Impact Ventures – How an explicit purpose helped to solve my schizophrenia

Ever since founding Fronteer, my co-founder/partner Martijn and I have taken the liberty of spending vast amounts of time and energy on ridiculously non-lucrative projects. Martijn was the driving force behind NDSM Energie, a local clean-energy cooperative. I myself am the initiator of House of Denim, a multi-stakeholder initiative to clean up the global denim industry.

Remarkable & Worthwhile?

At the outset, it felt a bit schizophrenic. In the years we have now spent building up Fronteer from scratch, both of us spent up to a day a week on ambitious projects that had no realistic perspective of paying for our efforts. A day a week, for over 5 years, at partner day rates… That’s a very serious amount of opportunity cost to consider.

Originally, we called them ‘side projects’ and accepted the fact that both of us were simply driven by a need to work on remarkable and worthwhile projects. Even if they weren’t linked to a paying customer. Bad for business, but good for the soul.

Later, we embraced a number of other ‘kindred spirit’ projects initiated by others. These include the ambitious fun(d)raising for Emma Childrens’ Hospital and a wonderful civic art/urban transformation project called Favela Painting.

For a long while, there was a palpable tension. How can you legitimise commitment to very substantial external projects, whilst simultaneously serving top-tier clients and building up an ambitious consulting firm?

On a mission to accelerate positive impact

The solution came around two years ago when we started our ‘temporary office’ tradition. After a week of mission team/internal development work in Portugal, we decided to make our pursuit of societal value, positive impact and sustainable innovations part of our explicit purpose.

The exact words to describe it may evolve in times ahead. But the fundamental pursuit of positive impact, which was part of our DNA from the outset, will be a driving force within our company’s project, rather than just a quirky habit of its founders.

In this age of transition and disruption
the world needs bold moves. 
We apply collaborative innovation 
to accelerate positive impact.

Impact Ventures

Thanks to our transition into Holacracy, the prerogative of founders to spend their time of projects of their choice, is now a ‘right’ to all Fronteer employees. Everyone may ‘bill’ up to four hours of work time to impact ventures every month. As long as you stick to some simple internal rules.

Additionally, we commit to a full-scale expert co-creation project every quarter. Teams can internally pitch to win an ‘Impact Token’ to spend on a project that has positive impact, but insufficient funds to pay for our services.

The first new-style Impact Venture is a project to support Favela Painting in the development (and fund finding) of an internal Academy. This will enable them to transform even more neighbourhoods. Not only am I proud of the work our team has done for this amazing initiative; I’m also relieved and deeply grateful for being able to turn a personal desire for positive impact, a second nature habit for our entire company.

Are you inspired by this story?
Feel free to contact James (