Entrepreneurship that matters
Why we’re challenging professionals to start social ventures in 2020
In deep discussion with a woman considering a career change recently, we were mulling over her options. She summed them up as, “I’ll either become a social worker or set up my own business”. One person weighing up two such apparently different routes might seem incongruous and puzzling.
But this neatly captures the outlook of many of the people drawn to Year Here who, like public servants, feel social need acutely, but act on that feeling with the spirit of entrepreneurs.
She reminded me of myself. In my bygone corporate career, my head loved grappling with commercial questions like ‘what’s the size of this opportunity?’ ‘What does the data tell me is at the root of this problem?’ ‘How much investment do we need to get this idea off the ground?’ But the problems I was applying these questions to were slowly nibbling away at my heart, leaving me with an empty feeling of doing work that served a purpose that just didn’t matter to me.
So, my question back to the woman I met was, naturally, “Are you sure they’re mutually exclusive options?”. Because the solution to my head-and-heart dilemma was social enterprise. It presents an alternative to how we traditionally segment the world and our roles in it.
Yet despite the growing movement of business solutions to social problems, we have quite a mountain to climb: in 2018 social enterprises made up only 3% of the UK’s economy, according to Social Enterprise UK.
So where is the next generation of ambitious entrepreneurs who will drive this contribution up and rise to the scale of the social challenges that we face as a country?
Since 2013 Year Here has incubated 30 ventures, each doing their bit to repair and re-design the pieces of our crumbling social and economic machinery. Appt is increasing the uptake of healthcare services and saving the NHS money through smart use of technology. Chatterbox helps refugees to earn an income and use their professional skills as remote language tutors. Supply Change is channelling government’s vast procurement spend towards suppliers that do good stuff in local communities.
This is just the beginning for us: we are overhauling and expanding our social startup platform to rapidly increase the quantity, quality and impact of the businesses our Fellows launch to help transform UK society.
Our programme combines deep insight into the human and systemic dimensions of social issues, a multidisciplinary peer group of prospective co-founders and a package of entrepreneurial support. This includes training sessions led by a faculty of social enterprise leaders, bespoke advice from expert mentors and access to Year Here’s network of potential customers and partners. Critically, we’re planning to invest more cash than ever. It takes a lot to get a venture off the ground and to presume otherwise locks out talented people without the privilege of independent wealth, as our Founder Jack has argued.
Social entrepreneurship is a rewarding but seriously demanding path to choose. An excellent recent report by Big Society Capital’s Candice Hampson on scaling up reminded me of this, from management guru Peter Drucker:
“Entrepreneurship is ‘risky’ mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing.”
Success is far from guaranteed and risk is inherent to entrepreneurship. But Year Here is trying to take as much of that risk out of the equation as we can. In 2020, we’re going to give ambitious, optimistic founders all the ingredients they need to take the leap and tackle problems that matter.
By the end of the next decade, we want to see Year Here Fellows running a raft of social enterprises at scale — across the country and across the world. Maybe then people will realise that social work and entrepreneurship aren’t as incompatible as they once seemed.