6 top tips to grow as a new entrepreneur

Dominic Campbell

As Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014 kicks off, there’s going to be a flurry of events, articles and announcements from a whole range of established entrepreneurs, keen to give the next wave of entrepreneurs tips and advice on how they too can make a success of themselves.



I’ve been running FutureGov, a product company that designs and builds modern public services, for over 6 years now and I’ve received as much advice as anyone. But even I still remember what it was like just starting out and know that it can be difficult to know what advice to listen to listen to that will really help both you and your business.


I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way, but here are my top tips to help you grow if you’re just starting out – and a healthy reminder for those entrepreneurs who are more established and already on their way of the important things to keep in mind (and yes I know some of the advice conflicts – that’s life)


1. Say yes to everything

You never know when great contacts will be made, great opportunities will come up or when a great idea will strike you in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely. Say yes to as many interesting meetings as you can, talk to as diverse a range of people as you can, attend as many events as you can. Even those random emails out of the blue may have value, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Be generous with your time and brain, and the rewards will open up for you.


2. Know when to say no

Conversely, be clear about what you’re interested in and what you get from a reciprocal relationship – with clients, team members, partners and even strangers. Set the right rules for the relationship, so you’re clear that your relationship is not just a one way street. If you’re being generous, people need to be generous in return. It’s okay to say no to things that are distracting or are only beneficial for the people who want your time.


3. Go deep

Deeply understanding the problem you’re trying to solve or business you’re in is key. Be focused about solving that problem or delivering the best possible products or service that you possibly can. It took me a while to work this one out.


4. Culture is King

Create the right kind of culture to ensure that you can attract the best talent to make your business a success. This also means that the best talent out there will share your values and vision of how the world should be. Create a culture that nurtures this.


5. Start small but think big

Focus on one thing that you really care about and try and solve that issue, ignoring everything else. Equally, don’t be afraid to experiment and try a few things to see which is the sweet spot of something you care about. Ask yourself: is it really a problem that people will pay you to solve and is it actually of interest to you?


6. Know when the right moment is to go for growth

Once you’ve built the foundations, know when you’re succeeding and be opportunistic. Take the chance in front of you when it opens up. Be bold when the time is right and throw everything you have behind it. Know when you’re winning, push forward and look for opportunities for investment, growth and support.


by Dominic Campbell, Founder FutureGov

Education needs to adapt – this time it’s personal

cogbooks logoAs technology continues to influence the pace of change across nearly all sectors and avenues of life it brings with it the challenge of how to stay productive. How can you ensure your learning and training keeps up with this level of change? Fortunately, we now know much more about the learning process and how best to support people to acquire knowledge and skills.

In recent years it’s become clear that optimising learning to meet individual personal needs, and freeing educators from the constraints they face, is vital.

At CogBooks, we work with education partners in both the US and UK to deliver adaptive learning that allows students to work at their own pace and to the depth they need. By gathering valuable feedback and insights on how learners engage with activities and content, we can ensure they receive timely and targeted support. This keeps them confident and motivated, which in turn reduces dropout rates and maximises achievement. Analytics on how a student has behaved or reacted can also help pinpoint ways teachers can improve their courses for future students.

The move to an evidence-based model, designed to deliver a personalised learning experience at scale, will transform how we educate and train. Yet, unlocking this transformation will require a deeper embrace of technology to fundamentally re-shape our education practices.

This is not wishful thinking. We are already seeing this rapid and disruptive innovation cycle in other sectors (for example retailing, health, entertainment, technology to name a few) and it is now coming to education.

And this goes beyond the current generation of MOOC online course, most of which have garnered a lot of attention in reaching large audiences, but are just at the very beginning of identifying how to successfully sustain engagement and deliver a genuinely personalised learning experience. We need an inclusive approach that uses technology to catalyse the efforts of both faculty and learners together to bring about a real step change in outcomes.

We are already seeing movement towards this deeper goal. In the US, CogBooks is working in collaboration with Arizona State University and NBC Learn, funded by the Gates Foundation, as part of a $20 million initiative to develop Next Generation Courseware. Based on mastery learning principles and learning science the aim is to improve the postsecondary success of more than 1 million low-income students by 2018.

In the UK, the publication earlier this year of the Further Education Technology Action Group (FELTAG) report called for the inclusion of a 10% online component in every publicly-funded learning programme from 2015/16, with incentives to increase this to 50% by 2017/2018. This is an opportunity to apply technology that supports better learning outcomes first, moving beyond the simple replacement of existing offline learning activities.

Elsewhere we are already seeing the adoption of adaptive learning methods gathering pace. Educational publishers are revisiting their textbooks and associated learning products to move from a largely static, linear experience, to create stimulating adaptive versions that respond to students specific needs. For example, the awarding body and examination board, OCR, has taken the full curriculum of GCSE Computer Science and created an adaptive learning course. This enables students to work through course materials at their own pace and receive automated support when they need extra help. At the same time, teachers can track the exact progress and capabilities of each student and target the most appropriate support for their class.

Elsewhere, universities are redesigning their own course content to offer a more blended and flexible experience for students on their degree programmes. This is a real opportunity to offer new non-campus based learners access to alternative qualifications from a quality higher education institution. This can help bridge the gap in expectations between employers and education providers regarding graduate readiness for the workplace. Increasingly we are seeing a demand for education that focuses on skills that can be applied more readily and directly when moving into employment.

Looking forward, this is an exciting opportunity for educators at all levels to design new and innovative learning experiences that can meet the accelerating demands of the world around us.

By Lars Hyland, Director EMEA, CogBooks

How can charities overcome the challenges of going digital?


When national charity Carers UK wanted to reach more people, in a simple, practical and affordable way, it created ‘Jointly’. Jointly is an app designed especially for carers and it combines group messaging with other useful features including to-do and medication lists, calendars and much more. Today, the app has been downloaded more than 2,000 times and 12 employers and service providers are now offering Jointly to their employees. One carer remarked, “We used it a lot when Mum felt unwell a few weeks back. We could report back to each other with no need for phone calls or texts. We really saw the difference it made that week.”

Carers UK are a great example of how charities can harness the power of digital technology to have a greater impact on the people they help. The increasing take-up and reducing cost of smartphones and other technology presents a great opportunity for charities to reach more people and deepen their services for existing users. Along with increasing reach, digital tools and services can be cheaper for people to access, personalised to specific groups, and delivered in ways that fit with people’s lives – so on their phones or online.

So, given all the benefits, why aren’t more charities developing innovations that digitise their products and services? A quick scan of the sector reveals that whilst some charities are leading the way in areas such as digital fundraising and social media (think #nomakeupselfie, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or the new #wakeupcall), relatively few are actually adapting their delivery models to digital.

Yet this isn’t because charities are simply not interested or behind the times.  Our new report, ‘Going Digital’ explores the unique set of challenges that charities face on their journey to digitising components of their work.  Key issues include how to develop or bring on board new skills, having a clear idea of the audience the tech is aimed at, keeping focused on strategy, getting input from partners, and knowing where to go for additional funding.

Some tips for charities considering developing digital innovations include:

1)      Get the support of your Board as early as possible – no Board likes surprises, not least when it takes them out of their comfort zone, so get peoples buy-in from the start. You might want to consider getting someone with specialist experience involved to guide the Board as things progress.


2)      Find a developer who shares your values – it’ll save you time, money, and patience in the future if you take time to find someone you really want to work with and who understands your ultimate goal. Don’t just pick the first techy you find!


3)      Keep your eyes on the prize – it’s easy to get distracted by developing the app itself, but don’t forget that technology is a means and not the end.  At the end of the day it’s more important that the technology really works for people than if it takes one click-through or two.


4)      Reach out for help when you need it – there’s support available in this space from advice through to incubators, so ask around and find out what’s out there that could help you.


5)      Plan the funding to avoid losing momentum – you’ll need funding for each stage of development from working up the idea, through to developing the prototype and beyond into mass scale-up. So work out how much you’ll need and where it might come from as part of the planning process.


The rewards for charities making the most of the digital opportunity are potentially great. But it’s not an easy journey to get there, so we need to pull together in sharing our knowledge, resources and experiences so that it’s not just a handful of charities leading the charge, but the norm for the sector.

 By Isabel Newman, Nesta Impact Investment Analyst 


Announcing our 7th investment into edtech venture Cogbooks

DC Thomson Ventures and Nesta announce £1.75 million investment in education technology


Nesta Impact Investments and DC Thomson Ventures, the venture capital arm of private media group DC Thomson, have made a significant investment in Edinburgh-based edtech company, CogBooks.


The investment forms part of a £1.75 million funding round by DC Thomson Ventures, Nesta Impact Investments and the Scottish Investment Bank, the investment arm of Scottish Enterprise.


For over ten years CogBooks has been pioneering the use of adaptive learning technology, with a real focus on personalised learning for students. Highly rated in reports commissioned by the Gates Foundation, CogBooks’ learning platform targets improved educational outcomes and student retention.


The platform is used by publishers and institutions in the US and UK post-secondary education market, including Edinburgh University, the OCR exam board and many others.


DC Thomson Head of Strategy and Development Ben Gray said:


DC Thomson Ventures is looking forward to working with CogBooks as it builds on its position as a leading provider of adaptive learning solutions. We believe that true adaptive learning technologies have the potential to fundamentally change the way that education is delivered at all levels, creating positive outcomes for learners.”

Matt Mead from Nesta Impact Investments said:

“Educational technology has the potential to radically change education, especially in secondary schools where there are real opportunities to support learning in the classroom with online work. But that technology can’t be a one size fits all solution. We invested in CogBooks because of their unique approach to personalised web-based learning, which sees them put the student at the heart of their technology. By really understanding how young people learn and working with education providers to ensure content is relevant, CogBooks enables learners to get the most from their experience while also supporting teachers.”

Kerry Sharp, Head of the Scottish Investment Bank said:

“Having supported CogBooks through seed investment we are pleased to further support them as they enter this exciting stage in their development. CogBooks has already been recognised as a leader in adaptive learning technology and this new investment will help the company deliver its growth ambition and extend its international reach.” 

CogBooks CEO Jim Thompson added:

“Throughout the world, we face the problem of how to make the highest quality education available to everyone. We believe that a new generation of learning technologies, of which CogBooks is an example, can help to solve this problem. We are working with our partners to bring these new technologies to teachers and help them to transform the way that learning is achieved.


Our work with the Gates Foundation, Ufi Charitable Trust, the OCR, Edinburgh University and other leading schools and colleges will allow hundreds of thousands of students to benefit from advanced personalised on-line learning, delivered using the CogBooks adaptive platform.


This new investment will allow us to continue to expand our company and provide improved learning experiences for more and more students.”


Exploring the application of Ai-Media’s technology in Education.

Tomorrow evening Nesta Impact Investments launch our investment in Ai-Media UK to explore supporting young people with autism and learning difficulties. We’ve been working with Ai-Media for some time exploring the many potential applications of their technology in Education.

For the last six months a partnership of the University of Melbourne, Ai-Media and innovation charity Nesta have been exploring the potential of real time captioning and transcription for the professional development of teachers and the learning of their students in schools across England. This work has been funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, a charity set up with a £125m grant from the UK government to fund and evaluate promising educational interventions to address the needs of disadvantaged children.

Real time captioning and transcription has been used for some time in education to provide access to learning for deaf students and those with hearing impairment. During a school trial in Australia, Ai-Media and The University of Melbourne noticed that as well as helping with access for these students, the teachers and other students in the class were also using the transcripts to review the lessons for revision and professional reflection on practice.

In ‘The Visible Classroom’ project we have been trialling Ai-Media’s technology coupled with the educational expertise of the University of Melbourne. Thirty five primary teachers have been running real time captions in their class, with children able to read their words as they speak and review explanations during the lessons by looking back at the transcripts. This gives the children a ‘second go’ at the learning, catching up on what they have missed or misunderstood. They also have the opportunity to rate the learning in each lesson through a feedback survey at the end of every lesson, giving their teacher data on how effective they think the lessons have been.

Once the lesson has finished, teachers can access the transcript of their entire lesson and reflect on the elements that went well. This makes visible to them how their planning and intentions actually translate into action in the complex environment of the classroom.

Throughout the project we have been developing the feedback teachers can get from these transcripts, with researchers at the University of Melbourne analysing the transcripts and providing a dashboard of data on aspects of their teaching such as the balance of teacher and pupil talk, the types of questions they are asking and how often they draw links between learning and the real world in their explanations.


In our initial training days some of the teachers were sceptical about how useful captions would be for the seven to eleven year olds in their classes unless they experienced difficulties with their hearing. Many of them have been pleasantly surprised to see that pupils been spontaneously looking back through the transcripts to check their understanding of tasks.This has been a collaborative pilot project and the teachers have been feeding back on their use of the technology throughout, helping us to develop it and maximise the impact of this technique for supporting both teachers and their pupils with their learning.


The teachers have also reported they have been able to see into their lesson with different eyes by looking back through the transcripts and analytics.

I have had my own teaching and training sessions transcribed throughout the project, and felt the immediate awareness that this can bring. I noticed that I tend to over explain the instructions to tasks, taking the focus away from the content I am teaching and instead focusing on the practical instructions. Since focusing on this I have managed to make my instructions much more succinct and precise, allowing the learners to focus more on the content of the learning rather than just understanding what I tell them to do.

The pilot has been independently evaluated by Natcen Social Research and their report will be published later in the year, informing the ‘EEF Toolkit’ of research evidence into educational interventions.

We await their results on the impact that this process has had on learning and professional development. However, it has been clear from my conversations with teachers and my own experience that this opportunity to take a second look into what happens in lessons and explore the key features of your teaching could be a powerful tool for developing learning in schools.

By Oliver Quinlan, Project Manager – Digital Education, Nesta

Social Impact Investment: are we nearly there yet?

SONY DSCYesterday morning, the final report of the snappily titled “UK National Advisory Board to The Social Impact Investment Taskforce Established Under the UK’s Presidency of the G8” has been published. You are forgiven if you haven’t read it yet; but if you are interested in Social Impact Investment you probably should find time to give it the once over.

The two line synopsis is this: (i) it charts the development of social impact investment in the UK over the past 15 years; (ii) it makes some recommendations for next developments. It is similar in style and approach to the Social Investment Taskforce, also chaired by Sir Ronald Cohen, which set the direction for the field of social investment in the UK in the early 2000s.

Social impact investment is a field I’ve worked in for ten of those 15 years, and reading the report I felt the story it tells is an interesting example of how long it takes for radical systemic innovations to take hold, and some of the features that lead to progress (not yet success, it is still a field in its infancy!)

When I stumbled into social impact investing in 2005, none of my friends or family could get their head around what on earth it was I was doing. They generally assumed I was some sort of fundraiser for charities. Frankly, we still struggle to explain to the general public what social impact investment is all about (the first question to Sir Ronald Cohen on the Today programme this morning was ‘what is it?’). But look harder at Social Impact Investing in 2014 and you’ll see activities and innovations at all levels necessary to change the way organisations delivering social impact are financed:

-        a range of new organisations have entered field with innovative approaches (for example Bridges Ventures, Big Issue Invest, Venturesome, Social Finance, Bethnal Green Ventures)

-        product innovation has also been highly significant: e.g. from social venture capital funds, social incubators, charity bond issues, and the misnamed but smart social impact ‘bond’

-        process innovation has also been necessary: significant developments in approaches to the use of evidence (what works) and impact measurement approaches (NPC, SROI Network)

-        regulatory and legal model changes have been necessary: from Community Interest Company, the Social Value Act, to the recent Social Investment Tax Relief

-        and in my opinion, most vitally, the field has benefitted from a high degree of committed leadership and entrepreneurialism. I’m not just talking about big cheeses here (although high level representation, lobbying etc, has been important) but the field has been advanced by some genuine and passionate entrepreneurs who have taken risks with their careers, livelihoods and sanity (Jonathan Jenkins, Geoff Burnand, Caroline Mason, John Kingston, James Perry, Rod Schwartz, Daniel Brewer to name just a few).

Finally, a brief moment of personal indulgence. I’ve had the privilege to work in the industry for a long time, and with two organisations that I consider to have been the most radical and risk taking in their contribution to the field over 15 years – Venturesome and Nesta.

At Venturesome we saw it as our mission to test new approaches, to learn and to publish our learning – good and bad – in order to develop the field; our approach was always to try and be humble, seeing development of the field as a whole as the measure of our success, not what was attributed to us.

For the last four years I’ve seen first-hand how Nesta has fulfilled its risk-taking role, championing innovation in social impact investment. Many of the organisations and individuals I’ve mentioned have benefited from Nesta’s support. Nesta has often been one of the first to commit to the key initiatives cited in the G8 report from Bridges Social Entrepreneurs Fund, to pioneering work on investment readiness with Unltd, to the prototypes and early research that framed the plan for Big Society Capital.

For Nesta, and for me, the focus of our interest in social impact investment is now on delivering direct impact by investing in ventures like Oomph!, Ffrees, Ai-Media. we’re using the strong system of social impact investment that now exists in the UK to help new ventures take social innovations to people who need them. So, we’ve only just begun…..

Joe Ludlow, Nesta Impact Investments

Nesta Impact Investments announces its new investment in Ai-Media UK!

ai-media_logo_fullcolourAs Nesta Impact Investments announces its new investment in Ai-Media UK, Beth Abbott and Eileen Hopkins reflect on the way they are using technology to break down barriers to learning………

Imagine sitting in a classroom. You can hear your teacher, but you can’t understand what they are saying. Maybe their voice sounds garbled. Or they are speaking in a foreign language. Perhaps another pupil’s pen clicking across the room is drowning out their words. For you this is a bad dream, but for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or for those with English as an additional language (EAL), the spoken word in the classroom can be a significant barrier to their understanding. Children with EAL now form a majority in one in nine schools in England; the number has risen by 20% during the last five years to 1.1 million. There are around 100,000 children with ASD in the UK, with around half a million family members directly affected by the condition. With every word misheard and misunderstood, the anxiety levels of these pupils increases and their confidence drops. But at Ai-Media we’ve seen how technology can break down that barrier by giving children access to the spoken word in written form.

Now imagine that classroom again, but in front of you is a laptop or a tablet and the teacher’s words are appearing, in a simplified form, for you to read. You can scroll back and reread anything you’ve misunderstood. After the lesson you can ask the teacher to explain a term you don’t understand. And your teacher can use the transcript to help support your learning. Just like the subtitles for television, Ai-Media’s captioning technology, Ai-Live enables pupils to read the teacher’s words, as they are spoken, and so gives them an alternative method of accessing and understanding their lessons.

And it’s not just children that can benefit, we are also working with teachers to see how the same technology can help them review their lessons and give better feedback to students. Our first pilot, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation, saw us working with ten schools across the UK. Our ambition for education is vast, which is why the investment from the Nesta Impact Investment team is so important to us. Just like us, Nesta is all about opening doors. We help people to reach their potential in education and in the workplace. Nesta helps companies to reach their potential by encouraging creativity, experimentation and risk-taking; three things we know all about at Ai-Media. Our vision is to achieve a global impact and Nesta’s investment shows their belief in that vision. And with their support, we can achieve that impact at scale.

So where do we go from here?

skd256418sdcWe are now a few weeks into the new school term, and we have already established partnerships with five of the leading specialist ASD schools, including Queensmill, The Helen Allison School, Doucecroft, Phoenix, and Young Epilepsy’s School and College. With those first doors opened and with Nesta’s ongoing support, Ai-Media has the potential, the passion and the commitment to improve educational engagement and outcomes of young people across the UK.

Beth Abbott General Manager, Ai-Media UK

Eileen Hopkins Executive Director, Ai-Media UK

Measuring success in education


The new school year is here. Teachers are firing up the teaching synapses that have been dormant for 6 weeks, trying to remember logon details, facing new classes, new kids and an influx of new colleagues. There are a whole new set of names to learn, personalities to discover and new opportunities to make that difference.

The kids are excited to see each other and catch up, whilst those who’ve just arrived at “big school” are nervous and quiet, hidden deep within the oversized uniforms bought with longevity in mind.


As this period of excitement and inquisitiveness dawns upon us again, it feels right to pose a crucial question; what are we actually trying to achieve with education?


You’d be excused for thinking that academic achievement is all that matters. The Department for Education’s performance tables show many charts on academic achievement alongside one table on pupil absence and one on post-16 destinations of secondary school pupils. The OFSTED inspection framework considers achievement alongside the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, but the latter four are monitored irregularly through inspections alone against a bewildering 35-page guidance document.


A quick tweet asking for views on what schools should be striving to achieve for their pupils led to many interesting thoughts. A fantastic SSAT report makes the case for pro-social (cultivating attitudes of a good friend/neighbour/citizen) and epistemic outcomes (the qualities of mind required to be a powerful learner – yes, it’s an addition to my vocabulary as well!) and sets out 8 principles around which schools could be re-designed to drive these outcomes. @jamesanoble of NPC points out that most theories of change in education focus on aspirations, confidence, self esteem and quality of relationships. @dajbelshaw makes the case for happiness and flourishing.


Elsewhere, Nicky Morgan, the new Secretary of State for Education, points out in a letter to her opposition, Tristram Hunt, that education should prepare young people for “a happy and fulfilling life”.

So, it’s clear that although examination success is one of the factors of educational success, it is not the only factor. Even as I’m writing this blog I’m delighted to see Estelle Morris’s piece in the Guardian warning that there is undue focus on exam results alone.

So, painful as it is, we need to admit that we’re not measuring or valuing success in education in the right way. And, what’s worse; until we do, we will never get better at educating our young people.


In fact, it would seem we’re falling behind the curve as a nation in considering wider educational outcomes. Countries including Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland are re-designing national educational outcome frameworks to include personal qualities.  For example, Singapore now focuses its education system upon supporting young people to become confident, self-directed learners who are active contributors. It looks like a global education revolution is starting without us.


So, step forward the brave souls who are willing to try and set out what a complete framework of outcomes for young people might look like. Enter NPC (with the Journey to Employment Framework) and The Young Foundation (with their Framework of Outcomes for Young People), whilst Impetus-PEF are about to launch their Ready for Work framework, which sets out the soft skills that will be essential to finding and thriving within employment.


None of these frameworks claim to be definitive (and none of them are) but what they do make clear is that we need to quickly understand how we develop the social, emotional, cognitive and physical capabilities of young people if they are to reach their potential in school and their lives beyond.


Entrepreneurial social sector organisations working in schools, including the likes of Teach First, Place2Be and Greenhouse, already recognise the role of these capabilities in driving outcomes for young people (including exam success), and keenly focus their practitioners on developing these skills. But, this approach needs to become part of the mainstream.

So where can we go from here?


Well, the first step is to admit that our current measurement of educational success is one dimensional and not fit for purpose. Once we’re through that, let the conversation commence as to how we make it better. But let’s make it quick, as next year another group of kids will arrive looking small in their oversized uniforms and we owe it to them to have upped our game by then.

by Graeme Duncan – Nesta Impact Investments – Entrepreneur in Residence

The highs and lows of building a tech for good startup

As the Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) accelerator programme gets underway with a new team of ventures, Sinead MacManus, CEO and co-founder of Fluency, reflects on what they’ve learnt since being part of the BGV programme last year.

A year ago my co-founder Ian and I stood nervously in the shiny new offices of Bethnal Green Ventures – we had won a place on their ‘tech for good’ incubator. The 12-week incubation programme would enable us to develop Fluency – our digital education company that helps get young people into work. Along with the founders from the other nine teams, we were about to embark upon a journey into the unknown.

As we celebrate our first company anniversary, I wanted to reflect on the many highs and lows of our first year trying to change the world through technology.

Learning from being on an accelerator

Being accepted onto the BGV incubator was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Having someone believe in you and your idea enough to put their money where their mouth is very motivating. An accelerator allows you to test your hypothesis about your business cheaply and quickly, get to Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and then validate the market by selling it/getting users.

We were well versed in the lean startup methodology but still ploughed ahead spending months designing and coding a platform from scratch and writing and recording original learning content. All this so we had a ‘product’ to use in our pilot in the summer. In hindsight this was a terrible mistake. All we needed to do was to test some key hypotheses – can young people pick up digital skills online and apply them in a work situation? We could have used an on the shelf LMS and existing learning resources from the web to validate this hypothesis.

Finding our business model the hard way

BGV pic

When we started at BGV we were convinced that our business model would be that small business owners would pay on a subscription basis for access to our learning platform and that we would then use this money to give access for free to young people. By trying stuff out and making a mess of things, and by listening to what our customers and our users want we have finally found what we think will be our product.
Raising investment and running out of cash

When we started at BGV I thought this investment was just to get us to demo day where investors would be clamouring to give us more cash. Nine months later we’ve run out of cash twice, and making payroll for our two staff – let alone paying ourselves – was a real issue.

We’ve just closed our seed investment round (yeah!) but dealing with investors for the past nine months has been one of the most painful processes of my life. Nine long months of pitching and coffees – it’s exhausting and demoralizing. And if you’re in the tech for good space like we are, then it’s tough – a lot of investors don’t get the concept that you can make money and social impact at the same time.

Hiring staff

Some of our most costly mistakes have been to do with staff – thinking we needed to hire when we didn’t. Staff, whether freelance or permanent, are a startups’ biggest asset but also their biggest drain on resources. Our hiring plans have changed. My aim is to stay as lean as possible until our next funding round and rather than throw people into roles that we think we need, we will let the business tell us where we need to put the resource.

Finally, the long road to finding product-market fit

Talking to lots of startups recently has made me realise that, even though the tech press like to champion the seemingly overnight success startups, in reality most companies take a few years to find their way. And I think for “tech for good” startups it can take even longer. If you are trying to solve some of society’s biggest problems, it’s not going to happen overnight.

But no matter what the challenges this year has brought, I’m literally having the time of my life. Getting up every morning and knowing what you are doing can make a real impact on people’s lives is worth the odd sleepless night. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

This blog was originally published on Bethnal Green Ventures.
Read the original blog.

Getting started on impact

eibhlin-ni-ogain-webYou’ve come up with a great idea, sorted out your business model, built a strong team, dealt with cash flow and all the other aspects of setting up your own business. And then you discover that you also need to think about whether you are having a positive social impact.

For social start-ups, measuring impact can often be the last thing on a long list of essential to do’s. But it is an important thing to get right. If social start-ups stand a chance at success they need to integrate the social side of what they do with their core business model and prove their impact. Measuring your social impact should be dealt with in the same way your business understands and measures its finances. And the good news is that there are processes and methods you can use to do this.

So where should you start?

Step one: where do you want to get to?

The starting point for any social venture is to understand their final vision for impact and how they are going to get there. A good tool for mapping out this process is a theory of change. This will allow you to connect what you do on a day to day basis with the overall change you’re trying to make.

Step two: Decide on the type of evidence you need

The type of evidence you collect through measurement can range from less to more robust. Early stage ventures may not need to collect at the robust end of that range as they will probably refine and develop what they do as they grow and change. At a minimum, you should have a clear articulation of how you deliver social impact. Nesta Impact Investments has developed Standards of Evidence for Impact Investing to help investees think about these different levels of evidence.

Step three: Choose the tools and methods you will use

Once you have developed a theory of change, you need evidence. The best way of doing this is to collect information on whether change is happening. This can be done in lots of different ways. For example, when we talk to people or observe them, we are collecting information about their views and behaviours. This type of qualitative research can be used to get very rich information on whether change has happened. It is not good, however, for getting an idea of whether everyone you worked with saw similar effects or understanding how big this change was. To answer these kinds of questions, quantitative research can be used. Questionnaires, or data on numbers of people qualifying from a course, for example, can all be used to gather information quantitatively. The diagram below shows the different types of tools out there for capturing information. Inspiring Impact also has a great new hub to help with this.



Step four: Think about when you will measure and who you will measure with

Timing is important when it comes to measuring change. Think about when it is reasonable to expect change to happen—this could be immediately, or three, six months or one year down the line. Who you measure with is important as you may not want to gather information from everyone—this may be because it will be too resource-intensive or interferes with your service delivery. So, you may consider gathering information from a smaller sample. Generally a sample of fifty will be necessary to see change but the Survey System website can help you decide.

Step five: Use the results

Finally, as a start-up you will more than likely develop and refine your product—and as you do, your understanding of your impact will change. Just as the lean start-up approach argues continuous refinement of your product based on customer feedback, impact measurement should inform you about what is, and is not, leading to change. You’ll need to adapt your Theory of Change to reflect this and review how you measure your impact.

Remember that impact measurement is about understanding whether you are having a positive impact on the issue you are addressing and improving your product or service as a result. Ultimately, if the data you collect is not helping you do this, you need to go back to the drawing board and develop an approach that will.


This blog was originally published on Pioneers Post 

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