Applications for the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator Fall 2020 session are open until September 7, 2020.

Whether for-profit or nonprofit, a social enterprise is a socially-minded venture that produces a positive societal impact. Earning a profit is not the prime goal of these mission-driven organizations. However, the revenue generated from the enterprise ensures sustainability for the organization, and funds are often redirected to initiatives with social impact. Employees of social enterprise are often from at-risk communities, providing a much-needed opportunity for skill development. Some London-based social enterprises include Impact Junk Solutions, Youth Opportunities Limited (YOU), L’Arche London, Skilled Accents, Growing Chefs! Ontario, Mine 101, Urban Roots London, and Clean Works.

Whether starting or growing a social enterprise, it can be a challenging road. Luckily, there’s Pillar Nonprofit Network’s social enterprise incubator, sponsored by Libro Credit Union. The Incubator provides entrepreneurs with a front-of-the-line pass into the world of social enterprise. Participants are able to immerse themselves in the process and access resources to help them embed social values while creating a sustainable model for their enterprise.

The Incubator includes a three-day boot camp to kick-start enterprise planning, plus three months of weekly social enterprise and business development workshops. Participants also receive six months of bi-weekly 1-1 social enterprise coaching, a Pillar Nonprofit Network membership for a year, and access to Innovation Works, Pillar’s lively co-working space.

We checked in with Rachel Berdan, Pillar Nonprofit Network’s Social Enterprise Program Manager & Coach, to learn more about the incubator.

What role do you play in the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator?

I’m the Social Enterprise Program Manager and Coach at Pillar, which includes managing all aspects of the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator from ongoing design to the processes that keep the program going and workshop delivery and coaching of our inspiring social entrepreneurs. 

What does social enterprise mean to you?

At Pillar, we think of social enterprise as something that exists along a spectrum. On the one end, you have traditional for-profit businesses that exist to maximize profit. On the other, you have traditional charities and nonprofits that are sustained by grants and donations. We use the language of shifting to the middle, and we think of social enterprises as embodying a few fundamental principles. My interpretation is that a social enterprise aims to address a social or environmental challenge that puts the earnings it generates from selling a product or service directly toward solving that problem and has some way of measuring and communicating its progress.  

Who can participate in the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator?

Anyone with an idea for a program, product, or service that earns money while also having a measurable community or environmental benefit can apply to the Incubator. The organization can be for-profit, nonprofit, or a co-operative (which can also be either for-profit or nonprofit). While applicants don’t have to be earning revenue yet, they have to have a goal to be making money through sales of their product, program, or service within six months. It’s also critical that the impact is not an aside, but that it’s integral to the organization’s success. 

What resources do the participants have access to when they’re enrolled?

Participants have access to resources we’ve developed and collected over the last few years the program’s been running, weekly workshops for three months, and bi-weekly coaching (with me) for six months. Plus, they can access the fantastic network of changemakers and impact organizations that make up the Pillar Nonprofit Network and Innovation Works community. Because of our supportive partnership with Libro Credit Union, participants also have access to a Libro Coach who understands the importance of financial health and community well-being to growing prosperity. One of the most spectacular gifts of the program that I’ve seen is the connection participants make with one another. 

What’s unique about the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator compared to other incubators or accelerators?

The Libro Social Enterprise Incubator represents a great interplay between Libro’s values as a Certified B Corporation and Pillar’s Network Approach. We strongly emphasize the cohort effect in the way we approach weekly workshops and engagement within the Incubator, so that participants’ knowledge is part of the package and people in the room learn from each other at least as much as they do from the curriculum. Due to my own background in leadership and organizational development, we tend to spend as much time on taking care of the entrepreneur as we do on taking care of the business because the two are so closely intertwined, especially in the early stages. 

What do you hope organizations will get out of participating in the Incubator?

I would hope that people with big ideas about earning an income while making a tangible difference in the world realize how many tools they already have at their disposal. With the Incubator, those gifts can come to the surface in the right environment with some dedicated time, effort, and community support. Of course, I hope people learn new things along the way, too – I know I always do. 

What’s your favourite aspect of working with social enterprises?

The thing about entrepreneurship is that it’s a process of finding the possibility in the problems. It’s something that inspires me every day. COVID-19 sent us home about two weeks before our current cohort started working together. I have to say that in the midst of all of the uncertainty and the inequities and injustices, I was inspired by spending my time with this creative group of humans who are dedicated to addressing some of those very challenges. In fact, one of our recent participants, Amy Rathan with Impact London, has been busy for most of the program working with the City to house those experiencing homelessness and advised to self-isolate during this time. Another, Lena Schreyer with Beecuz, was a recipient of the latest Recovery & Rebuilding the Region Design Challenge, a partnership between TechAlliance, Libro Credit Union, and Pillar Nonprofit Network. 

Learn more about the Libro Social Enterprise Incubator and how to apply here.

This post has been powered by Pillar Nonprofit Network. Pillar Nonprofit Network strengthens individuals, organizations and enterprises invested in positive community impact. 

Feature photo courtesy of Pillar Nonprofit Network.


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