Tag Archives: UnLtd

UnLtd: It’s all about people-powered solutions

UnLtd is the largest provider of support for social entrepreneurs in the country, and a partner in the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change. Here Dan Lehner, interim head of ventures, describes their contribution.

The Big Venture Challenge (BVC) was designed as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change programme. It represents a 3 year programme, run by UnLtd Ventures, working with 25 ambitious social entrepreneurs in England who need access to finance, support and networks to help them reach scale.

At UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, we believe that it is people who make the difference. Our starting point is the extraordinary ability human beings have within themselves – some of them to a remarkable extent – to create social change. We work with over 1,000 social entrepreneurs per year and have national reach across the UK. We spot raw talent and we connect high potential individuals to the resources that they need to deliver social impact.

The Ventures team were overwhelmed, figuratively and literally with the response to our call out for BVC applications in April 2011: receiving 1,000 expressions of interest and 638 full applications. The filtering process was an incredible experience. We had a clear idea of what we were looking for: innovative people-powered solutions to social problems in their communities. More specifically we targeted confident, well-connected, committed entrepreneurs, with scalable models, strong social and financial performance, a robust plan and a clear investment need. After 2 months of due diligence, meeting and reading about some incredible people, we managed to select 41 hugely impressive individuals for interview.

To get down to the final 25, we recruited nearly 50 external judges – influential figures from social investors, entrepreneurs, staff at key corporate partners and government – to join the interview panels, over a whole week. With their insightful questioning and expert analysis and a lot of strong coffee, we made our decision on the final cohort.

The final 25 are a diverse bunch. Some pre-revenue, some very well established; some running charities, some for-profit companies; some selling to public sector, some to private sector, some direct to consumers. Many are people who have lived with the problem they seek to solve – the winners represent people who are nurses, social workers, ex-addicts, patients, people with disabilities, people who have experienced mental health problems. Some of the winners are people from the commercial sector including city bankers, corporate managers, computer programmers as well as public sector leaders.

What they share is that they are all ambitious, determined social entrepreneurs who are passionate about delivering social impact at scale, and they all put people at the heart of their solutions. They include:

  • Coalition for Independent Living: a national network of disabled peer brokers to help others with disabilities manage their own care provision using their personal budgets
  • Ripplez: spun out from the NHS to create a social venture to provide support services for teenage parents which will scale across regions
  • The SWEET Project: an innovative, sustainable new business model that provides frontline care for families at risk
  • Patients Know Best: puts patients in control, saves them distress and saves the NHS money, by giving them access to their own medical records online to co-ordinate their care provision
  • Arrival Education: puts disengaged, excluded young people in leadership positions
  • Housing Action: puts homeless people into private rented accommodation
  • Spacehive: created a crowdfunding platform to develop new neighbourhood projects
  • MyKindaCrowd: created an alternative careers service in light of the withdrawal of Connexions

Our aim is to support the Big Venture Challenge Winners to multiply their impact many fold across the country. Yes, we want to scale these ventures – but ultimately, it’s all about the impact they create.

To help their scaling process, each Award Winner receives £25,000 and the opportunity to pitch for funding of £50,000 or £100,000 should they attract external investment of similar levels. They also get access to first class business support and powerful networks. Each Winner works with an UnLtd Development Manager who diagnoses the key areas of support and how we feel we can add value:

  • Which investors are most relevant and when should conversations begin?
  • Which professional support providers can we bring in: lawyers, financial advisors, mentors, PR teams?
  • Who can we introduce them to? Commissioners, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders?

Of course, many connections are happening without our involvement. The offer of match-funding has attracted many investors we didn’t know and the cohort have already started working with each other and with many of the judges they met during the application process. We hope being part of the cohort also acts as a powerful message to potential partners and customers, a marker in the sand of their ambition and an endorsement of their exceptional talent.

Here at UnLtd, we are at the very beginning of our journey working with these incredible entrepreneurs. We’re hoping to learn huge amounts about what it takes to scale social impact through people powered solutions and we’re eager to share this with the rest of the sector.

SHINE 2011; Social Enterprise, Story-telling and Change

On Thursday, I was at Shine 2011, which billed itself as “the UK’s leading unconventional conference (or unconference) for socially-minded entrepreneurs”.

Arriving just after the start, while things were already seemingly in full swing, it took me a little time to work out what was going on, as there seemed to be so much happening in different parts of the interesting space that is Hub Westminster. But, after a while, it started to make sense, and I joined a session on money issues for social entrepreneurs.

I was particularly struck, in this session, by the contribution of Dave Dawes, who describes himself as a “nurse social entrepreneur”. Dave talked about what social entrepreneurs get wrong when seeking financing for their projects, In particular, he was critical of those who invest all their efforts in chasing grants. Dave says everyone is after free money, but they rarely take the time to consider the return on investment of the time and effort spent on filling in grant applications and pitching to funders. There was particular derision accorded from session participants to the example of the “social enterprise” which, when asked what it would do when its grant application had been turned down, replied “wait for next year’s round”. As Dave said, any organisation which is serious about being a social enterprise should be aiming to be profitable in as short a space of time as possible, and if you are making profits, you can afford to borrow money rather than chase grants. If your enterprise is never going to be profitable, it is not a social enterprise.

Later in the day, I interrupted a conversation between Dave and Mel Findlater and asked them to talk to me about some of the issues raised in Dave’s workshop session. It was interesting as well, to hear that Dave is working in a similar space to the Social App Store. 

One of the most interesting and relevant (to the work of SocialReporters.net) sessions I witnessed at SHINE 2011, was Nick Jankel‘s presentation on Story-telling for Changemakers. Nick’s presentation was of particular interest as it accords with the work we are doing to encourage organisations funded by, and associated with, the Big Lottery Fund, to tell the stories which illustrate the differences they are making to people’s lives.

The slides from Nick’s presentation are here:

One of the points that Nick makes is that people who are running interesting projects, or doing innovative things, often make the mistake of assuming that everyone else will be similarly enthused by what they are doing. This is never an automatic process, and people need to learn to communicate the story of the progress they are making.

Nick talks about the differences between the stories of the nature of the world which are told from different points of view. One is that the earth is a mechanism whose finite resources mean that humans must be selfish, protect what they have from each other, and compete for a place in the world. The alternative story is that the earth is a living system, all of whose parts are interconnected, which means that humans must share, collaborate and co-create. It is important that, if you want to change the world, you are able to tell the story of the world view that informs your approach.

The basis of all Hollywood film scripts is “The Hero’s Journey” (see slide 37 of Nick’s presentation above), and this can provide a basic outline for anyone to tell a compelling story about their own work. The seven elements of the “Impact Story” are Connection, Context, Conventions, Consciousness Shift, Concept, Conviction, and Concrete Impact (slides 38-46).

After his presentation, I caught up with Nick to get him to expound on his theories. The video is in two parts, because we were interrupted by a security guard who objected to Nick’s voice echoing through the public part of the building.

Projects funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and bringing about People Powered Change, have some powerful stories to tell, as is often evidenced when they are showcased on television in shows such as the regular Saturday Night lottery programmes, and Village SOS. New social media tools, and the advent of cheap video cameras, camera phones, and other recording devices, mean that it is becoming even easier for such projects to tell their own stories.