Generating Ideas For Social Enterprise Business Essay


This chapter is included for those of you who do not have solid business ideas and is not critical to the use of the social enterprise blueprint and therefore as with Chapter One it can be skipped. However I believe that all businesses can benefit from creating multiple revenue streams, while social businesses can have greater impact by addressing a number of social problems. On that basis the chapter may be worth a passing interest.

Anyone can start a social enterprise. You do not need any specialised knowledge or qualifications. You do not even need an idea. A person who starts a social enterprise could justifiably call themselves a social entrepreneur. Again you do not need any specialised knowledge or qualifications. Unlike the professions you do not need years of study before you can claim the title. As Rene Descartes stated 'I think, therefore I am' so it is with becoming a social entrepreneur. Once you think you are one, then you are. Hopefully by this sentence you are one - one being a social entrepreneur. Now you are a social entrepreneur you need two things, an idea and a plan.

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The idea relates to the social enterprise you want to run. A good idea for a social enterprise will have two components, namely a social component and an enterprise component - well I never said that this was difficult -and it doesn't matter which comes first.

Traditionally the idea for a social enterprise has arisen by a person, or group of people, wanting to address a social problem within their community. This might be unemployment, poor health, homelessness, substance abuse or crime. Sadly this is always easy because most communities have social problems. The challenge then of course is to create income generating activities to pay for the resources needed to address the social problem.

For example a social enterprise looking to address the problem of unemployment might procure with a local educational institution, like a college or university, to deliver training aimed at making people more employable.

The current approach to the development of social enterprise is to focus on the commercial activity and to use the income generated to pay for activities which address the social need. An example might be to open a Pie & Mash Fast food franchise and use the profits to deliver employability training, Work Clubs and Enterprise Clubs which supports unemployed people into work.

Your Task now is to generate an idea for a social enterprise. If you already have one then turn to chapter 3 if not then I will offer a few suggestions which might help.

Clearly as a social entrepreneur this is critical. This might be the activity that takes the longest time in the whole process. It is worth pointing out that enterprise, and particularly social enterprise, is always a group activity. Businesses often have a charismatic leader, the entrepreneur, but no entrepreneur has ever built a successful business on their own. If you do have people around you at this early stage then of course it might be useful to discuss possible ideas with them.

Generally ideas for business, including social business, are generated via knowledge or imagination. With the former it is all about getting access to information, while with the latter is a more creative process within an individual or a group. This chapter will simply introduce some techniques and tools and it is advised that where an interest is sparked the reader look more fully into the particular technique or tool. As a great supporter of Wikipedia I have in most cases taken their overview of the particular technique and would suggest that as a starting point for further information you refer to, and support, this fantastic concept and organisation.Knowledge base Tools and Techniques

Funding Opportunities: Responding to grant funding bodies needs

Most social enterprises, particularly new social enterprises, require funding support to start-up and grow. In that sense they are no different to any enterprise. However social enterprises do have access to numerous funding opportunities. These funding opportunities change on a regular basis so it would be of little value to list them in this type of publication. Your first job as a social entrepreneur might be to create a database of potential funding organisations and the opportunities they offer. A good start in this process would be to look at opportunities offered by your local authority, national government and your national lottery. This is but a start. I have a database over eighteen pages in length which I maintain on a monthly basis. Some of these opportunities are of no value to the organisations I run, due to the legal status of the businesses or the area of activity the funds are looking to support, but the knowledge helps me to support other people and organisations looking for financial support.

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For the purpose of this publication I will suggest you look to your National Lottery. Generally these organisations support good causes and in Britain this can accessed on Since 1994 this organisation has given out £27 billion to groups and social businesses undertaking social activity under a variety of different programmes and themes. It has both small and large scale programmes in terms of the amount of grant that can be applied for an in my experience the success levels and application process seems to be related to the level of grant. Interestingly, while I have been very successful in securing grant funding over the years. I have never yet been successful in securing lottery funding.

In Britain every part of the country has organisations and public sector bodies that are able to fund social enterprise. In an ideal world the process would be these funding programmes meeting your specific funding need. Perhaps more pragmatically it might involve your social enterprise responding to the needs of the funder. I will let you grapple with this ethical dilemma.

As a short anecdote I was delivering a training workshop on the funding of social enterprise to a group of people which included 'Social Enterprise Support Officers'. I suggested to this group that they might consider 'bending' their project proposal to meet the demands of funder e.g. the social enterprise wanted to deliver the service to everyone of need in the areas while the funder insisted that their funds were to be spent on 16 - 24 year old people only. I suggested that the project accept the funders criteria and run the project. Interestingly the 'Social Enterprise Support Officers' left the course and complained to the provider that had hired me about the appropriateness of this advice, All the other people on the course enjoyed the workshop and found it very valuable.

Procurement Opportunities: Responding to public sector tenders

Procurement is the acquisition of goods or services. It is favourable that the goods/services are appropriate and that they are procured at the best possible cost to meet the needs of the purchaser in terms of quality and quantity, time, and location. Corporations and public bodies often define processes intended to promote fair and open competition for their business while minimizing exposure to fraud and collusion. This processes offers significant opportunities to the development of social enterprise, particularly in these times of public sector cuts.

Procurement however must come with a major health warning. In most cases the public sector does not make this process simply for the smaller, and particularly newly established, enterprise. Procurement however is definitely an opportunity that all social enterprises should look to get engaged with and the starting point would be to register on appropriate procurement sites e.g. in Wales register on the Sell To Wales site

Community Need: Identified by local research/community audit (survey); taking to people

Perhaps an obvious starting point when creating a social business would be to research local statistics or ask your community what services it thinks it needs. This is particular true for community based social enterprises. In Britain there are many websites that will supply you with information on many aspects of your community such as the Office for National Statistics or Neighbourhood Statistics These websites will help you understand where the economic, social and environmental problems within your communities exist and you can then establish a social enterprise to address the problem.

Alternatively you could undertake a survey locally and ask the residents what their concerns are and again use this information to establish a social enterprise to address the issue. This process has the additional advantage of generating local support for your project which will then add significant support to any funding application.

Sector Needs: Identified by research into specific sectors e.g. Unemployment, Health, Leisure, Crime; Tourism etc.

Social enterprise offers a mechanism of addressing concerns in all sectors of the socio-economy. It can help to address unemployment through the provision of training, volunteering and the creation of jobs. It can deliver community based healthy living centres, residential homes and even hospitals. It can run swimming pools and leisure centres. It can help with the reduction of crime through substance abuses programmes and ex-offender support. It can help tourism through a variety of activities. In the United Kingdom, perhaps driven by the need for public spending cuts and the coalition Big Society, all public sector departments are investigating the role that social enterprise could play in a more effective service delivery model hence promoting links with the sectors bodies relating to your social enterprise could prove valuable.

Examination of current/future trends: Technology; the 'green agenda'

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Business is all about identifying and taking advantage of opportunities. Generally speaking the greatest gains are made through becoming 'the leader in the field'. Spotting trends and taking advantage as the leader will generally provide the greatest economic returns. However 'followers' are also able to profit significantly. In recent history this is seen with new technologies such as computers and mobile phones. The present focus on the environment and green technologies are generally believed to offer the greatest rewards currently, although the increases in the price of oil are indicating a move away from globalisation to a more locally based economy hence many opportunities are emerging in this area.

Linking of personal skill sets and passions (hobby) to social needs or business opportunity

There is a large debate to be had in relation to the activity we call work. What is work? Without wanting to waste many years of your life on some philosophical debate I would like to suggest that work is more acceptable if you happen to enjoy what it is you do under that heading. I have heard footballer's state that they love of football is so great that they would do it for 'nothing'. Funny therefore that many of them are the most highly paid people in our society! However the point remains that doing something you enjoy, hopefully with as great a financial reward as you can muster, makes work more appealing. I have been involved in adult learning for over thirty years and rarely do we assess people's passions, talents or hobbies in helping them into work. Rather we concentrate on skills, knowledge and experience. If you are a good artist then why not make products you can sell and teach these skills to others as a way to make a living?

Reactionary social enterprise: government cuts in public spending

This knowledge based technique has been mentioned above. Public sector cuts while perceived by many as a bad thing definitely offer opportunities to both the private and social enterprise sector. In most cases the cuts are made where the service is still required. If your social enterprise is able to find a commercial way to offer these services then success is assured.

Copying existing successful social enterprise

This knowledge based technique has been mentioned above. Public sector cuts while perceived by many as a bad thing definitely offer opportunities to both the private and social enterprise sector. In most cases the cuts are made where the service is still required. If your social enterprise is able to find a commercial way to offer these services then success is assured.

Joint Ventures: with all sectors including the private sector

Partnership working is often very effective and much loved by funding bodies. Personally I believe partnerships are best left to marriage and even there it proves very difficult. However with the right partners and a willing heart it could well be profitable.

SWOT Analysis: measures a proposition or idea

The aim of this tool is to encourage you to identify your Strengths (S), Weaknesses (W), Opportunities (O) and Threats (T). The SWOT can be a general analysis which aims to identify these components on overall life view of your abilities or it might concentrate on your abilities with regard to creating a social business. The more detailed the analysis the more the tool will offer you with regard to areas of potential business opportunities. It will of course also lead you to finding solutions to any weaknesses you identify and any threats that might affect the business.

PEST / PESTLE Analysis: measures a market

PEST analysis stands for "Political, Economic, Social, and Technological analysis" and describes a framework of macro-environmental factors used in the environmental scanning component of strategic management. Some analysts added Legal and rearranged the mnemonic to SLEPT; inserting Environmental factors expanded it to PESTEL or PESTLE, which is popular in the United Kingdom. The model has recently been further extended to STEEPLE and STEEPLED, adding Ethics and demographic factors. It is a part of the external analysis when conducting a strategic analysis or doing market research, and gives an overview of the different macro-environmental factors that the company has to take into consideration. It is a useful strategic tool for understanding market growth or decline, business position, potential and direction for operations. The growing importance of environmental or ecological factors in the first decade of the 21st century have given rise to green business and encouraged widespread use of an updated version of the PEST framework. STEER analysis systematically considers Socio-cultural, Technological, Economic, Ecological, and Regulatory factors. As with the SWOT the PEST/LE can be a general analysis which aims to identify these components on overall life view of your abilities or it might concentrate on your abilities with regard to creating a social business. The more detailed the analysis the more the tool will offer you with regard to areas of potential business opportunities.


Business networking is a socioeconomic activity by which groups of like-minded businesspeople recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities. A business network is a type of social network whose reason for existing is business activity. There are several prominent business networking organisations that create models of networking activity that, when followed, allow the business person to build new business relationships and generate business opportunities at the same time.

A professional network service is an implementation of information technology in support of business networking. Many businesspeople contend business networking is a more cost-effective method of generating new business than advertising or public relations efforts. This is because business networking is a low-cost activity that involves more personal commitment than company money.

As an example, a business network may agree to meet weekly or monthly with the purpose of exchanging business leads and referrals with fellow members. To complement this activity, members often meet outside this circle, on their own time, and build their own one-to-one relationship with the fellow member.

Business networking can be conducted in a local business community, or on a larger scale via the Internet. Business networking websites have grown over recent years due to the Internet's ability to connect people from all over the world. Internet companies often set up business leads for sale to bigger corporations and companies looking for data sources. Business networking can have a meaning also in the ICT domain, i.e. the provision of operating support to companies and organisations, and related value chains and value networks.


Franchising is the practice of using another firm's successful business model. For the franchisor, the franchise is an alternative to building 'chain stores' to distribute goods and avoid the need for investments and liability for a chain. The franchisor's success depends on the success of the franchisees. The franchisee is said to have a greater incentive than a direct employee because he or she has a direct stake in the business.Imagination Generated Ideas: Tools & Techniques


Brainstorming is a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s). The term was popularized by Alex Faickney Osborn in the 1953 book Applied Imagination. Osborn claimed that brainstorming was more effective than individuals working alone in generating ideas, although more recent research has questioned this conclusion.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing. The elements of a given mind map are arranged intuitively according to the importance of the concepts, and are classified into groupings, branches, or areas, with the goal of representing semantic or other connections between portions of information. Mind maps may also aid recall of existing memories. By presenting ideas in a radial, graphical, non-linear manner, mind maps encourage a brainstorming approach to planning and organisational tasks.

Creative Problem Solving

Creative problem solving is the mental process of creating a solution to a problem. It is a special form of problem solving in which the solution is independently created rather than learned with assistance. Creative problem solving always involves creativity. To qualify as creative problem solving the solution must either have value, clearly solve the stated problem, or be appreciated by someone for whom the situation improves. If a created solution becomes widely used, the solution becomes an innovation and the word innovation also refers to the process of creating that innovation. A widespread and long-lived innovation typically becomes a new tradition. Some innovations also qualify as inventions. Inventing is a special kind of creative problem solving in which the created solution qualifies as an invention because it is a useful new object, substance, process, software, or other kind of marketable entity.

Creative Dreaming - Seeing a way of 'doing it better'

Creative dreamers would argue that we always have the answer to a problem.  Sometimes you just don't know where to look.  Creative dreamers take a look at it from the dreaming perspective.  We have all at some point when struggling with a problem left it saying let's "sleep on it."  These sayings were created because they actually work.  Some of the time we can get a direct answer from our dreams, by acting them out how we would in waking life.  The other incidences we get a dream which we must interpret.  Either way we have the answer to our problem. Dreams are part of the mind creating sometimes completely different worlds.  However, there are ways of teaching yourself a few techniques to let you have a little fun with your dreams, as well as possibly learning something you never knew before or rather that you never knew that you knew. 


Backcasting starts with defining a desirable future and then works backwards to identify policies and programs that will connect the future to the present. The fundamental question of backcasting asks: "if we want to attain a certain goal, what actions must be taken to get there?"

Forecasting is the process of predicting the future based on current trend analysis. Backcasting approaches the challenge of discussing the future from the opposi