£1.8m social enterprise and innovation programme boosts South West startups
The University of Bath has secured £1.8 million in funding to support a major social enterprise and innovation programme to support startups and existing social enterprises throughout the West of England region.
“Social enterprise offers the opportunity to find financially sustainable solutions to local challenges”
With strong partnerships with other social enterprise support networks in the region, including CVS South Gloucestershire, Social Enterprise Works, School for Social Entrepreneurs and Voscur, the programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), aims to power hundreds of sustainable social enterprises over 3 years.
At the programme’s launch (pictured above and right) at the end of March this year, special guests included local Bath MP Ben Howlett who said: “Social enterprise offers the opportunity to find financially sustainable solutions to local challenges.
“There is a long heritage of social enterprise in the West of England, with pioneering success stories such as Sustrans, Bristol Community Health, Viridor and Ecotricity paving the way in innovation and sustainability. This programme is an exciting opportunity to connect key delivery partners to build on these strengths and nurture and develop over 100 more successful social enterprises in the region.”
The programme, which has now been running for a couple of months via the University of Bath Innovation Centre, has already supported several startups and SMEs through a bootcamp-style mentoring scheme – and they’re full of positive endorsements.
Participants have included social projects such as the Wansdyke Play Association, that provides free community play services to strengthen communities; Food Drop, which connects cafes and food retailers with local charities who can make use of food waste; and Urban Car Spa</a, a car wash which supports ex-army veterans back into employment within a familiar team environment.
“The support we received from the bootcamp was unparalleled”
Food Drop’s co-founders Miranda Kharmis and Everest Ekong (pictured right) took part in the programme as part of their efforts to expand their venture beyond Bath and were impressed with the outcomes of taking part.
As Everest explains: “The support we received from the bootcamp was unparalleled; the two days spent helped us reconsider our ideas and strategic planning from the bottom-up. By doing so, we were able to reprioritise some of our plans, filter out what was no longer needed and, of course, it gave us space to be creative and share our newly formed ideas with experts.”
“Involvement with the programme allows you to explore new ideas with people who are like-minded and sympathetic”
Urban Car Spa’s Director, Jonny Rees-Davies (pictured left), who took part in the programme to map the next elements of his business, agrees: “We have some exciting plans and we are at that crucial stage where we can get out of working in the spare room and progress into an office space.
“The involvement with the programme allows you to explore new ideas with people who are like-minded and sympathetic. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely experience and having people who are genuinely interested in helping is of great value.”
The programme is open to tech and digital, as well as less techie endeavours – as long as they’re geared towards social good. The project will initially provide support to start or progress a social enterprise business through 12 hours of startup bootcamps.
However, businesses with the most potential will be offered incubation and acceleration support to receive ongoing coaching and mentoring with a particular emphasis on becoming investment ready.
Dimo Dimov, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Bath School of Management (pictured right), adds: “We hope to create an innovation pipeline to help social entrepreneurs to further their ideas or ventures. Participants will receive ongoing coaching, mentoring and introductions to our investor network.
“Students from the University of Bath Management School will be available to work with companies with the aim of forming a wealth of knowledge about social enterprise best practise.”
To find out more about the social enterprise and innovation programme, and to apply, take a look at the University of Bath Innovation Centre website. You can also see updates on the programme on Twitter here: @Bath_Innovation.