Data Trends in start-up Social Entrepreneurship

Medium, by Josiah Lockhart


Three months ago Firstport launched its new strategy Increasing Social Impact Through Entrepreneurship and, although internally we have been talking about it for much longer, it is great to get the ball rolling and officially get going with our plans. This feeling of having a clear direction and path at Firstport is much welcomed against a backdrop of uncertainty and shifts in the social and wider enterprise ecosystems.

It feels like a good time to take stock on what we have done in the past few months towards our strategic principals.

One of our core ambitions is to Make more data-driven decisions. That is not to discount the anecdotal evidence or do away with telling the stories of the entrepreneurs we work with, but to make sure they are representative and understand what is going on deep within the network.

This has been a really interesting one and one that is challenging the whole team to work and approach decisions differently. Some changes have been fairly simple, for example, we are starting to use our CRM more and better, which means that we can include more stats and figures in our proposals. But one aspect we are really excited about is the work we are doing thanks to the Analytical Exchange programme, a Scottish Government programme that offers free support to third sector organisations around data, analysis, statistics and research. We were lucky enough to secure some time from a statistician who has been doing some very interesting analysis of our data.

Due to the number and variety of ideas we support, our data could be used as a barometer for the future of the social economy in Scotland and can give the wider economy the information and insights it needs to design and deliver better services for social entrepreneurs. Based on some of the early analysis done so far, we are already uncovering insights that are making us think about our funding decisions and processes. We have started doing a deeper dive into our data and are discovering new areas of insight.

An analysis of the gender split of social entrepreneurs supported by our funding programmes showed us that the number of female applicants has grown over time. Not a big surprise there, as we already knew that we support a higher proportion of women compared to men, reflecting the social enterprise movement as a whole where 64% of social enterprises are led by women. But, we didn’t know that this percentage has been growing, nor were we aware that on average women have been asking for less seed funding than their male counterparts.

In addition, a geographical analysis of the Social Entrepreneurs fund shows that Argyle and Bute, Clackmannanshire, and South Ayrshire outperform their urban cousins when looking at success rates per head of population.

These very specific data points encourage us to dig deeper…. Why are women more attracted to setting up social enterprises now than in 2009? Why are men receiving higher amounts of funding if we get more applications from women? And why are traditionally rural communities more successful at getting seed funding?

There are a number of reasons why this may be happening, and it won’t be black and white. What’s important is that now we know this, and can dig into our data further and make even more strategic decisions.

It could be as simple as there is more awareness about social enterprises in general, but having worked on a 1–2–1 basis with thousands of female social entrepreneurs, we think there is more to it and we can now put together these figures with what we know anecdotally for a more complete picture.

This is just a small example, but imagine how much more we can understand as we continue to dig into our data?

Insights like these are also a great way to start a conversation more widely- are other agencies noticing similar trends? Or maybe totally different ones. Are others even looking at/using their data at all? I think it is important that we as support providers are as open and transparent as possible and share our insights- after all, we all want social entrepreneurs to thrive, succeed, and grow their impact.