The Venture Society: Fuelling aspiration, independence and growth through grass-roots social entrepreneurship

Publication Details

The Venture Society, a flagship report from ResPublica’s Civil Society and Social Innovation Unit, was launched at the SHINE UnConference on 13 May 2010.

Part of a project commissioned by UnLtd, the largest provider of support to social entrepreneurs in the country, the report paints a mixed picture of what it calls the Venture Society. It says that the UK has high levels of social entrepreneurship, but illustrates numerous barriers to the development of new social enterprises.

It details how government can reform its own structures to secure more support and investment for social entrepreneurs at the grassroots.

The report recognises several improvements made over the last 13 years, but criticises the existing network of support currently available, revealing that just one per cent of the 238,000 social enterprises trying to start-up in the UK secure the funding or advice they need.

The report calls for a radical new structure to support social entrepreneurs by developing a network of a ‘community lablets’ that would act as an incubator for new social enterprises by providing the basic infrastructure, advice and funding to dramatically boast the number of start-up enterprises.

The report recognises that key to the success of the lablets would be a strong connection to the local area and draws heavily on successful models in Denmark and the US.

It lays out plans for the community lablets to be supported by established social enterprises and organisations, like UnLtd, who would develop a set of specialised hubs or ‘Social Labs’ that would test, drive, and support innovation in the sector.

The large social foundations would crucially provide financial support and guidance to these new enterprises, which is still the major reason for failure of social enterprises.

The report recommends that regulatory powers are transferred to the Social Labs who would also get the power to approve new flexible venture-lite structures for social start ups funded by community lablets. It also calls for the creation of a Bureaucracy Task Force that would cut the burden of regulation on early stage social entrepreneurs, which it concludes represents a major barrier to new social enterprises, and for the establishment of a number of pilot virtual advisory boards, which would work with existing providers to lever in more funding into the sector.

The report backs the creation of a new fund and plan to support mutual, co-operative and foundation models, which can then make local decisions about venture priorities. And it calls for a switch in funding from existing programmes to provide greater support towards start-up costs and local infrastructure.

In the longer term, the report backs the development of a capitalised social investment bank, targeted tax breaks for new investment vehicles and a community reinvestment act, and formalising the process by which service delivering Whitehall departments pay for the demand reduction benefits of social ventures. It calls on the new Government to place the responsibility for implementing this ambitious programme and new structure of community lablets and social hubs with the Cabinet Office. It concludes by recognising the dire state of the public finances and claiming that these changes can be made from within existing departmental budgets.

  • Asheem Singh

    Asheem Singh is a social entrepreneur and author. As a lead researcher he created ResPublica’s Civil Society and Social Innovation Unit from December 2009-April 2011, where he oversaw partnerships with charities, social enterprises, trade groups and the Fabian Society. He...

    Asheem Singh