Social Enterprises – what are they?

Social enterprises are companies which combine the impact-centric agenda of a charity with the profit generation strategies of a business. How this is achieved differs from company to company, but fundamental to all social enterprise is the concept of replacing the profitability goal at the core of mainstream businesses with an impact mission focused on enacting positive societal or environmental change.

Supporting Social Enterprise creation

Expanding OUI's support

Historically the University, through OUI,  has supported creation of two types of business: regular startup businesses created by staff and students, and ventures based on intellectual property from the University, known as spinouts.

Spinouts are typically formed around a patentable technology, such as a potential therapeutic candidate or an engineering project. This model has been successful for turning Oxford research into reality, with over 160 spinout companies created since OUI opened its doors in 1987, 19 of which were launched in the past year.

OUI is now supplementing this spinout creation activity by offering the social enterprise option. Academics will be able to receive support for creating businesses around ideas that don’t necessarily have a clear path to a commercial return, and will have the option of creating spinout companies focused on impact. Through social enterprise, OUI now offers a business model that is adaptable, dynamic and supports all University Divisions equally.

Prior to launch of this dedicated programme, OUI had already built up a pipeline of over 25 social enterprises.

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Making it real

To meet demand for the service, which OUI anticipates will create at least an additional 10 spinouts per annum, OUI has created a group led by Dr Mark Mann, Innovation Lead for Humanities and Social Sciences. Examples of some of the projects OUI is supporting include secure, cashless homeless donations app Greater Change and mobile and VR-based lifesaving emergency instruction platform LIFE.

OUI's Social Enterprise support group

Social Enterprise support group, led by Dr Mark Mann (centre)

OUI has also created a £550,000 social and environmental impact fund SE2020, to support the development and acceleration of social or environmental ideas towards real-world positive impact. SE2020 is possible thanks to support from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which both backed the fund.

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