The Big Venture Challenge

This is a guest post, written by Naomi Hirst, Unltd Ventures

This time last year UnLtd launched a pilot programme for early-stage social entrepreneurs called the Big Venture Challenge. We filtered through 638 applications to find 25 of England’s most impressive social entrepreneurs  who were ready to grow their ventures, gain investment and increase their social impact. In the past 12 months we’ve supported 12 of these social entrepreneurs to raise investment to a total £1.2m. This investment along with intensive support from our team of Development Managers has resulted in a 35% increase in the aggregate quarterly turnover and a 34% increase in the number of beneficiaries reached across the social ventures.

These are the stats, but what does it mean for you? We believe that helping social enterprises to grow by supporting them to gain investment and reach more people is great for local government. Social enterprises that reach scale have the potential not only to provide public services to disadvantaged communities, but can also reduce pressure on services by intervening upstream. Many social enterprises add value to local communities by preventing members of the local community from needing local government in the first place, by offering preventative solutions to support families, young people, and those who could be at risk.

One of the 25 social enterprises we selected to support in 2011 is called The Social Work Education, Employment and Training Project – or the SWEET Project for short. Jayne Hulbert and Jayne Cresswell came up with the idea for the project in 2010; the previous year the pair had been made redundant from a charity when the family support services in their local area of Birmingham had closed. Having worked in the area for over 10 years they decided that they would try and re-establish a service in the area for families in need – the SWEET Project is the result.  The social enterprise is a training and development centre for student social workers that provides interventions to help families in the area overcome hardship. Their business model is based on using student placement fees as a revenue source to sustain their work.

In October 2011, Jayne and Jayne were selected to participate in the Big Venture Challenge. Since then they have secured co-investment of £130,000, won numerous awards, and have supported over 400 families in the area. Their outcomes assessment framework shows that over the past year they have helped nearly 100 children stay with their families; supported 80 families to remain in their tenancies; helped 50 young people stay in school; given benefits advice to 100 families; intervened in 40 cases of domestic violence, and referred over 150 families and individuals to GP services.

Along the way they have continued to offer high quality student placements and 90% of their trainees have gained employment after working with the SWEET Project. The SWEET Project thus relieves pressure on local services and in doing so generates value for the local economy by ensuring that students receive high quality training and go on to gain employment.

The Big Venture Challenge supports ambitious social ventures like The SWEET Project to grow, and though it is still early days, our research shows that the kind of support we offer is creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to gain from the social investment market and in turn creating great social impact at a more sustainable rate.

What next?

Such has been the success of the pilot programme that today we are happy to be launching the next phase of the Big Venture Challenge. Between 2013-2015 we will support another 100 social entrepreneurs to raise investment with £5m available in match-funding and teams of experts to help them on their journey to growth.

In January applications will open for the second stage of the programme. We will initially offer 30 of England’s most ambitious social entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with an expert team to raise external investment (debt or equity) of between £50,000 to £250,000 in their ventures.

But to reach these entrepreneurs, we need your help. We need to reach into regions and sectors where we do not have strong links, and uncover those people working to make society better. So please, visit our website and register your interest, pass the message on to interested parties, or get in touch to tell us about the ambitious social enterprises working within your local area with aspirations to scale.

The Big Venture Challenge is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and will be delivered by UnLtd, ClearlySo, The Shaftesbury Partnership, and The Social Investment Business.

To find out more about the next stage of the Big Venture Challenge please visit www.bigventurechallenge.com

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