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Start your own social enterprise

Are you a budding entrepreneur? Do you want to change the world for the better? Why not start a social enterprise.

Social enterprises tackle social and environmental issues with commercial strategies – think The Big Issue, Fareshare, and Divine chocolate. These businesses encourage other companies to be more socially conscious, and let consumers make their money have a positive influence on the world.

Through setting up your own social enterprise, you can use skills you’ve learnt on your placement, and you’ll develop key business skills from project management to managing budgets – all while changing the world for the better. Start by doing some research. If you’ve got a great idea, there are lots of places that can offer you support and guidance to get that idea up and running.

social enterprise

Getting placement experience

You’re not expected to be an expert straight away. As long as you have a good idea and a passion for creating change then other organisations will be able to help you along the way.

Year Here runs a year-long postgraduate course in social innovation based in London. Their alumni have gone on to set up social enterprises like mobile phone screen repair workshops for young offenders, language classes delivered by refugees and an ethical clothing line supporting vulnerable women.

On Purpose runs a year-long programme for future leaders in social enterprise. You’ll take two six-month placements with different organisations like Teach First, O2 or the Red Cross, while being supported the whole time with mentorship and training. When you finish, you’ll be ready to go into leadership roles in some of the brightest social enterprises around.

Finding support

It’s all about the connections. When you’re growing your social enterprise, you’ll need to network and discover the people and resources to help you grow.

Organisations like UnLtd and the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers provide support and networks to social entrepreneurs based in the UK. The Social Enterprise Support Centre runs workshops and provides consultancy services, while NPC can provide consultancy around social investment and impact measurement.

Incubators and accelerators

You might have heard these words thrown around. In the social enterprise sector, working with others and collaborating are key to coming up with ideas – and driving your business forwards.

Incubators ‘incubate’ disruptive ideas. They’re working spaces where you can go to test out different ideas you might have for your social enterprise. In London, Bethnal Green Ventures is an example of an incubator for social tech start-ups.

The [ICS] placement gave me confidence in my own ability because I felt I had a personal impact on helping this business. After my placement, I knew I could set my own business up no matter where I was in the world.
Jack Hamilton
Founder of "The Social Mercenary" a brand inspiring a community of change makers
Jack Hamilton

Accelerators, meanwhile, ‘accelerate’ your social enterprise. They’re there to help grow your business once it’s off the ground. A good example is Emerge Venture Labs, an accelerator for education start-ups.

Why not search for incubators and accelerators near you?

Find out more about social enterprise

So if it’s something you’re thinking about – why not find out more. There are plenty of expert organisations who’ll be able to give you a wealth of information on everything from finance to finding your niche.

Social Enterprise UK are an advocacy organisation with some great information for social enterprises. Check out their Advice and Services section.

The School for Social Entrepreneurs holds courses around social enterprise – whether you're just starting or looking to expand an existing venture.

What are other volunteers doing?

Volunteers frequently start up social enterprises, inspired by their experience on placement. Evelyn founded the Young Africa Centre, providing personal and professional opportunities for Afro-Caribbean people aged 16 -25, after spending time in Kenya, on her ICS placement.

For Jack, spending time away from the UK helped him develop his business idea – ethically-sourced Ghanaian print clothing. And since he’s got back, he’s thrown everything into it, raising £10,000 on Kickstarter and taking the brand on a UK tour.


If they can do it then so can you! What social enterprise will you create?

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Funded by the UK Government.

ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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