Jump Start

Since I started Social Venturers, I have had many discussions about when a good time is to introduce social entrepreneurship to young people. Ed Freeman at the University of Virginia explained to me that while he wants PhDs and MBAs to dive into social entrepreneurship as part of their higher education, “Students at that stage want to start earning some money. They invested so many years and student debt into getting to that point in their career. They are unlikely to start a social enterprise and continue to live such a frugal lifestyle to experiment with social entrepreneurship.”

Susan Cohen, professor of entrepreneurship at University of Richmond, is finding ways to introduce social entrepreneurship early on in her undergraduate classes, “Students should learn from the jump that there is a different way of being a successful entrepreneur. It’s not all about Silicon Valley and becoming wealthy quickly by launching another tech startup.”


Imagine how thrilled I was to meet Tom Allen of Seven Positive on a sunny afternoon in Brisbane! Tom runs the Jump Start project, teaching design thinking and social entrepreneurship to students of Pimpama State Secondary College in Queensland. As we were sipping iced coffee in the courtyard of the Queensland Library cafe, Tom told me about Jump Start’s beginnings: “I was between guest lecturing and tutoring at Queensland University of Technology and Griffith University and other projects when I met Adam Jefford – Head of the Department of Creative Industries at PSSC. Adam was initially interested in having me participate in a workshop at the school. This lead to more conversations about how we could collaborate on further design thinking projects in the school. We applied for an Arts Queensland grant to run a pilot project and were successful. It was great assistance in getting Jump Start up and running. We were keen on taking design thinking one step farther. I wanted to introduce the concept of social entrepreneurship to make sure the course outcomes were translatable into real-life projects after the course. I wanted to bring startup mentality to the classroom.”

Social innovation in the classroom

Social innovation in the classroom

In 2015, Jump Start ran as a 12 week intensive program for 15 Year 10 students (check out their outcomes!). Thanks to the pilot’s success and feedback from students, teachers and parents, in 2016 Tom and Adam were able to expand Jump Start’s reach and worked with over 115 students from Years 7, 8 and 9. In 2017 the program will continue to grow. The 12 weeks are now stretched out over the entire school year with content integrated into their Design Excellence classes instead of being run as a stand-alone program. Jump Start covers three key elements:

  1. Understanding: developing a strong understanding of self & surroundings and capability to confront personal, group and community challenges confidently.
  2. Design thinking: They then learn how to use design thinking to empathise strongly with their target demographic, research, observe and understand the problem they’re tackling. This leads to a redefinition of the problem. Students then develop a multitude of ideas on how to tackle the issue. They go through various quick learning loops of prototyping, testing and iteration until they find a solution that sticks.
  3. Social entrepreneurship: Last but not least students learn a range of social startup skills to transform their solutions into environmentally and socially responsible business ventures.

Tom explains: “It’s important to ignite a passion in the students. I see great value in helping students understand what success means to them (setting goals and completing them, taking risks and being rewarded when it works out). I set them up to embrace risk and failure. My role is to lead them through these projects, to teach them the tools to work on them, and bring in role models from industry and academia. This is crucial. At their age, many don’t know what’s possible. But by inviting industry experts, academics and university students that are passionate about tackling wicked problems, we give them inspiring people and case studies they can relate to.”

Aspiring social entrepreneurs at work

Aspiring social entrepreneurs at work

Throughout this conversation all I could do was vigorously nod my head in agreement and repeat “Yes! Yes! You’re so right!” I felt like Tom had not only recognized but acted upon an obvious gap in nurturing the next gap of changemakers. The question is not how many social enterprises come out Jump Start. The greater value created is the breeding and nurturing of mindsets in young people that recognize and rethink social issues, develop human-centered solutions through a lean process, ask the right questions, are not afraid to fail but tackle issues with a healthy attitude towards testing and iterating until they get it right! In Tom’s words: “If we can send a multitude of students out there with the mindset of a social entrepreneur and experience in using design thinking, it opens up an incredible pool of possibilities to create an enormous amount positive social impact!”

Jump Start recently won an Australian Good Design Award in the Education Services category – one of Australia’s most prestigious design awards. Way to go!



Spotlight: Tom Allen


What drives you?

I am passionate about social entrepreneurship and empowering people, organisations and enterprise to create positive impact. There are an abundance of wicked problems we are facing now and into the future. Social entrepreneurship allows us to turn these problems into opportunities. That’s what I find exciting.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

Creating enterprise/s that are able to identify problems within a community or the world, and find ways to create positive social impact in these areas in a sustainable way. It’s not about building charities, it’s about building viable business models so that the impact can be sustained over time.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

I was in Barcelona for 8 years and only returned to Australia 3 years ago. From that I would say that the perception of social entrepreneurship has changed: The value it creates is becoming more recognized, both from a business perspective and more conscious consumers.


“After studying two semesters of design, I took a gap year and spent a year travelling around Europe. I ended up in Barcelona for the last few months and once I had completed my degree in industrial design, I was back there within ten days. I was considering a graduate degree, I wanted to learn Catalan and Spanish, get work experience in Europe. I completed a Masters in Product Design in Barcelona and got a corporate job designing large printers. I began to understand that my morals and ethics were not aligned with doing that kind of work. From there I set up my first design studio, The Emotion Lab and spent 2 years designing furniture, lighting and accessories. I quickly learnt how to run a viable business by diving in the deep end. During those 2 years, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t so interested in creating products (for the sake of making products… many of which end up in landfill), but about helping businesses develop effective solutions to create positive change. I began consulting to a range of small businesses and startups who shared a common vision. After 8 years in Barcelona, my wife and I felt it was time for a change so after more travel, we settled in Brisbane.”



Spotlight: Peter Ball

peter ball

What drives you?

Change. There is so much we can do which isn’t difficult, it doesn’t have to be super bold or super innovative. We can create change by looking at how we do things.

How do you define social entrepreneurship?

Trading to solve an issue.

Biggest SocEnt trend you have seen in the last 5 years?

In 2009, Melbourne co-hosted the Social Enterprise World Forum which helped raise public awareness of social entrepreneurship. Secondly, the Federal government launched SEDIF – the Social Enterprise Development Investment Fund – which brought new capital to the space (learn more here).


Peter has a background in banking , investment and finance. In 2007 he launched his first startup whose profits went to charity. In 2012, Peter was invited to speak on social finance and impact investing at SOCAP. “With all the people I met and connections I made at SOCAP, I extended my stay by four weeks to follow up and learn more about the space. I returned to Australia and started a social enterprise. This shoe shine business employed refugees, troubled youth and homeless people. As Australia’s first social franchise we soon had 16 franchisee shoe shine stands in the biggest office buildings in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. I handed this business to a foundation because I wanted to focus on how to help people with an idea. Senior executives, politicians, graduates – people from all walks of life – approached me asking “Can you help me with my social enterprise idea?” So I took a few months to design the program, found a space, opened the first round of  applications in August 2014, and have been running Impact Academy since then.



Impact Academy

My first field visit in Brisbane led me to Impact Academy which had only just moved into a new space on top of Roma Street Parklands – a little oasis that gives you a tiny hint of skyscrapers while you walk under palm trees.

Peter Ball, founder of Impact Academy, rushed in from closing an investment deal for one of Impact Academy’s Alumni. The sparsely decorated board room we sat in gave away little of the hour that followed, packed with discussions about impact metrics and business feasibility of acceleration programs.

Impact Academy is a 20-week acceleration program for social entrepreneurs from early to growth stage, followed by tailored Alumni support. Applications open every six months for ventures that prove

  1. Demonstrable social impact
  2. Commercial sustainability, and
  3. Scalability.

Impact Academy provides access to potential investors as well as networks of partners and customers while focusing on developing participants’ business skills. Content is tailored around the needs related to business development and strategic planning, distribution and market access, leadership skills and business acumen. Peter elaborates: “The first three weeks we focus on design of the business – value proposition and business model – before launching into 12 weeks of workshops with industry leaders who talk to participants about anything from legal issues to HR. The last 5 weeks we drill down into market and investment readiness. I believe that any given entrepreneur doesn’t have to be an expert in all of these topics, but (s)he needs to know something about all of them, be it legal and IP issues, governance, or tech. For two hours on Monday afternoon they learn from experts, and I catch up with each team for an hour and a half afterward to see how they apply the workshop knowledge to their ventures.”

Impact Academy' model

Impact Academy’ model

At this point you should know that when I met Peter, he was running the show by himself. It was Impact Academy’s fourth program and he was looking for new members to join the team. He was running the accelerator alone spending an hour and a half with each current cohort member, and was still deeply engaged with a number of Alumni from previous programs. So… how exactly does one person run the show? “It is very time-intense but I feel that this is where Impact Academy makes a contribution – tailored support for each participant. I have developed a solid set of templates and processes which helps a lot!”

Alumni. I haven’t met many (any?) support organizations that get that part right! Alumni bring valuable insights and experiences to the table, but engagement doesn’t happen magically. Alumni need guidance. Immediately after any program, they focus on building their businesses and are dispersed into whatever direction that takes them. It is difficult to stay engaged and few organizations devote the resources necessary to do well. But if you think about it, just because participants graduate from a program doesn’t mean they don’t need ongoing support to survive these first years. Most importantly – in my experience – they are crucial to building a community around a program. I know we all run programs on stretched budgets but engaging Alumni is a long-term investment in the entrepreneurial community you are trying to build.

Peter’s take on Alumni: “A lot of of our Alumni engagement depends on how we close the accelerator. At the end of 20 weeks, we assess their support needs over the next 12 weeks. It’s irresponsible not to know what they need in the next year, so we identify that before they leave.  It may be unstructured but at the same time it’s very specific. Every startup is different so we develop a plan according to their individual requirements. They know they can ring at any time. With some of them I check in once a week, with others I catch up every few weeks. It really depends on where they are in their development.”

Impact Academy's showcase 2015: Jenna from Care Passport (carepassport.com.au), a digital platform providing on-demand support and education to target improvements in the personal wellbeing and resilience of unpaid, family carers,

Impact Academy’s showcase 2015: Jenna from Care Passport, a digital platform providing on-demand support and education to target improvements in the personal wellbeing and resilience of unpaid family carers.

Impact Academy is not a nonprofit – another rarity in the social enterprise support space. Peter’s dedication to metrics and take on investment speaks volumes for this entrepreneurial approach: “In week 2, participants define their MVO – Minimum Viable Outcome – that they want to achieve with their venture. When you’re a social entrepreneur, you want to make sure that your outcomes are being achieved, otherwise your business misses the point! Their MVO is crucial in defining the impact they are trying to make, it guides their decision-making. At the same time, Impact Academy has metrics in place to assess our outcomes. If our companies aren’t successful, that means we are not. We only teach what we can translate into metrics and measure. It’s costly right now, it’s a high investment but as an accelerator need to know that what we do is relevant. A  group of economists is helping us measure Impact Academy’s outcomes and how the participants are performing.”

Another unique element of Impact Academy’s approach is their take on investing in accelerated companies. “I struggle with the view that you can demand equity from day 1, before you have demonstrated capability and benefits as an accelerator. If you go to YCombinator, for example, you hand over 5-7% and the expectation is that everyone is valued at the same amount of money. I don’t understand why an entrepreneur would accept these conditions! Secondly, I don’t want to invest in all the entrepreneurs that come through. The lore of history tells us that not all of them are going to succeed, and that costs money. I don’t want to hold 5% equity, I want to know that what we  provide is more than 5% worth. At the end of 16 weeks, I sit down with each founder; we look at what they have achieved, and what is is that they need. We offer and only take equity if the both sides – the founder and I – think that it adds value. It must work for both sides. We have had deals from 2.5% to 50% (only one). We don’t invest ourselves, we help them fundraise. Investors bring a lot more than money, it’s understanding, it’s networks. We haven’t exited and have had no profit share from an income perspective.”



A new chapter

After eight guilty months, this Thanksgiving I finally made the time to start publishing content  I had collected and written up in March of this year during my trip to Australia. I used the early morning hours to nurse a cup of coffee (or three) and start editing posts that had sat silently in their folders for way too long. And as I was reading through all the background research and interviews that I had done for each visit, I got genuinely re-excited about all the knowledge, connections and experiences I collected over the last two years of working on Social Venturers! I was overcome by a sense of elation and gratitude as I reflected on the great conversations I had on my most recent trip to Australia alone:

I spoke with Kaitlin Tait – Co-Founder of Spark* International – in a cozy social enterprise cafe in Richmond, Melbourne, about their journey from Tanzania via Cambridge to Papua New Guinea and Australia.

I spent one late afternoon at The Difference Incubator in Melbourne discussing the next big thing for the social enterprise sector, vehemently nodding my head in agreement with Isaac Jeffries thinking to myself “These Australians really get it!”.

Another time I found myself talking to Tom Allen outside the Queensland Library in Brisbane’s tropical sun soaking up every word he said about bringing social entrepreneurship into middle and high school classrooms, all the while filling me in on his international lifestyle and passion for using design thinking for social good.  


Social enterprise cafe STREAT was founded in 2009 by Rebecca Scott & Kate Barrelle

I have learned so much from Social Venturers in Australia, Europe and the United States, and I can’t thank them enough for making time to critically and openly talk about their programs and share their outlooks on the world of social enterprise at large! With that said it comes as no surprise that I was disappointed with myself for not sharing any of these insights and  experiences until eight months later. It doesn’t look like much on the site itself but it takes about an hour for each post (Spotlight and Field Visit) to be edited for online publication and go live; and it wasn’t even about making the time, it was about everything else that was going on.

Once I received my greencard for the United States in March 2016, I jumped into local work projects with both feet: I ran two rounds of a 12-week pre-accelerator for university students, took on the role as B Keeper for Central Virginia’s B Corp community, launched Virginia’s first social enterprise mini-accelerator in collaboration with Unreasonable Institute, started to advise small businesses and startups with a social mission one-on-one and helped run a co-working space. I joined an incredible network of ecosystem builders called Startup Champions for which I help run communications and outreach, and I supported a local accelerator for high-growth companies as mentor coordinator. I loved every minute of my work locally, and still do, but inevitably Social Venturers was pushed into the background.

This is the moment where I am supposed to say “But that’s all going to change now! Now that I remember how important and invigorating all the research behind Social Venturers is, I will make it a priority and magically fit another five hours into my 50-hour week! Boo-yah!”. I have made these types of commitments before and know It. Doesn’t. Work. As much as I have always enjoyed Social Venturers, the travel, the research, the conversations – right now is not the time.

I have answered many of the questions I had when I launched Social Venturers. I have seen many different support models for social entrepreneurs, not around the world, but at least on three continents. From the very beginning I was very aware of the fact that the landscape of social enterprise support is transient and ever evolving. I never fooled myself into thinking I could capture it all; because “all” will be different a week from today.

My first field visits for Social Venturers took me to Europe in January 2015

My first field visits for Social Venturers took me to Europe in January 2015

Instead of focusing my efforts on the big questions, I have shifted my attention on social enterprise support in mid-market sized cities. When life dropped me off in Richmond, Virginia, I declared it a testing ground for social enterprise support in mid-tier cities. Having learned so much about support models in metropolitan areas like Berlin, London, Amsterdam, New York City, and Melbourne, I became more and more curious about the power, opportunities and challenges of social entrepreneurship in smaller places with less awareness and infrastructure for these type of changemakers.

In September 2016, I launched Unreasonable Lab Virginia with a group of startup ninjas, and it gave me some first insights into the differences for social enterprise support between large, established ecosystems and emerging ones (Read more about early lessons, our definition of success and next steps!). It is a first step into a new direction for Social Venturers. Not only do I get to apply everything I learned from other support organizations in different countries, I am also expanding my toolbox venturing into the world of B Corps, honing my skills in startup acceleration and community building, and growing the foundation of Social Venturers. All in all, a pretty exciting prospect for 2017!

Join me on my journey! If we have not met yet, drop me a line to anika@socialventurers.com! If we have met, let’s catch up for coffee again next time I’m back in your neck of the woods (Germany and Australia are coming up!). If you know of a social enterprise support program that I could learn from, especially but not exclusively in mid-tier cities, I want to be in the know! Let’s connect via Twitter or LinkedIn. Stay in touch and stay critical.  

Field Study: Australia

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia. Based in Melbourne during fall, I was able to work remotely, relive many Australian experiences from an earlier life (Tim Tams, the best skinny flat white I will ever have, smashed avocado for every breakfast, wild koalas, and many many more). The most exciting part of the trip, however, was diving deep into their social enterprise sector.

Social Enterprises in Australia

Social Enterprises in Australia, FASES 2016, p.10-11

When I lived down-under five years earlier, I had dipped my toes into the space doing some pro-bono project work for Social Ventures Australia in Brisbane. Little did I know how varied and progressive Australia’s support sector for social entrepreneurs had become. The entire stay went by in a blur, between work, a two-day trip to Brisbane (that took me another two days to recover from) and a weekend by the Great Ocean Road, I managed to visit six support organizations and learn how they do things down there.

Social enterprises:

  • Are led by an economic, social, cultural or environmental mission consistent with a public or community benefit
  • Trade to fulfill their mission
  • Derive a substantial portion of their income from trade
  • Reinvest the majority of their profit/surplus in the fulfillment of their mission (FASES 2016, p. 5)

One of these organizations, Social Traders, located in Melbourne is deeply committed to the data behind social enterprise in Australia to inform not only their advocacy work but increase visibility of the sector at large. To get you warmed up for what you are about to learn from all these supporters, here are some highlights from their most recent report Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector Analysis: 2016.

  • SCOPE There are an estimated 20,000 social enterprises operating across all industry sectors 
  • COMPANY SIZE – 73% are small businesses, 23% are medium sized and 4% are large organisations
  • MATURITY – 38% have been in operation for 10 years and 34% in operation for between 2-5 years
  • LEGAL FORM – 33% are incorporated associations, 32% are companies limited by guarantee and 18% are proprietary limited (PTY LTD) companies
  • INDUSTRY – 68% are in the services sector, of which 24% are in retail and 23% in healthcare
  • PURPOSE – 34% exist to create meaningful employment opportunities for people from a specific group, and 34% exist to develop new solutions to social, cultural, economic or environmental problems
  • BENEFICIARIES – 35% target people with disabilities, 33% target young people and 28% target disadvantaged women (FASES 2016, p. 9)

I have devoured both the short version and full report about social enterprise in Australia and I only recommend you do the same! Be sure to check out their advice on policy, ecosystem building, financial and impact measurement tools!  

I can’t wait to got back in 2017!