Tailored support for social ventures

From fashion to farming, prisons to prosthetics, we help all sorts of social ventures to get started and grow through the next six to 12 months of their journey. Whether you have global plans or are making an impact in your local community, our support is tailored to suit you.

Since 2014, we’ve helped hundreds of social ventures to grow, find customers, make a social impact and raise finance.

If the time’s not right for you to join the incubator yet, our Social Venture Weekends are a great chance to develop your business model, get feedback from our team and hear more about the programme.

Social Venture Incubator participant.

Through expert business advice, training and networking, we help social ventures to secure finance, embed their social mission, measure their impact, develop strong governance and grow to the next level. Our offer includes:

  • six months of structured support, including monthly training days and regular meetings with an advisor
  • further flexible support for up to 12 months if needed, negotiated with each entrepreneur
  • support and introductions to become investment-ready and access finance, including loans and angel investment
  • support to embed and protect your social mission through appropriate legal structures
  • connections to business networks and the social sector
  • shared working space in central Cambridge (subject to availability)
  • bursaries for entrepreneurs experiencing personal, long-term, financial hardship to enable them to engage with our programme.

We expect our entrepreneurs to:

  • be working full-time on their venture, or making steps towards that goal
  • embed their social mission in their organisation
  • measure their social impact
  • be an active member of our community at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation.

Entrepreneurs who aren’t quite ready for this sort of support should come along to one of our Social Venture Weekends to develop their idea further.

Business advisors

The core of your relationship with us is your business advisor. You will meet at least monthly and more often when needed.

Each of our advisors is an experienced social entrepreneur. They’ll be a shoulder to cry on when things get tough and they’ll hold your feet to the fire when you need motivating!

At your first meeting you will set some goals together and establish what your support needs are. You’ll meet with them at least monthly and perhaps more often. They will drill down into your business plan with you and help you set strong foundations for growth.

Our team works closely together, and we each have our own strengths that we can use to work through particular issues. Where appropriate we’ll introduce you to other specialists from our networks in Cambridge and the broader social sector.

After six months, we’ll revisit your goals and figure out what further support we can give you.

Training and events

You’ll join a monthly training day – partly an opportunity to learn from world experts in entrepreneurship and partly a chance to connect virtually with each other.

These one-day workshops are taught by teachers from the University of Cambridge, inspiring social entrepreneurs and professionals like accountants or lawyers with relevant social sector experience. You’ll meet investors and social sector leaders who can help your business grow. The sessions cover finance, governance, marketing and sales, human resources, tax, personal resilience and more.

Being an entrepreneur can be lonely work, so you’ll get to share your sorrows and successes with the others on the programme.

Graduates of the incubator are always welcome to come back to revisit training and catch up.

We also organise occasional social gatherings in Cambridge and London for networking and connecting face-to-face.

Funding and finance

We don’t offer any funding to social ventures and we don’t take any equity in your ventures.

We do support ventures to identify customers and make sales, and we can support ventures to access other sources of finance, whether through loans, grants or equity investment (angel and venture capital). We can do this by helping with the financial modelling necessary for raising finance, and by introducing you to the right people.

There’s a wide range of finance options available to social entrepreneurs. We’ll help you figure out whether external finance is something you need and can connect you to potential investors, grant-making bodies, lenders, and others.

We also have specific agreements with two partners that are available to ventures supported by us.

Cambridge Enterprise

Cambridge Enterprise and Cambridge Social Ventures have partnered to offer up to £20,000 seed funding to social ventures emerging from the University of Cambridge.

This particular investment is only available to students, staff, or alumni of the University of Cambridge.

Find out more about the Cambridge Enterprise social seed fund

We celebrate social entrepreneurs of all kinds – big or small, local or international.

We understand ‘social venture’ pretty broadly – we work with businesses, charities, co-ops, tech start-ups, community groups, public sector spinouts and more. The common thread is a strong social mission at the core of a sustainable business.

Have a look at our venture profiles to get a sense of the range of entrepreneurs we support.

We believe the social sector needs all types of ventures. Some of the ventures we support are making an impact in their local community; others have ambitious plans to work all over the world. We support ventures at all stages, whether you’ve just got an idea or whether you’re already growing and looking to make a change in your work.

The common factors among our ventures are:

  • Set up to be financially self-sustaining, not to rely on donations and grants (some ventures are a mix of the two).
  • Strong social mission at the core of the ventures.
  • Any legal structure, so long as there is an embedded social purpose (or willingness to embed one).

Do I have to be a member of the University of Cambridge?

Not at all! We welcome anyone, no matter what their educational background.

  • For those who are already familiar with business, we’ll extend your knowledge and give practical advice and connections.
  • If you’re new to business, we’ll help you understand basic business concepts and give you extra support to get up to speed.
  1. Fill in our short online application form and provide some supporting documents (eg a brief business plan).
  2. We will acknowledge all applications within a week.
  3. If you are shortlisted, you will be invited for an interview in Cambridge or online.
  4. If you are selected for the incubator, your support starts with a compulsory training workshop. This will be in Cambridge or online depending on guidelines at that time.

The application process is competitive, but please don’t be discouraged from applying. We are happy to talk about your application.

If you have any questions about your application or the process of applying, please contact us at [email protected].

Supporting documents

Because we support ventures at all stages, we don’t expect you to have lots of information for us. We are looking for potential in your idea, not a polished pitch.

More established ventures will have a business plan or a pitch deck, but if you don’t have one, please don’t make one especially for us! We’re just as happy with a quick video pitch filmed on your phone, or a draft of a Business Model Canvas, or maybe a clipping from the local newspaper about your work.

When we review your applications, we’re looking for:

  • Great people. We look for credible, knowledgeable entrepreneurs, no matter what your background, your education or your postcode. Many of our entrepreneurs have personal experience of the problems they are working to solve.
  • A viable business idea. Some applicants have great ideas for charities, awareness campaigns or small consultancies, but we look for ventures that can show a potential growth revenue model and identify a potential market.
  • A clear social mission. The ventures we work with all have a strong social mission at the core of their business and can show how their venture idea will help them to achieve their social aim.
  • Vision and ambition. We look for entrepreneurs with a clear vision rather than ventures exploring many ideas, and our support is best suited to ventures that aim to grow and scale up their impact.
  • The right time and place. Ventures must be ready and able to take up the support we offer. This means committing to the venture as your priority – even if you have to do other work in the short term – and being able to come regularly to Cambridge.

Our support is for everyone, not just Cambridge people, so please don’t be afraid to apply! If you would like to chat about your ideas or how our support could help you, please contact us at [email protected] – we are very friendly!

Education: We welcome people from all backgrounds and levels of education, whether you left school young or have a PhD. Some of the best social entrepreneurs are those with personal experience of the issues they are trying to solve.

Financial hardship: We don’t want anyone to miss out on our support because of money. If you are experiencing long term financial hardship, we have a limited number of bursaries, particularly for people from the East of England.

Accessibility: We also don’t want anyone to miss out because of disability or any other accessibility needs. We work hard to meet the widest variety of accessibility needs, including physical or mental health, learning support and family caring requirements. If there’s anything we can do to adapt our support to be more accessible for you, please let us know.

I’m having problems filling in the online application form

Try resubmitting it without any attachments. If you still have issues, please email us at [email protected].

What does the programme cost?

Our support is free, aside from a £100 registration fee once you have been offered a place.

If the cost is truly a barrier for you, we have a limited number of bursaries for those facing long-term financial hardship, particularly people from disadvantaged communities in the East of England.

Can I apply with more than one venture idea?

The incubator is intended for people ready to push forward with one idea that they are passionate about. You should put your best foot forward with just one idea. If you’re still weighing up different ideas, then Social Venture Weekend is a better starting point for you.

Do I have to be at the University of Cambridge?

No, we support people from all over the place! No matter what your background, your education or your postcode, we can support you to develop your social venture.

Do you support ventures based outside the UK?

Many of our ventures are working abroad, but our support is intended for social ventures either fully based in the UK or with a very strong link to the UK or Cambridge. We sometimes do support ventures from overseas, but usually only where we see that our experience can make a specific contribution.

We cannot offer any financial support to ventures based overseas to attend training or events in Cambridge.

Do I have to go to a Social Venture Weekend first?

Most of the ventures who join the incubator will have attended a Social Venture Weekend first. This workshop is not a prerequisite, but it is a great opportunity to focus on your business plans and meet our team before applying.

Ready to apply?

Deadline: Wednesday 31 January 2024.

The next opportunity to join us will be Spring 2024. Applications are always open and we make selections on a rolling basis, so apply early if possible… don’t leave it until the last minute!

We are always keen to hear from social ventures who are considering applying to the programme. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

Apply for the incubator