Centre for Social Impact Swinburne

Transcript - CSI Social Enterprise Startup: Lessons from The Swinburne Social Startup Studio (Summer Webinar Series - Week 1)

Great. Hi, and welcome to the Centre for Social Impact's Summer Webinar Series for 2019. I'm Chris Wilson, and I'll be facilitating today's webinar, which is titled Social Enterprise Startup-- Lessons from
the Swinburne Social Startup Studio.

Before I introduce the speakers, I'd like to make an acknowledgment of country. So on behalf of those present, I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, who are the traditional custodians
of the land on which we now meet. I pay my respects to the elders-- past, present, and emerging.

I also pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, and hope that the path towards reconciliation continues to be shared and embraced.

So today we are very lucky to be joined by two members of Swinburne Social Startup Studio team. I've got here with me today Kate Saporta, who is the studio manager. Welcome, Kate.

Thanks, Chris.

And we've also got Libby Ward-Christie, who is the studio director. Welcome, Libby.

Hi, Chris. Hi, everyone.

Great. So the way today is set, we have an hour it's going to run, is that Kate and Libby are going to start off with a broad discussion of the studio, its origins and aims, and the current state of play. This will take us through about 15 to 20 minutes. And then we'll have 10 to 15 minutes of questions before we wrap up.

So as we go through, you can submit questions using the text function. And during the Q&A session I'll read those out for you. I'm now going to pass over to Kate and Libby to tell us about the Swinburne Social Startup Studio.

Thanks, Chris. So I might just start as director of the studio, and just give some context to why we started the studio, and what its aims and objectives are.

So the Swinburne Social Startup Studio is an initiative of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne. And it really came about in response to what was developing as a gap for support for early stage social enterprises, particularly here in Victoria.

So we actually partnered with equity trustees through-- or have partnered with equity trustees through their social investment program to deliver what is hopefully a pretty innovative response to that issue.

And as you can see on the graphic in front of you, ultimately the studio has two broad objectives. One is to assist with the development of impactful and sustainable social enterprises. But the other one is because we're in this fantastic-- we have this opportunity as part of a university, and as part of a social economy research centre, to actually generate and capture knowledge about how social enterprises are potentially supported through their early stage startup journey.

So when we're talking about the studio and the support that we provide, and I'll call on Kate in a moment just to give some more detail about how that's actually rolling out and playing out from a more-- from an operations perspective. But what we we're really talking about is a much broader period of time, potentially, than the way people generally think about startup.

And this is really been informed by some initial research we did with 11 social enterprise founders around their startup journey. And one of the key things we heard from that is that the startup journey actually doesn't stop once you've written a business plan. Or it doesn't stop once you've got your initial startup funding. But it actually goes right through that process of implementing, or as we call it, construction, of building and responding on the ground to challenges and changes that happen when you start to implement your social enterprise.

And so for that reason, the remit of the studio and the way that we think about early stage is from having a social enterprise idea, and needing to test the feasibility and develop that idea right through to getting startup capital, implementing that idea, and really getting to the point where there is a nailed business model that's delivering both impact and a sustainable financial model.

So with that context in place, I'm just going to now invite Kate to make a few comments on the progress in the studio so far. So Kate, maybe we start with, in terms of operationally, when did the studio actually kick off?

Thanks, Libby. Hi, everyone. So we started-- we launched in mid-August this year. And we celebrated with a launch event here at Swinburne, where Libby presented the findings of her foundational piece of research. We're also true to the wonderful [INAUDIBLE], which is a social enterprise here in Victoria.

And so from there, how has the studio gone about recruiting enterprises? So could you step us through the application process, perhaps?

Yeah, sure. So people can express interest in joining the studio on our website. They are then invited - the next stage is that they're invited to attend an initial meeting with myself.

And this is a opportunity for me to meet with anyone who's interested in joining the studio, and for me to understand more about their social enterprise idea. And for me to also share more about the studio in person.

What we're really looking for here is that does the enterprise or social entrepreneur have a social enterprise idea? And do they have an identified social purpose, an identified business model that they want to test or develop throughout the studio? And we're also testing really for the primacy of the social benefit or the private benefit.

So we then-- once those meetings are completed, we then invite people to join us for a scoping workshop. In this scoping workshop, we really spend a lot more time on the individual's idea or the enterprise idea. And we spend a lot more time further expanding on how we in the studio see social enterprise development.

And this really is a process for us to work together, to co-develop a development plan that's really suited to the needs of the social entrepreneur and the social enterprise itself.

Great. Thank you. So what happens after the scoping workshop? What's the next stage from there?

So the next stage is they're then potentially invited, [INAUDIBLE] if we feel like that's a right fit for-- we're the right fit for them, and they're the right fit for us, we then invite them to join the studio.

It's also important throughout that process, I think if we just-- if we sort of feel like we're not the right fit for each other, it's important for us to then help the person or the entrepreneur to find or access other forms of support within the social enterprise ecosystem.

So if we're not the right fit, we'll then try and connect them into someone else. But if we are, they're invited to join the studio. And then, like I said, we develop a individualized learning plan or development plan for the enterprise, and we begin our work together.

Great. And can they-- do they need to be at a particular-- like, do they need to be at that foundation stage to join or--

No. Absolutely not. As you've explained, we see early stage development-- or early stage is quite a broad-- and I think from our work previously with social enterprise is anywhere from having an idea and wanting to test and develop that idea, through to actually you may be trading for a number of years. And this could be up to five or more years, but you haven't yet landed your sustainable business model. So we will work with anyone in that stage of development. That's why that scoping workshop is so important for us, to really understand where they're at and what their needs are.

Thanks. And so far, Kate, how many expressions of interest has the studio received?

So, so far, we've had 38 expressions of interest.

And from that how many groups have you met with?

Yeah. So we invited them all to join us for an initial stage meeting, and we've now met with 25.

And from that 25, how many have had that more detailed scoping workshop?

So we invited eight for that second stage scoping workshop. So far, we've delivered seven of those workshops and one more to go. And we've offered-- from that seven, we've offered five a place in the studio.

Fantastic. Thanks. So from all of that, Kate, any trends that you're seeing emerging so far, either with the enterprises that are actually joining the studio, or just from those expressing interest that you've had meetings with?

Yeah. So one of the key trends so far that we're seeing emerging is the really-- the importance of having a strong foundation. And we're seeing that irrespective of what stage of development they're at.

So we would say they-- even the ones that have been trading for a while, we're seeing that unless you have spent some time really developing a strong foundation for your enterprise, there's still work to be done.

So we see-- in the foundational stage, you'll see that that's at the beginning of our-- on our development journey in that-- our graphic on the screen. So here, we spend time with an enterprise, really understanding the social issue they want to address.

So what is the problem that they're trying to-- the social problem they're trying to address with their social enterprise? And what are the ultimate goals or outcomes they wish to achieve with the enterprise?

With that, then, we can have a look at their identified business opportunity. Then how do we help them design or rethink their social enterprise to ensure that the work they're doing with the enterprise is actually working towards addressing that social problem.

Great. Thanks. Fantastic. Are there any other trends or--

No. I think it's just supporting our notion of what is early stage. And I think it really has confirmed that it really-- people need support throughout that journey. And I think it's the support right from the beginning to that foundational work, plus also the implementation support that they potentially need throughout their journey, social enterprise.


Terrific. Wow. Fascinating. Look, I think we might move in to some of the Q&A. I'm sure people have many questions that they'd like to address.

And we're happy to elaborate on anything.

Terrific. Thank you so much. So I do have a question here. And it's kind of a-- it's a pretty broad question. The question is, how does the studio work? And is it a cohort model?

Yeah. Interesting question. I get asked this a lot in those initial meetings. So at the studio, it's our approach to really be led by the needs of the social enterprise, and the founders, the management of the social enterprise. So we tailor a program of support that really meets the needs and is tailored to their-- what they need to do in terms of developing their social enterprise.

So a cohort experience really is against that principle of demand-led or needs-led development. So we don't really have a-- we don't take them through a tailored-- a predefined set of workshops or modules.

And I think, Libby, you-- in the design of the studio, it's really also thinking about how we connect creating a community of practice or support around the enterprise, so connecting them into the social enterprise ecosystem, other social entrepreneurs here in Victoria or nationally. But yeah. So that's their cohort more broadly.


We do have another question here.

Yay. There's a question.

And I think it's very pertinent.

Yeah. That's what I was thinking, too.

Yeah. So do you have personalized coaching support for the founders of the social enterprises?

You have been-- Yeah.

So I guess in a way, everything that we're doing is that personalised coaching support. So it's very much that the support that's provided through the studio is a response to the needs of the founders to further develop their social enterprise idea.

So support is absolutely tailored, and we spend a lot of time thinking and discussing for each particular enterprise, not only from a sort of task or enterprise development perspective-- what do they need? Where are their gaps? What are their business questions or the impact questions that aren't quite answered yet?

But also, through that journey, how do we build and support the capability of the founders to actually be able to successfully implement the plan for the enterprise that kind of comes out at the end?

So it's a really interesting time where there's-- you're developing the enterprise, but you also in that process are hopefully supporting and developing the entrepreneur or the founder as well. And as Kate said, part of that is about identifying a wraparound community of support around each founder to make sure that they're not alone. Because one of the things that came out of the foundational research was that not one single founder that we spoke to has successfully implemented their social enterprise on their own.

And I think also because we're really working one on one with individual or, with a-- well, a group of social entrepreneurs, that we can actually tailor the way we deliver. So some might be-- they need much more face to face contact. Others might like another mode sort of working with me. So I think that in itself can help us really coach the individual.

Do you pull in other resources from other stakeholders or other parts of the university infrastructure?

Yeah, absolutely, as needs be. I mean, with them so far, we're really just at the foundational stage. So with a lot of them, we're doing that initial work that we have expertise in I guess. But as time goes on, we will definitely be calling on resources across the university.

There's also an opportunity to engage student teams in helping to nut out problems or do some research, market research or whatever it might be as well. So in some instances, the founders are extremely under-resourced. And the students can bring an opportunity to leverage-- bringing some arms and legs and brains to support the entrepreneur. And it's a learning opportunity for them at the same time. So it's definitely a leveraging of a broader network of support as well.


Well actually, that's a nice segue for our next question, which is how does the studio fit within the university environment and within the Centre for Social Impact?

Hmm. Do you want me to take that one?

Yeah. You take that one.

So the Centre for Social Impact, as maybe some people know, since it's a national network, but is specifically a CSI Swinburne initiative. So it sits within Swinburne University.

And CSI Swinburne is a research centre But we also teach the Master of Social Impact and the Graduate Certificate of Social Impact program. So we also sit within the faculty of business and law and within the business school.

So there's a great opportunity to leverage the broader business school infrastructure and law school infrastructure into the studio. And it's really a vehicle I guess in a way of throwing open the doors of the university and inviting enterprises in, so that we can work with them.

So we have a whole range of researchers who are interested in perhaps understanding a different enterprise and how it might operate, and what we can learn from that to help develop other enterprises.

We have business scholars. We have marketing scholars. We have management-- a whole range that we can bring in. And both-- there's an opportunity for learning and research, but also a sharing of knowledge with both researchers and faculty and also students.

Can you say a little bit more about the research program or research opportunities where you see some of the lines of inquiry into the sort of social enterprise in the startup studio?

Yeah. Sure. So hand in hand with working with the enterprises and doing the day-to-day work, which Kate primarily has carriage for, there is a research agenda that wraps around the studio. So anyone who joins the studio is also joining into what we call an action research program. And by that we mean that we're collaboratively doing and learning as we go.

So the principle of strategy as practice is really this acknowledgment that the development of the enterprise-- and this has come through from our original-- our initial research is a process of sort of inquiring, planning, doing, and then evaluating and deciding what to do next. So it's kind of-- sort of agile and reflective, adaptive kind of way of doing things.

So the research agenda that we're wrapping around the studio is really to try and catch up what are the best ways, or what works and what doesn't work for social enterprise development?

And part of that is because it's pretty underresearched. Part of it's because a lot of social enterprise development, without any further sort of evaluation or study, has followed traditional paths, particularly informed by the tech entrepreneurship boom that came out of the Silicon Valley in the last 15, 20 years, for example.

And so what we find is that methodologies quite often are taken from that context into the social impact context. But we actually don't know how effective they are.

At the same time, we do know that social enterprise is kind of a hybrid that sits between commercial business and a charitable welfare and community service kind of model of business. We know that that means that social enterprise manifests and has challenges and presents opportunities, that both of its kind of hybrid parents don't encounter.

What we don't really know is how that manifests in terms of how we can best support early stage social enterprise. So our hope is to kind of capture some of that learning and share it for people to use openly and to apply for themselves.

So the studio website includes a knowledge sharing section, in which we are already sort of putting up ideas, and some tools and resources that are emerging from our kind of what is effectively a living lab kind of model around social enterprise development, and [INAUDIBLE] how to. Is there anything that you wanted to add around that?

No. I think it's [INAUDIBLE] from my perspective, having worked with social enterprise the last four or so years now, I think it is really trying to also think about what has worked in practice and marry that research. And the research is emerging. And the research we can naturally undertake in the studio, to test out different methodologies and ways of supporting social enterprise.

Yeah. Yeah. Sounds like a fantastic feedback loop, and the sort of role that is sort of the public asset the university system is, is feeding back into that system really well. And I think if we're using public funds for academic activities, is a fantastic way in which it engages directly back into industry, and also to the social. And I think that's a terrific opportunity.

I've got another question here. And that is on the practical side of what's happening day to day, can you tell us a little bit about some of the enterprises that have engaged already in the social startup studio?

Yeah. Sure. So we have-- so I said we've got five who have now joined the studio, or who are looking to join the studio. So just to give you an overview, we've got one that's supporting people experiencing medically-induced hair loss, and so to provide them with appropriate headwear and potentially styling services.

We've got a group that's addressing cultural appropriateness and affordability of funerals amongst [INAUDIBLE] communities. So they're looking to potentially start a funeral home.

We've got another one addressing barriers to employment. And they're looking to do that through establishment, potentially with manufacturing-- textile manufacturing in Australia.

We've also got another who is looking to support microFood makers to build and sustain those microFood businesses.

And the last one that's looking to join is addressing digital inclusion, the provision of affordable SIM cards, so access to affordable [INAUDIBLE] and fine plans.

OK. That's a topic close to my heart.

Yes, it is.

As I'm involved in the digital inclusion space. And you can see my webinar here in a few weeks time on that topic.

Nice segue.

And an interesting article in the [INAUDIBLE] about that [INAUDIBLE] yesterday.

There was. There was. It is a very interesting-- and I'm glad to see that social enterprise is a entry in that space of trying to address issues of digital inclusion.

So it's a-- we've got a really nice mix of, I guess, social issues they're trying to address. And so I guess it's important to also highlight that we as a studio are agnostic about-- we don't-- we actually don't predefine what social issues that-- so we are very open to anyone's ideas and business models.

Can you think of other sort of experiments in this sort of social studio type space that are operating elsewhere in Australia, or perhaps some elsewhere in the world, that you draw some of your inspiration from? Or is this a completely new innovative space that's being opened up here at Swinburne?

I think some of the stuff that we're doing is absolutely new. More traditionally, where unis have offered these kind of social startup accelerators, et cetera, for want of a better term, it's been about looking inwards-- so about staff, students, alumni potentially, supporting them to develop ideas, rather than like, as I said earlier, throwing the doors open to the whole community and saying, how can we work with you, and what can we learn from working with you to help develop your enterprise, irrespective of whether you've got a relationship with this university or not?

So there are absolutely, I think, other-- there are other accelerators-- or there are accelerators operating in a uni context in Victoria and elsewhere that have some sort of social focus. Most of those are that sort of internal model. There is some external.

But we're not aware of another one that has a wraparound research agenda as well. So the bringing together of the support with the wraparound research agenda is something that we're not aware of happening anywhere else.

I think we've got time for one more question. And we've just got one in. So how do you determine whether one is ready to graduate or exit the social startup studio? What happens at the end of the process?

Well, ideally, the end of the process is on that diagram, the impractical and sustainable social enterprise. But it may be that an exit occurs beforehand, because we go through the feasibility process, for example, and decide that the idea isn't feasible.

Kate, did you want to also talk about the development plan?

Yeah. So I mean really-- I mean, from experience we know that enterprises need support, like, ongoing support. And so the studio is designed to provide that ongoing support.

So you may do an element like-- you might sort of start your foundation and do some feasibility work with us. And you might move into modelling. And then after that, you might want to go out and pilot. So you might go away and pilot your social enterprise. But then you might want to come back and do some further work with us.

So the way we've structured the studio is to enable that kind of flexibility in the way and what we do with the social enterprises. So I guess-- I mean, we're feeling our way as well. But potentially, a social enterprise could choose to exit at any point within their journey. But I guess we're saying that we'll be here as long as the enterprise itself is engaged and wants to continue working with us, and the enterprise is feasible and has potential to move through our development journey towards creating an impactful and sustainable enterprise.

So it's a really-- again, it's very individual. And so we will constantly work and develop a program of support. And so while there's a program of support active, we will continue working with the enterprise.


Yeah. Terrific. Well, we might move forward a couple of slides so that we can see the contact details for-- I think the website's on a couple of slides ahead here. We can see the details here, which has the website. And I'm assuming that's how people can get in touch and learn more about the studio?

Yep. So the website's the place to go. There's lots of information about, and more detail about, our, approach and our principles, and also how to express interest and learn more about the studio.

I noticed that there was a question we didn't get to answer, about are we still looking for enterprises to join the studio? Indeed we are. So it's not, as we said, a cohort experience. We're open to-- as long as we've still got bandwidth and scope, we're open to continuing to talk to people who might want to join and get our support. So the door is still open.

So if you're out there and you're listening today and watching this, have a look at the website, and there will be some contact details there for you to get on board.

So I'd like to say a huge thanks to Kate and to Libby. It's been really interesting and really informative on part of the scene of social impact, that we often-- we often don't get to the intricate details of other people's work.

And it's, I think, fantastic to hear all about the studio. It's incredibly exciting and innovative. And I think a lot of world first research in practice happening here on the ground at the Centre of Social Impact, so really fantastic.

This is the first of our 2019 webinars which we'll be hosting over the summer. Please join us next week for a session on sustainable business models. This will be presented by Chris Dembek, who is a lecturer in social impact here at the Swinburne Centre for Social Impact. Again, thank you to Kate. Thank you, Libby.


And good afternoon.

Thank you.

Thanks, everyone.