Manfred Tauchner, Johann Praith, Manuela Kovalev, Vlasta Kostercová, Miriama Dubovská, Gábor  
Szüdi, Nina Trinkl, Elke Szalai, Pamela Bartar. Social Enterprises and eir Challenges and Solutions  
in a Social Ecosystem: A Cross-border Analysis in Austria and Slovakia. soziales_kapital, Bd. 27 (2023).  
Rubrik: Werkstatt. Eisenstadt. Printversion:  
27. Ausgabe 2023  
Akademisierung Sozialer Arbeit  
Social Enterprises and Their Challenges and  
Solutions in a Social Ecosystem  
A Cross-border Analysis in Austria and Slovakia  
Manfred Tauchner, Johann Praith, Manuela Kovalev,  
Vlasta Kostercová, Miriama Dubovská, Gábor Szüdi,  
Nina Trinkl, Elke Szalai & Pamela Bartar  
This article deals with the challenges for founders of social enterprises in the context of social  
enterprise ecosystems. Based on a research study (in the course of which 75 interviews were  
conducted in Austria and Slovakia), five key issues were identified as major challenges that social  
enterprises need to overcome: financing, data mining, human capacities, strategy building and  
networking. The aim of the article is to show how academic educational institutions can support  
social enterprise ecosystems in addressing and mitigating these challenges. Since there are different  
types of social enterprises, a distinction between these types is first made before presenting a  
core concept of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. A comparison of degree programmes for social  
entrepreneurship at both Austrian and Slovak educational institutions revealed that there is a gap  
between the provision of basic business knowledge and the teaching of social work skills. Business  
degree programmes frequently neglect skills associated with social work, while social work degree  
programmes do not incorporate fundamental business skills. The article concludes with a discussion  
of two case studies illustrating that the integration of business management skills with social work  
skills is a crucial success factor, ensuring the sustainable existence and development of a social  
Keywords: social enterprise, social enterprise ecosystem, higher education, higher education  
institutions, social entrepreneurship, social work, business management, social work skills  
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs,  
focusing on the role higher education institutions play within the framework of social enterprise  
ecosystems. This is also reflected in the research question addressed in this article: How can  
academic institutions contribute to supporting social enterprise ecosystems in overcoming the  
distinct challenges faced by social enterprises?  
As a point of departure, the article will establish definitions for core concepts and models  
before comparing Austrian and Slovak social enterprise ecosystems. The reason for choosing these  
two countries is that the article draws on findings from the “Social Entrepreneurship Education  
and Development Hub” (Seed-Hub) research project,i which analysed social enterprises and  
entrepreneurs in the border regions of the Slovak Republic and Austria. The article will then move  
on to outline the primary challenges faced by social enterprises before discussing the role of higher  
education institutions within these ecosystems. The article concludes with an in-depth analysis  
of two case studies from Austria and Slovakia, highlighting the importance of effective business  
education for successful social entrepreneurship.  
Theoretical Foundations  
This section will provide an overview of the theoretical foundations that form the basis for both the  
concepts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the social enterprise ecosystem. A comparative  
analysis will then be conducted, focusing on the distinctions between the Austrian and Slovak  
social enterprise ecosystems.  
2.1 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems  
Over the last decade, the concept of the entrepreneurial ecosystem has gained enormous popularity  
with policymakers and industrial practitioners, which is also reflected in a rising academic interest.  
While this rapidly growing interest makes it seem a new concept, the notion of the entrepreneurial  
ecosystem builds on more established concepts of clusters, regional innovation systems, industrial  
districts and urban economics (Acs/Audretsch/O’Connor/Stam 2017). In fact, while not specifically  
using the term “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, James Moore (1993) was one of the first to highlight  
the significance of collaboration, interdependence and adaptability in competitive environments,  
arguing that “a company be viewed not as a member of a single industry but as part of a business  
ecosystem that crosses a variety of industries”. Daniel Isenberg’s (2010) discussion of entrepreneurial  
ecosystems in the Harvard Business Review was another important step forward in understanding  
the components of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems.  
What all the different approaches have in common is the belief that business performance is  
determined not only by internal behaviour (e.g., workforce skills, level of investment in innovation,  
marketing and internationalisation strategies), but also by the quantity and quality of interactions  
with external stakeholders and how such interactions are orchestrated.  
These interdependencies and interactions have also been highlighted by Dutch researcher  
Erik Stam, who has made significant contributions to the understanding of entrepreneurial  
ecosystems as “a set of interdependent actors and factors coordinated in such a way that they enable  
productive entrepreneurship” (Stam 2015: 1765). While Stam does not deny some overlapping with  
more established concepts such as clusters, industrial districts, innovation systems and learning  
regions, he argues that what makes the entrepreneurial ecosystem approach unique is its focus  
on the entrepreneur as the key player in generating and maintaining the ecosystem. According to  
Stam, entrepreneurial actors can thus leverage their agency to influence and shape the ecosystem  
itself. They can actively engage with stakeholders to foster collaboration, drive change and create  
an environment that is more conducive to entrepreneurship. This perspective also considers that  
different regions have unique strengths, challenges and opportunities, which encourages the  
development of tailored strategies to leverage these local assets.  
conditions and systemic conditions), outputs, outcomes and the systemic interaction (upward and  
downward relations) in the model developed by Stam (2015).  
Figure 1: Key elements, outputs, and outcomes of the  
entrepreneurial ecosystem (Stam 2015: 1765)  
Framework conditions and systemic conditions are the two basic layers in Stam’s entrepreneurial  
ecosystem. Framework conditions encompass both formal and informal institutions, as well as  
the essential physical infrastructure required to facilitate interactions. However, this still requires a  
demand for goods and services. These conditions contribute to the creation of new value within the  
ecosystem. Systemic conditions are at the core of the ecosystem (networks, leadership, finance,  
talent, knowledge and support services/intermediaries), determining the success of the ecosystem.  
This means that, when considering an ecosystem, it is important to determine the level at which it is  
applicable. Systemic conditions may be relevant at a regional level, whereas framework conditions  
can be applicable at both regional and national levels (Stam 2015:1765–1766).  
2.2 Adding a Social Dimension to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem  
Social enterprise ecosystems are a specific subset of entrepreneurial ecosystems focusing on  
supporting and nurturing social entrepreneurs and their ventures. As Aluisius Hery Patrono and  
Ari Sutanti (2016: 107) pointedly said, “social entrepreneurs include new actors in the ecosystem  
to create new equilibrium”. Applying entrepreneurial principles and business strategies to address  
social and environmental challenges, social enterprise ecosystems share quite a few similarities with  
entrepreneurship ecosystems. There are, however, also some important differences. One notable  
difference lies in their mission and impact orientation: Social enterprise ecosystems primarily focus  
on addressing social and environmental challenges, aiming to create positive impact and generating  
social value alongside financial sustainability.  
With the social enterprise being at the core of the ecosystem, tensions occur between the  
common good and economic necessities. Ignas Bruder and Jörg Sydow (2021: 13) address this  
issue by speaking of the “management of tensions”. This means that, while the social nature of a  
company must be maintained, its economic survival must also be ensured. Beyond the social mission  
(what), a social enterprise is also determined by the question of practices (how). A simultaneous  
consideration of both dimensions will result in the typology below (see Figure 2).  
Figure 2: Typology of different enterprise forms derived  
from mission and practices (Bruder 2019: 499).  
In their most effective forms, these are ideal types. In practice, however, social enterprises are  
somewhere in between. The two-dimensional typology developed by Bruder distinguishes between  
the corporate mission and corporate practices, thereby allowing for a distinction between “real”  
social enterprises and “pseudo” social enterprises.  
2.3 National Social Enterprise Ecosystems  
There are national differences in social enterprise ecosystems as the study on Social Enterprises  
and their Ecosystems in Europe conducted by the European Commission in the EU member states  
between 2018 and 2020 clearly shows. The study argues that the ecosystem of social enterprises  
is based on four components: (1) capacity to self-organise, (2) visibility and recognition, (3) access  
to resources, (4) research, education and skills development (Borgaza et al. 2020: 49). This article  
draws on the findings presented in the Country Report of Austria (Anastasiadis/Gspurnig/Lang  
2018) and the Country Report of Slovakia (Polacková 2020) to analyse similarities and differences  
in the ecosystems.  
2.3.1 Capacity to Self-organise  
The Slovakia country report points out that there is currently no formally recognised network for  
social enterprises. There may be informal networks, but they are not publicly visible (Polacková  
2020: 54). In Austria, by contrast, there are several networks, which represent different interests,  
e.g., Arbeit plus, Sozialwirtschaft Österreich, DABEI, GEMSE. At a regional level, newer forms of  
network formations include Social City Vienna and Emersense; at a global level Impact Hub Vienna  
and Ashoka. (Anastasiadis et al. 2018: 69). There is also the Social Entrepreneurship Network Austria  
(SENA), which represents the interests of social enterprises in Austria.  
2.3.2 Visibility and Recognition  
In Slovakia, supporting social enterprises is considered a political priority. Municipalities, in particular,  
are interested in efficient social enterprises, as the latter contribute to a better quality of life and  
higher employment rate in their respective regions. Slovak social enterprises also benefit from the  
“European Social Fund” (ESF) and the “European Regional Development Fund” (ERDF) (Polacková  
2020: 49–51).  
Unlike in Slovakia, there is no specific policy programme for social enterprises in Austria.  
Support measures primarily target social enterprises that employ people facing challenges in  
securing employment, such as the long-term unemployed, workers with disabilities or senior  
citizens. Austrian social enterprises also benefit from EU funding programmes such as ESF and  
EFDF (Anastasiadis et al. 2018: 55–65).  
2.3.3 Access to Resources  
In Slovakia, the demand for funding social enterprises exceeds the resources available. Generally  
speaking, banks are not the main sources of funding. There are a few initiatives, however, such as  
Slovenska Sporitelna (a member of Erste Group) and Initiative Social Innovators, which channel the  
capital of the social bank TISE into Slovakia. These initiatives are aimed at increasing the volume  
of investment for the non-profit sector, especially social enterprises (Polacková 2020: 56–57). In  
addition, two impact investment funds were launched last year, providing equity and quasi-equity,  
managed by Socialni Inovatori Impact Capital and CB Espri.  
In Austria, social enterprises receive funding from various actors and sources, including  
public agencies, donations, sponsorship, financial intermediaries and membership fees. According  
to various stakeholders, there is a sustained need for public funding and start-up funding  
(Anastasiadis et al. 2018: 79).  
2.3.4 Research, Education and Skills Development  
Educational institutions are an important player in any ecosystem. In Slovakia, several universities  
offer degree programmes and courses on social entrepreneurship. These include the Faculty of  
Economics at the University of Economics in Bratislava, the Comenius University in Bratislava, the  
Catholic University in Ruzomberok and the Faculty of Economics at Matej Bel University in Banská  
Bystrica (Polacková 2020: 54).  
In Austria, a large number of higher education institutions are engaged in the research,  
training and development of social work and social entrepreneurship. These include the NPO & SE  
Competence Centre at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, the University of Graz,  
the University of Linz and FH-Campus Wien (Anastasiadis et al. 2018: 76). The University of Applied  
Sciences St. Pölten and the University of Applied Sciences Burgenland offer specialisations in the  
field of social work and social entrepreneurship.  
Challenges Faced by Social Enterprises  
Education and Development Hub” (SEED-Hub) project revealed. As part of the project, 75 semi-  
structured qualitative interviews were conducted with relevant stakeholders, which showed that  
regional social enterprises need to overcome five key barriers (Kostercová et al. 2022). These are  
related to (1) financing, (2) data mining, (3) human capacities, (4) strategy-building and (5) networking  
and interest representation.  
3.1 Financing  
Social entrepreneurs in both Austria and Slovakia lack sufficient experience in sustainable  
fundraising and are often unaware of the possibilities of accessing refundable financial resources  
from financial institutions targeting social economy entities. In Slovakia, the traditional setting of  
social economy financing is often limited to the public budget, resulting in underfunding, not only in  
terms of finance, but also in terms of human capital and expertise. In Austria, by contrast, there is  
a shift towards ensuring more private and sustainable funding, but this process has so far failed to  
change the funding mix of “traditional” NPOs and cooperatives by mainly relying on public subsidies  
and contracts. This creates a strong dependence on grant financing, often jeopardising the long-  
term sustainability of social enterprises. Many companies invest considerable time and energy in  
obtaining short-term grants, underestimating the importance of long-term economic sustainability.  
Moreover, in Austria, partly due to budgetary constraints, federal state funding is provided for a  
limited time only. Since companies often lack the expertise to effectively communicate their social  
values to financial institutions, this dependence on grants is difficult to break. This, in turn, is linked  
to a broader lack of knowledge transfer in social enterprise ecosystems, where stakeholders often  
focus on one impact or location or one source of funding, thus hindering their development at both  
the company and ecosystem levels.  
3.2 Data Mining  
Social enterprise ecosystems generally face a challenge characterised by a lack of data essential for  
developing effective solutions to societal problems. Put differently, social enterprises do not have  
enough information about where to access such data or have insufficient capacities to generate  
it. Even if such data is theoretically available, enterprises often lack the skills and ability to work  
with the data existing in order to determine the social or economic benefits of their ideas, projects  
or organisations. This leads to the problem that social impact is often not measured or cannot  
be convincingly presented to public and private funding bodies, resulting in underfinancing or a  
reliance on grant financing.  
3.3 Human Capacities  
Social entrepreneurs, driven by a desire to make positive changes in the world, frequently find  
themselves lacking specific entrepreneurial and other essential skills to effectively address concrete  
societal challenges. This is partly related to the fact that formal education and training systems for  
social entrepreneurs often do not prepare them for the challenges encountered when establishing a  
sustainablesocialenterprise. InSlovakia, thereisasignificantgapbetweenthetheoreticalknowledge  
imparted by higher education institutions and the practical knowledge required to tackle societal  
challenges, such as the uneven distribution of economic prosperity within a business environment.  
3.4 Strategy Building  
Sustainable social enterprises frequently succeed in implementing their initial concepts, yet only  
a few are able to achieve their longer-term objectives and instigate systemic changes in specific  
socio-economic fields. This partly has to do with the intricate and interconnected nature of societal  
and economic challenges, which would require sustainable long-term strategies.  
3.5 Networking  
Social enterprises, especially smaller ones, frequently lack awareness of similar ideas, projects or  
organisations in their related field(s) and thus cannot exchange knowledge and practices or build up  
a “critical mass” of organisations needed for successful lobbying towards policymakers or funding  
organisations. This highlights the significance of networking, a task made more challenging by the  
absence of a specific legal form for social enterprises in Austria (see 2.3.1.)  
The Role of Higher Education in Social Entrepreneurship Training  
As the SEED-Hub project revealed, a potential strategy for addressing challenges encountered by  
social entrepreneurs in both countries involves bolstering the involvement of academic institutions  
in social enterprise ecosystems. As discussed in section 3.3., first-time entrepreneurs frequently  
lack fundamental business management skills to translate their idea(s) into sustainable social  
enterprises. The subsequent analysis of teaching plans and syllabi at Austrian and Slovak higher  
education institutions will illuminate the extent to which potential social entrepreneurs are prepared  
for their roles during their studies.  
4.1 Faculty of Economics and Finance, University of Economics (Bratislava)  
The Faculty of Economics and Finance provides degree programmes across all three levels of  
higher education. Specifically, the Department of Social Development and Labour offers degree  
programmes in socio-economic subjects. Currently, this Department oversees the compulsory and  
optional modules in the Public Policy Management programme. Students thus have the opportunity  
to enrol in a number of courses that include elements of social work and social entrepreneurship. The  
Social Economics and Economics course provides students with an overview of the fundamentals  
of social economics. Students can deepen their understanding of social entrepreneurship in the  
Social Entrepreneurship course, which focuses on the tools of the social economy and various  
models of social enterprises.  
Business economics focuses on profit generation through entrepreneurial activity.  
Considering the ethical dimension and the principle of solidarity in entrepreneurship, students can  
gain insights from social entrepreneurship. In this context, the development of a business plan for  
a social enterprise is motivated by an effort to tackle various social issues.  
Although the Faculty has recently introduced newly accredited degree programmes, only  
one of these programmes incorporates the study of economics in connection with social policy.  
Thus, there is currently no degree programme with a distinct social orientation that addresses  
contemporary societal issues through economic activity, as is the focus in social entrepreneurship  
(University of Bratislava 2023).  
4.2 Faculty of Education, Comenius University (Bratislava)  
The Faculty of Education at Comenius University in Bratislava primarily focuses on the training  
of potential teaching staff. However, it also offers the opportunity to complete programmes in  
non-educational specialisations such as social work, speech therapy or psychological and career  
counselling for individuals with disabilities.  
At this Faculty, students have the opportunity to pursue studies in social work at both the  
Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. Both degree programmes are offered by the Department of Social  
Work. The Bachelor’s degree programme introduces students to the theoretical background of  
social work. The programme focuses on the methods and forms of helping professions and the  
fostering of students’ social skills. At the same time, students will acquire professional social  
work skills and become competent in the field of social service provision. Building upon the skills  
obtained in the Bachelor’s programme, the Master’s degree programme further extends students’  
knowledge by incorporating competencies applicable in practice for addressing societal problems  
across diverse groups. Depending on the chosen specialisation, students will also be equipped to  
assume leadership positions in the field of social affairs and be able to conduct research or apply  
various approaches to solving societal problems (Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave 2023).  
4.3 University of Applied Sciences St. Pölten, Austria  
While the Bachelor’s degree programme in Social Work (180 ECTS) focuses on profession-specific  
competencies of social work, it also touches upon a variety of content-related crucial topics. These  
include macroeconomic and socio-political framework conditions of social entrepreneurship, along  
with their contradictory paradigms. The BA programme equips students with the skills to plan and  
implement social profit enterprises, analysing best practice examples and developing innovative,  
marketable products and services. This approach ensures that students gain hands-on, practical  
expertise (Fachhochschule St. Pölten 2023).  
As programme director and head of department Christine Haselbacher explained (personal  
Lab (iLab). This innovative, elective module serves as an interdisciplinary innovation hub for aspiring  
social workers. It provides a unique learning environment where students can develop products  
from initial conception and business model up to market maturity. A good example to illustrate this  
point are the projects on social innovation in the social transformation process or “Tut Gut” projects  
on psychosocial health. All these projects are backed up by business plans. Additionally, social  
work students can acquire basic business and financial project management knowledge through  
elective modules. However, as Christine Haselbacher emphasised, there seems to be a general  
scepticism with regard to market-liberal competition mechanisms and quality assurance problems  
in the struggle with limited resources in the field of social work and social business.  
4.4 University of Applied Sciences Campus Wien, Austria  
The Bachelor’s degree programme “Social Work” at the University of Applied Sciences Campus  
Wien (180 ECTS) covers micro-, meso- and macroeconomic topics relevant to social businesses  
and social entrepreneurship on a basic level. More advanced and entrepreneurial content is reserved  
for the Master’s level (Fachhochschule Campus Wien 2023).  
The Master’s programme in Social Business and Social Work (120 ECTS) focuses on  
leadership and management skills necessary for running social organisations and enhancing  
students’ analytical skills. Graduates often assume middle-to-top management leadership  
positions, taking on managerial responsibilities (M. Wallner & V. Stifter, graduates from the MA in  
Social Business and Social Work, personal communication, 6 September 2023).ii They also play a  
crucial role in driving innovative and sustainable development within medium-sized and large social  
work enterprises. Some graduates may choose to establish their own businesses or become self-  
The curriculum introduces the fundamentals of business administration, financial accounting  
and corporate law from the ground up. This is particularly beneficial for students who have not  
acquired such knowledge in their first degree (e.g., BA in Social Work). As Marlis Wallner and  
Viktoria Stifter argued, while these students do not see themselves in a position to manage social  
businesses or become self-employed as social entrepreneurs after completing their Bachelor’s  
degree, they believe to possess these skills after obtaining their Master’s degree. This confirms the  
assumption that social work at the Bachelor’s level does not make specific claims to leadership  
competence, but rather serves as a general introduction to the topic of social entrepreneurship,  
preparing students for more specialised Master’s degree programmes.  
4.5 University of Applied Sciences Burgenland, Austria  
The University of Applied Sciences Burgenland offers two Bachelor’s degree programmes that  
teach social entrepreneurship skills, each to be completed within six semesters, totalling 180 ECTS.  
In both programmes, however, providing students with fundamental social entrepreneurship skills  
is not a primary goal.  
Administered by the Department of Social Work, the BA in Social Work includes modules  
providing fundamental social work skills and social pedagogy competencies, training students  
to become hands-on experts in the multi-faceted occupational fields of social work. While core  
modules do not specifically teach basic business management skills, there are several modules that  
offer a broader understanding of social entrepreneurship fundamentals. For example, the “Global  
Social Dialog” course (2 ECTS credits) explores the interconnectedness between social work and  
business, philosophy and politics, and their management at micro, meso and macro levels. The  
“Meso and Macro Levels of Reference for Social Work” course (2 ECTS credits) teaches students  
how social businesses are structured and organised (M. Tauchner, Programme Director, personal  
communication, 14 July 2023).  
Administered by the Department of Business Studies, the three-year undergraduate  
programme in International Business Relations focuses on Central and Eastern Europe, equipping  
students with key management and business skills. Second-year students can choose from a variety  
of specialisations, thereby acquiring more in-depth knowledge in their chosen fields. The chosen  
specialisation has a scope of 24 ECTS credits, which also includes the Bachelor’s thesis. “Social &  
Sustainable Business” is a fairly new specialisation. Launched in 2017, this specialisation aims to  
provide students with the knowledge and skills required for managerial roles in the social economy  
or green economy. Recognising that social and ecological concerns impact all companies, the  
curriculum covers various subjects such as marketing, controlling and human resource management  
(T. Semmler-Matošić, Programme Director, personal communication, 14 July 2023).  
5.1 Baterkáreň  
Baterkáreň is a community education and environment reuse centre that sells goods, organises  
courses and events, sorts and collects clothes and donated items. Additionally, it also manages  
charity projects and collections. Baterkáreň is a registered social enterprise that focuses on reusing  
goods by applying principles of a circular economy (Baterkáreň n.d.).  
The company is based on a highly functional concept. In the first six months of its existence,  
it faced challenges no one was able to predict (Covid). Despite this, the business emerged from this  
crisis relatively unharmed — not least thanks to the vast professional experience of the founders,  
their strong marketing communication skills, as well as effective team and process management  
(Simona Hlaváčová & Janka Reháková founders of Baterkáreň, personal communication, 28 June  
2023). This demonstrates that a business can be operated in a way that is both functional and  
sustainable while at the same time contributing to the community of which it is an integral part.  
5.1.1 Social Impact  
The company also tries to change consumer behaviour by organising events that promote the idea  
of a circular economy, support a healthy lifestyle and showcase art, culture and local creation. These  
events include swaps, lectures, courses and discussions, along with services such as education  
and consultations, and the offering of its own products, such as modules and electronic books. In  
2020, Baterkáreň put back into circulation more than 4,500 pieces of clothing, 1,000 books, 2,000  
toys, and 2,000 household necessities.  
Baterkáreň communicates the principles of circulation in a simple and comprehensible  
way, providing opportunities for acquiring key competencies and enhancing the adaptability of  
communities to changes brought about by climate change. As the sole environmental centre in the  
Trnava region, it focuses on building capacities in the field of environmental protection, fostering the  
development of community life and promoting sharing and mutual support.  
Baterkáreň is an active and integral part of the community in the city of Trnava. It does not  
avoid tackling sensitive topics, such as mental health, violence against women and infertility. It  
provides a safe space within support groups where people can share their feelings and find the  
support they need. Additionally, the centre organises material and financial collections to support  
organisations and individuals in need, fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity.  
What is more, the centre collaborates with young people, aiming to equip them with  
relevant 21st century skills in a real and organic environment. The goal is to channel frustration from  
climate changes into meaningful activities with an impact. Volunteers help with the organisation  
of events, their promotion and running. They learn how to use social networks meaningfully and  
intentionally, how to use facts in communication and how to choose appropriate arguments and  
5.1.2 Business Know-how  
The motivation driving the two main founders was the organic need to establish a space in their  
place of residence that provides sustainable opportunities for various aspects of life. At the same  
time, Baterkáreň was envisioned as a place built by and serving the community. It emerged as a  
project that seamlessly integrates not only products but also services, education and humanitarian  
The primary objective of Baterkáreň’s business operation extends beyond running a  
drugstore, cafe or second-hand shop. Rather, these activities are strategically operated to ensure  
the company covers its own costs for rent, employees and investments, establishing independence  
from the reliance on various grants and subsidy schemes. Many similar organisations in Slovakia  
face challenges because they rely heavily on donations, grants or municipal support. If there are  
changes in the city management or shifts in the mood of the population, such organisations can  
lose their financial sources and their activities may be stopped. Diversification of income combined  
with an appropriate indebtedness of the company is definitely its big competitive advantage in the  
current economic situation.  
5.2 Gabarage  
Gabarage Upcycling Design is a non-profit, limited liability company employing approx. 65 people  
in management, training and qualification at three different locations (Vienna, Neusiedl am See, St.  
Pölten). The central business idea and philosophy is the upcycling of used or waste materials through  
craft and innovative design, thus adding value and extending the life cycle of source materials and  
discarded products. Gabarage Upcycling predominantly hires people facing challenges in finding  
employment in the conventional labour market due to chronic diseases and conditions (addictions),  
mental illnesses or migration backgrounds. Gabarage also employs young people seeking a fresh  
perspective in their lives after experiencing challenging pasts (Gabarage n.d.).  
5.2.1 Social Impact  
Starting in 2002, Gabarage Upcycling originated as a work training programme within a specialised  
clinic for people suffering from addictions (Anton-Proksch-Institut). In 2011, when the new clinic  
management wanted to close down the programme, Gabriele Gottwald-Nathaniel, the clinic’s  
administrative director at that time, decided to buy out and found Gabarage as an independent  
company. This positioned Gabarage as a venture that was not only economically sound but also  
committed to social responsibility. Gabriele Gottwald-Nathaniel holds degrees in social work and  
social management (G. Gottwald-Nathaniel, founder of Gabarage, personal communication, 23  
August 2023).  
5.2.2 Business Know-how  
Trained as a social worker in the 90ies, Gottwald-Nathaniel was involved in projects such as Augustin  
or Streetwork Vienna. She then graduated from the Danube University, obtaining a degree in social  
management. She was and is the one who brings business know-how to Gabarage Upcycling, and  
her diverse skillset enables her to recruit expert staff for social pedagogic training, social work, as  
well as overseeing controlling and financial management tasks (G. Gottwald-Nathaniel, founder of  
Gabarage, personal communication, 23 August 2023).  
Gabriele Gottwald-Nathaniel argues that social entrepreneurs need to be able to design  
business plans, read balance sheets and have basic knowledge in business and labour laws, which  
is why these skills are to be integrated into Bachelor’s degree programmes in social work. She  
argues that economists, too, must acquire knowledge in social work and social business, given the  
intricate operational and funding framework upon which social entrepreneurship is based.  
Centre at the Vienna University of Economics and Business since “pure social workers” in the  
first decade of this century often lacked an unbiased view on financial and entrepreneurial issues.  
Gabarage Upcycling as a social enterprise and organisation is still learning a lot from cooperating  
with profit-oriented businesses.  
The case studies discussed above show that combining professional social work knowledge and  
social enterprise know-how provides a good basis for developing sustainable business operations  
in their respective stakeholder landscapes. Inspiration and synergies can be gained in the joint  
development of product ideas and services, as well as in the specific work with social work service  
users, customers and cooperation partners. Differences exist in the professional background of  
staff and heterogeneous stakeholder and funding landscapes; similarities lie in the companies’ legal  
frameworks and enthusiastic approach to corporate social and environmental responsibility. Both  
companies have to report at least annually on their economic and social impact to their boards, the  
public and private funders who partly support their social businesses.  
While higher education institutions in Slovakia and Austria provide fundamental knowledge  
and practical skills in social entrepreneurship in economic and social work degree programmes, there  
remains a noticeable disparity between the business knowledge and the social work expertise taught  
in these distinct social business programmes. This means that economic social entrepreneurship  
knowledge and social work skills need to be integrated into interdisciplinary courses at the  
Bachelor’s level in order to develop the skillsets of business and social work experts, practitioners  
and educators. Social enterprises and SE start-ups are more likely to succeed sustainably when  
their managers have acquired a balanced blend of economic AND social work expertise as part of  
their education.  
i SEED-Hub is a project that was funded by the INTERREG V-A Slovakia-Austria cooperation programme of the European Union and the  
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).  
ii Marlies Wallner, BA MA graduated from the Master’s programme in Social Work in 2015; Viktoria Stifter BA MA in 2020.  
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About the authors  
Mag.ª Pamela Bartar, MAS  
Projektmanagerin und Forscherin/Project Manager and Researcher, ZSI — Zentrum für Soziale  
Innovation, Österreich.  
Ing. Miriama Dubovská  
Doktorandin/PhD student, Ekonomická univerzita v Bratislave, Slowakei, Department of Social  
Development and Labour.  
Ing. Vlasta Kostercová  
Projektmanagerin/Project Manager, Sociálni Inovátori Impact Capital, impact investment fund,  
Slowakei. (FH) Mag.a Manuela, Kovalev, MA  
Hochschullehrerin/SeniorLecturer, FachhochschuleBurgenland, Österreich, DepartmentWirtschaft.  
Prof.(FH) Mag.(FH) Dr. Johann Praith  
Hochschullehrer/Senior Lecturer, Fachhochschule Burgenland, Österreich, Department Wirtschaft.  
DI Elke Szalai, MA  
Forscherin und Lehrbeauftragte/Researcher and Lecturer, Fachhochschule Burgenland, Österreich,  
Department Soziales.  
M.A. Gábor Szüdi, PhD  
Projektmanager und Forscher/Project Manager and Researcher, ZSI — Zentrum für Soziale  
Innovation, Österreich.  
Prof.(FH) Mag.(FH) DSA Manfred Tauchner  
Departmentleiter Soziales /Head of Department Social Work & Social Sciences; Studiengangsleiter  
Bachelor Soziale Arbeit/Director Programme BA Social Work, Fachhochschule Burgenland,  
Österreich, Department Soziales. (FH) MMag.a Nina Trinkl  
Studiengangsleitung Master Internationale Wirtschaftsbeziehungen/Programme Director (MA)  
International Business Relations, Fachhochschule Burgenland, Österreich, Department Wirtschaft.