This week sees the launch of Big Venture Challenge 2015, with another cohort of 40 social ventures to add to the 60 award winners that have benefitted from the programme in previous years. Big Venture Challenge is a one-year programme funded by Big Lottery Fund which supports ambitious entrepreneurs to deliver social impact at scale through access to business support, powerful connections and match funding. Peer-to-peer support is also important, and it is a great opportunity for social ventures to meet like-minded people and learn from each other by exchanging best-practice, and by doing so realising that they are not alone with their challenges.
Building a strong network around you is hugely important if you are setting up a business on your own. But it is also one of the most challenging and time-consuming parts of being an entrepreneur. As one of the major delivery partners on Big Venture Challenge, Shaftesbury Partnership works with each social entrepreneur on the programme to identify areas of their network where certain skills, expertise and opportunities are missing. We concentrate on making the critical connections which are needed for ventures to get to scale, specifically those that:
• help develop leadership skills
• find the key staff and advisors for the venture
• provide routes to market to drive sales
In this way, we make sure they connect with the right mix of people that can help take the venture to the next level.
When researching for the right connections, I personally am often amazed by people’s generosity in voluntarily supporting social entrepreneurs with their expertise and time. But it is also important from an entrepreneur’s perspective to not only think about the type of people they want support from, but also what they can offer those people in return. Invest enough of your own time and take an active, participatory role in building your networks, but most importantly be candid and be prepared to accept criticism. This ensures each connection develops into a mutually beneficial relationship.
As always, there is a wide range of social impact models and sectors on the programme, with ventures from the fields of education, employment, housing and health all represented. The team here at Shaftesbury Partnership would like to congratulate the 40 Big Venture Challenge 2015 winners, and we look forward to working with you.