The Social Enterprise Day, 16th November 2023, celebrates the profound impact of businesses that prioritise purpose over profit, but defining a social venture is not as clear as many think.
There are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK which contribute £60bn to the economy. Social enterprises are like any other business and can operate locally, nationally or beyond. Social enterprises combine commercial success with real social and environmental impact.
To be a social enterprise, a business must:
- Have a clear social or environmental mission set out in its company documents
- Re-invest or donate a percentage of profits towards its mission
- Be transparent in the way they operate and the impact they have
Today is a great opportunity to raise awareness for how UCLB supports academics pursuing impact at scale from their research to benefit communities, the environment and beyond to drive positive change. From harnessing cutting-edge technology to implementing sustainable practices, social ventures from UCL are at the forefront of pioneering solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Our social ventures come from various departments. For example, Dr Aida Suarez Gonzales from the UCL Institute of Neurology has developed ReadClear, a digital reading aid designed to assist individuals with neurological visual impairment. ReadClear is transforming the quality of life of those who have suffered strokes or dementia, with the ability to make reading real.
UCLB’s Social Ventures team ease the journey from idea to development, working with academics across UCL departments, supporting the developments of technologies from the Arts & Humanities, EdTech, AgriTech, healthcare and engineering, which benefit patients at the NHS all the way to farmers in the Global South.
Aida said: “The guidance, advice and practical help I’m receiving from Analia and Christine cover many angles of my entrepreneurial journey. It is proving critical in the development of a strategy for the commercialisation of my app, to raise funds and navigate legal matters. Also, they are very enjoyable people to work with and extremely supportive.”
The funding landscape for social ventures can vary. While there is increasing support for social and impactful initiatives, social ventures may not always receive the same level of investment as traditional businesses.
Luckily, there are ever-improving support routes. UCL has recently been successful in securing a grant for launching the London Social Venture Fund in partnership with Queen Mary University of London. This initiative will pioneer the foundations for a self-sustaining social venture fund, providing early-stage funding for start-ups in London, advancing the presence and impact of for-purpose yet financially sustainable companies.
The London Social Venture Fund includes a host of other London universities including the London Business School, London Metropolitan University and the University of the Arts London to name a few. Other commercial partners and investors include Barclays Eagle Labs, Central London Forwards and Sodexo. By fostering an environment that supports and encourages social ventures, we pave the way for a future where research is transformed to businesses as a force for good.
UCLB was the first university tech transfer office in the UK to champion social ventures. We are committed to providing continued support to UCL academics in progressing their technologies out of the university to create tangible influence in society and beyond.
The UCLB Social Ventures team include Ana Lemmo Charnalia and Christine Madla Angeles. If you have a technology, product or service developed from your UCL research that you want to explore support from the Social Ventures team, do get in touch.