Becoming a social entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur can sometimes come off as a bit of a selfish endeavour. Most of the time you’re doing it to bring in the big bucks rather than because you’re actually trying to make a difference in the world. But what if we told you you could do both? Here’s our guide to becoming a social entrepreneur.

A young woman is becoming a social entrepreneur. This is a wide-angle image.

What is a social entrepreneur?

Social entrepreneurs, like all entrepreneurs, start their own businesses or enterprises. The difference is that they’re not just for profit; they also aim to make significant social change. Sounds impossible? Well, a successful social entrepreneur finds a way to do both.

John Elkington, founder of social enterprise The SustainAbility Institute and author of The Power of Unreasonable People, says social entrepreneurs are a special breed. They tend to be people who, rather than adapting to their current real life circumstances, dare to dream about the world as it should be. From there, they create a business plan and business model to start a social venture that’ll change the world for the better.

How do I go about becoming a social entrepreneur? Have I got what it takes?

“A social entrepreneur needs to be someone who’s prone to action, prepared to take risks as well as responsibility. They need to have a vision of where they’re heading,” says Nick Temple of The School for Social Entrepreneurs. “They should also be resourceful, committed, persistent and have tonnes of ideas for sustainable social innovation.

If that sounds like you then beware, becoming a social entrepreneur isn’t for the faint-hearted. “I’ve known too many people that hit a brick wall and spent the rest of the time wondering what the point is,” says Richard, who started his own business training young wrestlers to help them stay out of trouble.

Of course, I hit walls all the time. But that doesn’t stop me from pursuing my social mission. The main hurdle for us has been the sheer cost of things, like insurance and overheads, because we’re a small company,” says Richard. “We’ve also had a rival company poaching our teachers. All that to say, you’re gonna be up against a lot.” 

Having said all that, it’s definitely worth it. Who knows? You may even end up winning a nobel peace for your work in the fied of social entrepreneurship, like Muhammad Yunus did. If that sounds like something you’d be up for, check out our article on starting your own business for more information on what you might need to get started.

Support and financial backing for social entrepreneurs

If you’re young and have a great social business idea with a solid business plan, you’re in luck. There are several organisations set up specifically to help 16-30 year olds kick-start a new venture in the field of social entrepreneurship. You can find out more about funding in this article for entrepreneurs.

For example, Richard got a grant from Unltd, an organisation that awards grants of up to £5000 to 16-21 year olds interested in setting up a social enterprise. “ Honestly, I decided to apply on a whim. I didn’t even think I’d get anywhere, but there are people willing to help,” he says. “I had great support and business advice from Live Unltd, who always went out of their way to set me on the right direction. And it didn’t hurt that my friends and family were with me every step of the way.

Network with other entrepreneurs

It’s no secret that social entrepreneurs, or any entrepreneur for that matter, need excellent networking skills. Any new business needs backers, but social enterprises especially so. Using social networking is an important way of getting your idea out there. It’s also handy to find out who your competitors and rivals are. 

What’s more, blogging will help establish your reputation as an expert in your field and can help get you media exposure. And attending online or real world industry networking events can connect you to new people who’ll help you discover opportunities. If that sounds interesting, check out The Mix’s networking tips here.

First steps to success

We’re not gonna lie, the early stages of a business demand a lot of time and energy. You’ll be working long hours for very little money. So getting an accountant can really help make life easier. They can even save you money in the long-run. Plus, you can offset their fees against tax. For more info, check out our article on self assessment here.

It goes without saying that keeping costs down is essential when you’re just starting off. This could mean working from home, as well as setting up the basics (branding, marketing, website etc) of your business on your own. To help with this, Richard recommends doing a basic web design course and even entering a short school-of-business-esque course to get a better idea of what you’re committing to. 

Next Steps



By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 09-Jun-2022