The start point of any social venture is marked by an intention to solve a social or environmental problem. This usually comes as a vision, either individual or shared, with only a loose understanding of how an enterprise will work in practice. For a good intention to move closer to business reality, ideas need to be quickly tested for basic feasibility, and matched with an assessment of the capability required (business, technical, social) to develop further. Capability supports that facilitate this stage include: business design workshops, basic skills development, access to proven models, innovation processes, and, not least, frank advice on what it will take to be successful. Capital requirements at this stage are minimal, although small awards can play a role in supporting capability building and enabling would-be ventures to move forward. Connectivity is critical at this stage – not least because social enterprises often arise from a desire for collective action. Innovation hubs – providing space and place, peer learning, community building, and networking with stakeholders, are all critical components of good enterprise design.
Given the low conversion rate of ideas to successful enterprises, there is an imperative to enable a continuous, interconnected, and high-volume flow of innovation at this stage with mass mobilisation of talent, mass creation of ideas, and rapid testing and iteration. From a sector development perspective, this means that support needs to cover a large surface area if it is to be effective – preferably via replicable programmes and local level service provision. At Ākina, we are mobilising talent through our Workshops and Clinics programme. Increasingly, we will seek to support locally-led innovation hubs and programmes delivered with regional partners.