The late 1990’s witnessed the growth of Internet-based companies. Start-up companies became the next big thing for venture capitalists to invest in. Silicon Valley was the hub for technological innovation and the home of most of Internet start-ups. Start-ups like Facebook, Pinterest, Zynga and Groupon have gained great momentum and have not disappointed their investors. There is a lot of hype surrounding the start-up culture but are they doing more than just creating games and apps to pass the time? Social networking sites allow people around the world to connect but can they do more than just bring old friends back together? Can start-ups address issues like poverty, inequality, access to education and medical care?

This week will be the fourth session of the Power Sessions, a joint venture by Apex Communications and VentureVillage. A series of workshops have been held in Berlin for the tech community since December 2012 and the most recent one will be on April 17 answering the question “Are Start-ups Really Solving Problems?”

What actually constitutes a start-up company? Not every new business can be classified as a start-up company. What sets it apart is the growth rate. Although there can be start-up companies that are not primarily focused on technology, the last two decades that the term has gained momentum has shown that technological innovation is a big part of it. A start-up company is intended to grow fast. As Ari Stein, Co-founder of Apex Communications also says “The term has become synonymous with the tech scene. When you mention the word start-up, it works within the technology ecosystem.” This ecosystem has found a new home in Berlin.

Still in its infancy, the Berlin start-up scene has started to grow, attracting young entrepreneurs. Stein commented that Berlin was “listed in the start-up genome top twenty start-up cities in the world. The city itself is a start-up because it came out of the Berlin Wall coming down and had to reset itself and start building from scratch. The start-up scene is very creative, exciting and experimental. Every day there are new meetups and interactions going on and new ideas being worked on.  The reason we’re doing these events is we want to kick off a maturation process in the Berlin start-up scene. For this specific event we want to make people aware that there is more to the start-up scene than ‘exit’ strategies and finding the latest and greatest IOS developer to work on something that’s a little bit more trivial.”

Are great minds really just working to solve problems of a more trivial nature? Millions of apps have been created just to provide an escape from boredom and very few start-ups have actually attempted to solve real world issues. What if the brilliant young minds of the tech community actually started asking real questions and contemplating how their start-up could better society in some way? The percentage of start-ups that are socially aware and addressing critical issues is very low and here are a few that are on the right track, the start-ups that are actually solving problems.

Political participation and social engagement constitute the agenda for Purpose, a company that creates “21st century movements.” Established in 2009, by Jeremy Heimans, Andre Banks and David Madden, Purpose connects people, consumers, companies and organizations to launch movements that will have social or political impact. One such movement created by Purpose is The Rules, addressing issues of poverty and inequality around the world. Funded by Purpose itself, the New Venture Fund and crowd-funding, The Rules aims to create campaigns to change the policies and practices to serve the interests of the majority instead of the minority. Purpose has also launched movements like the LiveStrong Action and Meu Rio.

Addressing the problems in education is a United States company founded by Stanford computer science professors; Coursera is collaborating with a group of top universities to offer courses online. Working together with more than 60 universities, Coursera’s courses are provided to anyone, anywhere, for free. In February, the company expanded its reach and added lectures in French, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. Although Coursera does not offer college degrees it provides education from top universities, mainly from the US, to those who previously did not have any access. It is set up as a for-profit company that has focused its attention on a real problem we face; access to education. and are two other start-ups that address real problems and provide innovative solutions. Till Behnke founded in 2007, which is a crowd funding platform. Currently there are over 5000 projects on its database and it aims to increase donations to the social sector by making it easier to donate and reducing costs on donations. It is a more effective way to engage with the social sector and citizen organizations around the world. focuses on providing step-by-step guides for DIY projects. Founded in Berlin, solves everyday problems through collaboration between crafters and makers.

The amount of start-ups that address social issues and are socially aware are far too small when compared with the total amount of start-ups out there. Start-ups need to start thinking of ways to make their businesses more socially and environmentally aware, because in the end it is the opinion of the consumer that will determine the rate of success or failure and consumers have enough games to pass the time. Now they need real innovation and change.

Founded by Ari Stein and Jordan Michaeli, the Power Sessions aiming to “take the hot air out of the Berlin start-up scene,” addresses the issue of socially aware start-ups in its fourth session. The German capital is witnessing the growth of a vibrant start-up scene and the Power Sessions are there to provide a platform for open discussion on issues that are relevant. Talks will be given by the Co-founder and Managing Director of Purpose Europe Simon Willis, the European Co-leader and Director of Ashoka Germany Felix Oldenburg and the founder of Till Behnke. The sessions will be held at the newly opened Google HQ in Berlin. 

For more information about Power Sessions click here. 


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