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Supporting the journey to growth

29 November 2012

Building on the success of the Big Venture Challenge, BIG-funded UnLtd has today announced the next phase of the programme which supports ambitious entrepeneurs to grow their social ventures. In this blog, Dan Lehner explains how they plan to use findings and funding to help hundreds move along their journey to growth.

UnLtd's Dan Lehner

UnLtd’s Dan Lehner

When UnLtd announced the Big Venture Challenge cohort in October 2011, supported by Big Lottery Fund’s People Powered Change approach, we knew that we had a great opportunity to learn more about the early-stage social investment market: Who might invest? What form might this investment take? What size of investments would we see? What are the barriers to investment at this stage?  

12 months later, 12 ventures have raised external investment to the tune of almost £1.2m, leveraged from just £570,000 of our match-funding. 75 percent of this investment has come from new investors in the market, two-thirds from a total of 12 angel investors.

In the course of our research (read our new report), we found that contrary to our initial assumptions, most angel investors did not think of social ventures as being any more risky than the purely commercial companies in their portfolio.

Whilst angels were excited by the social impact on offer – they didn’t compromise on the returns they expected.  The angels saw viable business propositions, led by great entrepreneurs and backed them. 

The investors also revealed that their willingness to get involved with such early-stage social ventures was in large part due to the risk-mitigation role of the Big Venture Challenge. More than the match-funding, it was the programme’s stamp of approval that assuaged several investor’s concerns, whilst for others, the support element of the Big Venture Challenge, which offered a team of advisors, mentors and pro-bono support providers for each entrepreneur, was an additional security.

It is therefore with confidence that we are today launching the next phase of the Big Venture Challenge. Between 2013-2015 we will be using both our findings and a new package of Big Lottery Funding to support 100 social entrepreneurs to raise investment, with £5m in match-funding available and teams of experts to help them on their journey to growth. 

So what’s new?  Besides a much larger pot of match-funding made available, we’re trialling working with smaller, themed cohorts – groups of ten entrepreneurs based in specific geographies or working in specific sectors – in order to build more strategic impact networks around our winners.

Also new, a proportion of our match-funding will be repayable – via a 2 percent revenue share in the winning ventures for 2 years, capped at 50 percent of the initial grant. We think this is a crucial discipline to instil in the ventures, whilst still offering an attractive offer to co-investors. Finally, we’re working with expert partners – ClearlySo, The Shaftesbury Partnership and The Social Investment Business – who will add tremendous value to our work, building a collaborative eco-system of support.

In January, applications will open for the second phase of the programme. We will initially offer 30 of England’s most ambitious social entrepreneurs the opportunity to work with an expert team to raise external investment (debt or equity) of between £50,000 to £250,000 in their ventures.

We’re delighted to have the ongoing backing of the Big Lottery Fund for our work building this vital part of the market and we are eager to get started!

To find out more about the next stage of the Big Venture Challenge and to get involved, please visit

Dan Lehner is Head of Ventures at UnLtd on the Big Venture Challenge

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