Supporting social innovation

20th February 2024
Written by: Mark Fraser, Community Enterprise in Scotland (CEIS)

Many academic staff are doing world-leading research but feel that the traditional university commercialisation process is not for them. If this is you, then read on to find out how a new initiative called SISO is supporting academic staff and researchers to explore commercialisation through the social enterprise model.

CEIS and Interface: Supporting Social Innovation

At CEIS, we have an established relationship with Interface, having previously collaborated on projects to support social innovation from universities. We are also a supporter of this year’s Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards, where we sponsored and helped judge the Making a Social Difference category. Building on this, we are excited to announce the launch of our new Social Impact Spin Out (SISO) programme to support academic staff and Early Career Researchers to create more social enterprise spin-outs and start-ups from universities across Scotland. 

Aligning with Scotland’s Entrepreneurial Campus Vision

SISO has been developed over the course of the last four years in partnership with The Challenges Group, Firstport, and five Scottish universities. It provides a dedicated support pathway for academics interested in social enterprise, running in parallel to traditional university commercialisation routes.  

The programme feeds directly into the Scottish Government’s Entrepreneurial Campus strategy, which aims to better harness entrepreneurship and innovation from higher education to drive economic growth. SISO is aligned with several key actions from the Campus strategy around enhancing spin-out support, accessing investment, building partnerships between universities and harnessing external expertise like CEIS.

Some examples of how SISO delivers against the Entrepreneurial Campus Strategy:

  • It provides a cross-institutional approach open to all Scottish universities
  • It provides enhanced support for academic founders around business planning, investment readiness and scaling
  • It supports universities to integrate social enterprise into their commercialisation process and to adjust policies to be more accommodating of social enterprise regarding IP and equity expectations
  • It harnesses the experience and skillset of social enterprise partners such as CEIS, Challenges Group and Firstport

Comprehensive Support for Social Ventures 

Services offered through SISO include business development, accessing grant funding, social investment, legal structures advice, IP support, incubation space and more. The breadth of support available allows ventures to progress smoothly from concept to launch and beyond.

For academics, we provide guidance from the early stages of developing a concept through finalising IP agreements with the university, forming a legal entity, raising investment, CEO identification (if the staff member does not wish to lead the new enterprise) and accessing incubation facilities. Ventures can benefit from dedicated business mentoring and capacity building support for 3+ years in some cases.

Crucially, ventures coming through SISO can also access The Ventures Lab to support their ongoing growth. The Lab provides vital support to fledgling social enterprises from academia – offering further investment through patient finance loans up to £100,000 at 0% interest to provide the new enterprise with the working capital needed to grow during the first few years. Other benefits include co-working space, business mentoring, international market expansion help and other services (such as bookkeeping & accounting, Human Resources, IT, legal advice, social media and marketing) to help them scale sustainably and maximise impact.

By aligning help from SISO in the start-up phase with support services from The Ventures Lab into the growth stage, we provide an end-to-end support pathway for impact-driven entrepreneurs from universities that is unmatched.

Early SISO Successes

There have already been some fantastic ventures emerging from Scottish universities through SISO. Two examples are: 

  • Climate Change Legal Initiative (C2LI) – The first social enterprise spin-out from the University of Strathclyde, C2LI provides legal services related to climate change litigation. Founder Dr. Kate McKenzie has benefited from extensive support on business planning, investment pitch development and commercial negotiations – helping secure a significant social investment from The Ventures Lab in conjunction with Stage Gate funding from the University’s Stage Gate process. Kate has started as CEO of C2LI and we are working with her as she now looks to grow the enterprise.
  • Sustainable Futures Global – A University of Glasgow start-up network building an international community of researchers, practitioners and policymakers focused on participatory approaches to sustainability challenges. Under the leadership of Prof. Mia Perry, SFG incorporates local community voices into solution development. As with C2LI, SFG has now been announced as a Ventures Lab investee and we continue to work with Mia and her global colleagues to realise SFG’s international potential.

SISO has now engaged with over 35 academic staff and ECRs and by March 2024 we will have helped to spin-out or start-up 10 new social enterprises and we expect to directly support the launch of at least 5 new social enterprises every year.

SISO provides an excellent apparatus to inspire and nurture impact-driven entrepreneurship from Scotland’s world-class higher education institutions. By aligning help in the start-up phase from SISO with growth support through The Ventures Lab, we have an opportunity to create an enviable support ecosystem for social innovators from academia. 

With interest from across Scottish universities, we expect many ground-breaking ideas to emerge – generating economic value, high quality jobs and positive social change aligned to Scotland’s needs. 

If you are an academic interested in exploring social innovation and feel that the traditional university commercialisation process is not for you, then please get in touch with CEIS to learn more about SISO by contacting James Finnie

Photo shows Gary McNair of CEIS presenting the Making a Social Difference Award to Kibble Education & Care Centre and University of the West of Scotland, at the recent Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards.