have the same dynamism and commitment as the 20 or so people who were at the open day, then it should come up with some exciting new products and services – and this is just one of the 54 Impact Hubs worldwide.