Social Incubation: A Field Guide

I’ve just started work on a project with Nesta to share some of the lessons we’ve learned through Bethnal Green Ventures about how to incubate and accelerate social ventures. We’re also hoping to include lots of insights from our friends at other programmes and organisations that support early stage social ventures.

It’s going to result in a short book to be published early next year which is currently code-named Social Incubation: A Field Guide. The ‘field guide’ metaphor partly comes from people talking about the early-stage ‘ecosystem’ and the idea is that you should be able to use it to look at organisations that support social ventures and understand better what they are and what they do. Don’t worry, we’ll come up with a better name for it as we go along.

In some ways it’s a follow up to The Startup Factories report I wrote with Kirsten Bound which a lot of people have said they found useful for understanding what was going on with startup accelerators. But this time we’re just focusing on support for social ventures and we’re digging deeper into the techniques used rather than just what the organisations do. The idea is that it will get into the nitty gritty of how each bit works. For example what are the best ways of linking ventures up with mentors? That was a new thing for us in this cohort of BGV and I’m not sure we got it absolutely right but we learned a lot as we went along. What other new approaches are people experimenting with in how to get the best out of teams and really stretch their potential? What’s working really well?

Hopefully the guide will be useful to startups when choosing which programmes to apply for and also to people setting up new programmes as well as investors and policy makers. I’ve been contacted by five people in the last week who are thinking of setting up social accelerator programmes asking for advice, which gives you some idea of the growth rate in this field.

In terms of who to talk to, I’m starting with this Quora list of social venture accelerators and incubators. If you know of others, please do either add them to the Quora list or pop them in the comments below. They can be anywhere in the world and rather than choosing them by defining how they do it, we’ve defined it based on the type and stage of the ventures they support. So we’re looking for organisations that support:

  • Ventures trying to solve a social or environmental problem in a scalable and financially sustainable way
  • Ventures with a small team (less than 5 people)
  • That are pre or very early revenue (less than $10,000 per month)
  • And have a prototype or beta product or service

I think this is too important for us to keep what we’ve learned to ourselves and it’s in all our interests that social ventures are supported well. So if you’re involved in a programme and you’d like to share what you’ve learned too, please do get in touch.
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