Understanding early-stage social ventures

I would like to kick-off this blog with a short post about my current project. As part of my postgraduate studies at the London College of Communication, I’ve become interested in social ventures and what drives social entrepreneurs at the very beginning of their journey. With close to a third of all social ventures being 3 years old or younger*, it seems important to understand what these ventures need in order grow into sustainable businesses and maximise their social impact.

The above video illustrates part of the thought process I’ve been through so far. After summarising insights from various interviews I’ve done with social entrepreneurs, I tried to understand different ways in which initial ideas about their ventures are formed. I’ve identified four types of drivers that often set in motion the journey of a social entrepreneur.

Personally experiencing a problem
Perhaps the most common reason to start dealing with a social (or any kind of) issue is to experience it first-hand. This also puts an aspiring entrepreneur in a very good starting position as it means that he/she already has a very good understanding of the problem in question and will be able to empathise with those affected much more easily. Those involved in the selection process for accelerators and other incubation programmes seem to be aware of that and value this kind of experience.

Wouldn’t it be great if…
The second type of entrepreneurial idea starts with imagining a better way of doing things or perhaps even creating something new just for fun. While this type of idea may seem appealing, it can fail to achieve wider adoption and retention as it doesn’t necessarily address any real issue. Research with potential users can lead to insights that can help shape the idea into a more useful form.

Using existing expertise in a more meaningful way
Some entrepreneurs may have been working in a different field, perhaps solving business problems for corporate clients, or dealing with social issues in a more charitable way. They want to apply their skills and knowledge to create a social enterprise. These entrepreneurs may need to focus more on identifying a specific problem they want to address and around which they can develop a sustainable business.

Trying to save the world
There are also those that want to tackle too many things at once. While it may be desirable for a social enterprise to have big aims, a new venture has very limited resources and needs to focus them accordingly. Understanding which part of the bigger social issue needs attention first and where they can achieve the most impact is crucial for these ventures as overly ambitious plans can quickly drain available funds and drive them into failure.

During the next couple of months I will try to develop a tool that will help each of these types of ventures address the specific issues they’re facing, so you can expect a series of posts to follow up on my progress. If you have an opinion about early-stage social ventures and drivers that lead to their formation, don’t be shy and leave a comment below.

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