We celebrated our fifth birthday as a business in May 2016. It was a useful point to reflect, consider the ups and downs we’ve experienced and also to look forward. I’ll cover the reflective points another day. Our big news was the launch of our brand new business competition - The Forerunner Prize.
The prize provides an opportunity for anyone to develop a tech-led business idea that has a good cause (i.e. social enterprise). The idea will solve problems and make a positive impact in the world. The Forerunner Prize winner will receive £1,000 cash to help develop their idea. The winner will also receive specialist business advice from us and our partner organisations which will include research, marketing and branding, financial advice and access to a wide range of networks. The total prize package is worth around £5,000.
But why are we doing this?
Social entrepreneurs and social enterprises often talk about ‘re-investing their profits’. Some social enterprises do this in a ‘we give 100% of our profits to charity’ way like One Water. We’ve always taken it to mean re-investing in the work we do; which we believe brings social benefits itself. But we’ve always wanted to ‘give something back’ (another favourite term of social entrepreneurs that probably needs debunking/demystifying - save that for another day too) in a financial way as well.
In our case we want to inspire social entrepreneurship and see more social enterprises created. This is part of the vision of our company. There are of course many different ways you could do this. There are brilliant programmes to support start-up and scaling social enterprises and entrepreneurs run by great organizations like School for Social Entrepreneurs, UnLtd, Ashoka, Skoll and Schwab.
We wanted to provide something individual and bespoke. We felt that by working with one or two people in a tight team, providing intensive support, bringing in experts in various fields we could really make a difference and help someone on their journey.
Secondly we wanted to inspire social entrepreneurship in more unusual settings. There is a bit of a myth that social enterprises work in areas of ‘market failure’ or in health and social care. Actually social enterprises operate in many sectors of the economy - as this great directory illustrates - but our research showed that there is still more to do to promote social enterprise across a wider range of business sectors.
We get really excited by tech and science. There are many wonderful widgets, gizmos and spacey things which do make a social difference. Some are charitable or benevolent but many of these businesses are run entirely for private gain - they could have been social enterprises if the founders wanted it. This gets to the heart of social enterprise - you can run a decent business, earn good money but also exist primarily for good cause.
So we wondered whether the entrepreneurs behind these ideas had even heard of social enterprise as a way of doing business. If they had, would they have opted for social enterprise as a model? There is plenty of evidence that young people think that working for a values-led/cause driven business is the way forward.
We are also inspired by ideas like the X-Prizes. $30 million for landing a robot on the moon; $10 million to develop a Tricorder. I love the way these prizes stimulate big ideas and fresh, radical thinking. The way they make sci-fi, sci-fact.
So combining all these elements, Forerunner was born. We think of it as an X-Prize for social enterprise. It’s taken us five years to get here but you can apply right now! We are grateful for the support of some wonderful local, national and international partners: PKF Francis Clark; The University of St Mark and St John; Social Enterprise Mark and Tribe Media. This is just the start. If we can prove it works and we can attract more partners we aim to grow the prize year on year.
Applications are already coming in. If you know a person with a bright idea get them to apply! The deadline is 2nd September.