Enspiral, a social venture, incubator and hub, strikes me for its inventiveness and reach, changing the face of social enterprise in Wellington and nationally. It was founded by Joshua Vial, a computer programmer, who experienced an “aha” moment five years ago, alarmed by the scale and pace of deterioration facing people and planet. His sense of urgency motivated him to move to Wellington, transition away from his commercial business, and reach out to others motivated to channel their energy for social change, leveraging his technology capabilities.
Joshua formed a collective for professionals – programmers, lawyers, graphic designers, accountants and others – who pool a portion of earnings to help launch start-ups and other initiatives and for social impact. They invest seed funding, professional expertise and other supports for promising ventures and entrepreneurs who use lean start-up models to test and validate concepts.
As the professional services work has grown, so have start-ups. Bucky Box, Loomio and Chalkle are three of the 13+ ventures that launched in three years. Shared interests are essential assets for the ventures and the broader Enspiral network. For instance, Loomio, an on-line communication and decision platform, benefitted from Enspiral as an early user. Designers got real-time feedback from Enspiral users to refine the tool. Enspiral benefitted from a platform for rapid, effective and transparent decision making.
Enspiral is a magnet for social entrepreneurs, ideas and action in Wellington and an expanding virtual community. The physical space includes start-ups and ‘hot desks’ people can use for short-term needs. There are frequent ‘random collisions of unusual suspects,’ at Enspiral. Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory in Providence, Rhode Island contends that a tribe of unusual suspects can change the world if connected in purposeful ways. Enspiral is the yeast that triggers this magic among diverse, creative talent. It intentionally creates space, physical and on-line, for people to bump into each other, share ideas and germinate new possibilities.
What are core components of Enspiral’s DNA?
Fierce commitment to be a distributed network glued together by core values
Enspiral aims for all of its members to participate as leaders and decision makers. I watched this shared leadership in action. When Joshua spent a few months teaching coding to kids in Cambodia, others in the network not only stepped into new roles; they initiated a major collaborative event, Social Enterprise Week, and executed it masterfully.
Trust seems elusive, yet people are clear when they trust someone and when they are being trusted. The power that is unleashed by reciprocal trust is truly remarkable. Enspiral members frequently mention trust as the secret sauce that enables the power of the network.
Transparency is a close cousin to trust. Enspiral works hard to assure that members have access to information that affects them. They use Loomio as the online platform to communicate, work through consensus and make decisions efficiently and effectively. When there is good news to share, they celebrate success. When people and ventures face a challenge, they benefit from guidance and support provided from the network. When a decision affects the enterprise, they enlist the group to work through a solution. Currently, Enspiral is grappling with a move since it has outgrown its space. They are exploring a partnership to expand opportunities and everyone has a voice and responsibility to contribute.
The Maori proverb states:
He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people
It is trite and true to propose that people are a network’s greatest asset. Joshua has devoted much of his attention to scouting for talent. He invites people to test their interest in Enspiral and he expects respect for freedom and empowerment within the community. As the network grows and gains credibility, talent begets new talent. A challenge for Enspiral, like most systems, will be to perpetuate the values and culture as the network grows. Enspiral is a learning community and I have confidence in its power to test, reflect, learn and adapt to grow the network devoted to community and global change.