Big Venture Challenge launched with £1.2m prize fund

On Monday the Big Venture Challenge was launched, a competition to find 25 of the nation’s most ambitious social entrepreneurs and give them the chance to fast-track their ventures to the next level.  The initiative, run by UnLtd and supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Millennium Awards Trust, offers more than £1.2m of capital investment to the winners of the nation-wide ‘Dragons Den’ style competition.

The competition runs in three stages.  In stage one, which opens today, the search is on to find 25 winning entrepreneurs. These winners will receive funding of £25,000 each and intensive business support, including support from the competition’s corporate partners, including Deutsche Bank, Hogan Lovells, Coutts and The Supper Club.

Of these 25, the best ten ventures will receive a second round of £50,000, with a final two which demonstrate the fastest growth receiving an additional third round of £100,000 – a potential additional £150,000, but only if applicants can match it with loans or equity from co-investors. This mix of investment capital and grants is unusual in such a competition and reflects one of the competition’s main ambitions to attract new investors to the social capital market place.

Applications open today, 9 May, and close at 5pm on 30 June.  Shortlisted entrants will be invited to a business pitch in front of a panel of experts – including Pret A Manger co-founder Sinclair Beecham, other investors and successful entrepreneurs and business leaders – and will be chosen on the basis of their venture’s potential and their ability to scale it up to the next level at speed.

As of today, more than 1,000 people have registered their intent to enter.

Cliff Prior, CEO of UnLtd, said,

“It is a time of great opportunity and great need for a new generation of innovative social entrepreneurs.  The overwhelming interest to date demonstrates Britain’s entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit to change society for the better.  We are looking for 25 exceptional people with the ambition to grow their ventures and deliver significant social impact at scale. Help us find these 25 people – the search is on!”

Peter Wanless, CEO of Big Lottery Fund, said,

“Founding a social venture is a challenge; it needs determination and perseverance to take it from the start-up to being an established business. The Big Lottery Fund is delighted to support such an initiative that inspires people to unlock their own powers and abilities to make a difference.

“Big Venture Challenge gives entrepreneurs the unique chance to scale up quickly, helping deliver social impact in communities – from a local to national stage – where the public sector can no longer provide. This is a huge deal, and a really exciting new presence in the social enterprise market.”

Geoff Burnand, Chief Investment Officer at Charity Bank said,

“Big Venture Challenge is a fantastic initiative supporting social entrepreneurs. The social investment market seems alive with opportunities but to secure early stage backing the pitch and the quality of the management team are paramount. Even if you are unsuccessful in winning the competition the process can help you create a really solid business plan. Good luck.”

Big Venture Challenge seeks to provide the leverage for ambitious social entrepreneurs to scale their ventures up in order to meet increasing social needs in a time of significant public service budget constraints. These ventures, given top-flight business support from UnLtd, are a key solution to fill the ever-growing gap between publicly funded services and society’s needs. As well as providing crucial services, social ventures stimulate economic growth by contributing more than £24 billion to the economy.*

There is a clear gap in the social investment market between small start up funds and later stage investment for established social ventures. Big Venture Challenge will help bridge and stabilise this gulf by providing flexible co-investment finance of up to £175,000 for these mid-market social ventures, making a direct bridge between start-up and success. This competition aims to reduce the risk in the early stages of growing a social venture through business and financial support and to attract new investors into this space through the innovative co-investment model.

With 238,000** people starting or planning to start a social venture in the UK, social entrepreneurs are key to providing alternative, innovative solutions to social problems across England, and also to economic renewal: UnLtd’s research has shown that  each individual social entrepreneur it supports creates (on average) four jobs and fifteen training opportunities for others.***

Applications for Big Venture Challenge open today, 9 May, and close at 5pm on 30 June. Ambitious social entrepreneurs should visit to apply.

About Big Venture Challenge

Big Venture Challenge is a unique, new competition, run by UnLtd and primarily funded through The Big Lottery Fund, to find 25 people in England with 25 inspirational ideas to change the world. It is open to people aged 16+ in England, who have a viable, scalable and ambitious business model to drive social change in this country. Social entrepreneurs are individuals who use tools and techniques from the world of business to make a positive impact on society – creating ventures that place emphasis on social good as well as financial return.

Big Venture Challenge runs alongside UnLtd’s regular awards programmes, which offer smaller amounts of capital and business advice to social entrepreneurs from start-up and beyond.  The charity was established as the trustee of an endowment from the Millennium Commission called the Millennium Awards Trust, to invest in individuals wanting to create positive social change.

About UnLtd

UnLtd is the leading provider of support to social entrepreneurs and offers the largest such network in the world. We resource over 1,000 individuals each year through our core Awards programmes which impact many tens of thousands more. We operate a unique model by investing directly in the individual and provide a package of resources; from funding to ongoing advice, networking and practical support.

  • UnLtd Ventures provides specialist support to a number of outstanding entrepreneurs, helping them to scale up or replicate their organisations
  • UnLtd Research leads on inspiring and informing action, policy and social change
  • UnLtd Connect brings together experienced professionals able to offer pro-bono support to individuals growing a social venture
  • UnLtd Advantage is an investment readiness programme that assists social ventures to access the right type of investment for growth
  • Live UnLtd is transforming how society views young people and how young people view themselves

We resource community entrepreneurs to start-up; support those with more established ventures to scale up; and are committed to developing an eco-system of support to make it easier for those who need help to find it.



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