Back to top

Incubating 'quietly disruptive' digital innovation in Armenia

Rather than providing a space for existing teams to develop their ideas, our incubator starts right at the grassroots by drawing out the kernels of a social problem.  With the help of active citizens, our ambition is to transform communities, cities and much more…

From top-down to bottom-up

Our journey began with the discovery of Social Innovation Camp.  Under the guise of Mardamej and HuriLab, Social Innovation Camps opened us up to an array of unusual suspects.  Social entrepreneurs, activists and hackers created a renewed sense of the achievable.

Through the tools and tactics of social innovation we are reimagining our relationship with what we once called ‘beneficiaries’ - a term saturated with connotations of dependency and powerlessness. 

‘Experts’ better captures how we now view the citizens who enrich our ventures.

They are expert in negotiating the challenges they face day-to-day.  And their homes and communities are where we start the design process for our social ventures.  We join them on the journey, from itch, to idea, to prototype, to action, to social impact.

Why the need for an incubator?

The Social Innovation Camps created some quietly disruptive ventures, such as Anna’s digital blood registry, or Davit’s tool for monitoring corruption in higher education.

But we struggled to engage businesses and the government in the process, as it was “just an event” in their eyes.  We felt this was a missed opportunity to be truly catalytic.

Kolba Labs, our incubator, is intended to address this missed opportunity.  We also want to offer much more support to the teams after the prototyping events.  So a lack of knowledge or skills is only a short-term barrier to their ambitions.

An open incubator

We want to flip on its head the way UNDP and UNICEF interface with Armenian society.  And offer this to other organisations and institutions.  Thus, Kolba Labs’ core activities include:

Outreach online and through workshops targeting vulnerable and marginalised groups

  • Screening and selection of the best ideas
  • Kick-start camps in each region, generating teams from all applicants, and prototype ventures
  • Training workshops and mentoring for teams to develop skills and their venture
  • Network the best ventures to help them reach scale and sustainability

The process offers multiple entry points for businesses, social investment funds, NGOs and public institutions.  Such as mapping market opportunities, or facilitating access to socially responsible investments or co-creating new models of public services with end users.

The results thus far are promising…

The deadline for submissions has just passed and we received a whapping 144 ideas from citizen experts.

In addition, the Armenia General Benevolent Union and Yerevan Municipality plan to direct part of their youth grant funds into the ventures generated by the incubator.

In the pipeline we have a joint design challenge with the Armenian Central Bank to create savings products for low income households.

Kolba Labs, itself, is just a prototype.  So if you know of any (similar) organisations that have achieved or are attempting collaborative innovation, we would love to hear from you.  We are also always on the lookout for mentors, coaches and social investors… can you help?

Contact George here.