A Social Enterprise Seed Camp

Bethnal Green Ventures [BGV] is a unique new venture of Social Innovation Camps, itself a commercial social enterprise started several years ago by two individuals, and now offering a variety of short accelerator-type programmes (of up to a week long) of social camps and in a number of different countries. Comparable ventures only exist in Chicago and in India.

BGV is now just starting a second round of 13-week accelerators – for technology-based social ventures in the UK. The first round, started last year, focused on enterprises that would support the elderly – by pairing older people with younger people. It attracted 150 responses, out of which six were selected for ‘investment’. None have gone on to attract a round of Series A investment; but one of these has gone on to maintain a commercial existence – which has a unique technology being used by a developing a cadre of social entrepreneurs who can manage its applications through to commercialisation.

This year, 200 applicants are expected, from which 8 to 10 will be chosen for ‘investment’. This investment covers the payment to each participant of £6.5k for the 3-month period of the camp – enough to cover board and lodging.

The programme consists of an afternoon and evening meeting one day per week, with lectures and discussions. There is also a discussion with the programme director, who is effectively a Learning manager – of one hour a week – about their work and based on the concept of action, at which participants discuss what they will do in the ensuing week that might take their project forward and commit to bringing back the results for discussion the following week. There are no mentors, because it is felt that their contribution would be too heavy-handed – in the situation of these businesses whose essence is trying to evolve innovative enterprises that bring social benefits. At the end of this period, BGV arranges a pitching session with its contacts, for raising further funds to take on projects to a future life. Applications are taken in April for a programme which will run from July to September, enabling participants to pitch for ongoing funds well before the Christmas break.

Participants are selected for their passion in relation to their objectives, not because of their ideas. Indeed the accelerator process is designed to enable them to experiment by exploring for what will work in social terms.

The costs of this second venture are expected to total £150k, or which £110k is the cost of board and lodging for the participants, and the remaining £40 is to cover the costs of running the scheme. This total is expected to be covered as to £100k by a grant from Nesta, and the remaining £50k by contributions from three angels. BGV will take a 7% stake in each business for a nominal charge of £15,000 (putting a nominal value on each business of £250k).

This project is seen by Social Innovation Camps as part of the development of special purpose accelerators – as pre early-stage ventures that might turn into investable propositions which will be available to social capital funds.  It is hoped that these projects might grow exponentially, ie 16 next year, 32 the following etc; and that one in eight might go to Series A and perhaps be valued at £1mn, of which 7% would return £70,000 to BGV.

(See http://bethnalgreenventures.com/)

 The Centre for Leadership in Creativity, London                                    February 2012 




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