Just launched: Ventures Lab to offer early-stage entrepreneurs in Scotland loans of up to £100,000 and business support

Scotland’s new Ventures Lab will step up social enterprise support, as minister highlights country’s ambitions towards achieving a ‘wellbeing economy’.

A new initiative called the Ventures Lab, launched last week in Edinburgh by the Challenges Group with support from the Scottish government, will provide 0% loans of up to £100,000 for a minimum of five new purpose-led businesses in Scotland every year for the next five years.

In addition to funding, which is patient capital with no guarantee required, the Ventures Lab will provide support in bookkeeping and accounting, human resources, IT, legal advice, social media and marketing, and business development support.

Eoghan Mackie, Challenges Group CEO, said: “We hope Ventures Lab will serve as a beacon, a signal to innovators across Scotland, that there’s an excellent home for impact or purpose-focused enterprises.”

We hope Ventures Lab will serve as a beacon, a signal to innovators across Scotland, that there’s an excellent home for impact or purpose-focused enterprises

The first three enterprises to be supported by the Ventures Lab were presented at the launch. They are Climate Change Legal Initiative, the Gender in Emergencies Group, and Sustainable Futures Global.

Ventures which apply to the Ventures Lab that require additional investment but don’t qualify for the Ventures Lab loan facility will be referred to partners including Firstport and Social Investments Scotland

The Challenges Group, an international enterprise development organisation, with offices in Ghana, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, the UK, and Zambia, has been supported by the Scottish government over the last three years with £1.5m in funding. The funding was initially for the Social Enterprise Internationalisation Infrastructure Programme but has now developed into the Ventures Lab.


Institutional funding barrier in Scotland

Neil Gray MSP.jpg

Speaking to Pioneers Post at the launch of the Ventures Lab, Scottish government wellbeing economy secretary Neil Gray (pictured) said Scotland was recognised as having one of the world’s best ecosystem support networks for social enterprises, but that access to institutional funding was a barrier to growth.

Gray said: “Access to institutional funding in the UK, in general, is a challenge. It's one of the areas I’ve been hearing is one of the key barriers to the scale of growth, which is why we’ve come forward with a number of different initiatives designed to support the ecosystem. 

“What we’re trying to do is make investments in those areas that are going to maximise economic growth, maximise the opportunity for the transition that we need in the energy space and also to see the innovation we need to improve productivity.” 

The Scottish government’s 10-year National Strategy for Economic Transformation, published in March 2022, included the aspiration to transition the country to a wellbeing economy. 

The Wellbeing Economy Alliance, a network of organisations, alliances, movements and individuals working towards a wellbeing economy, defines a wellbeing economy as “an economy designed to serve people and planet, not the other way around. In a wellbeing economy, the rules, norms and incentives are set up to deliver quality of life and flourishing for all people, in harmony with our environment, by default”. Scotland is a founding member of the Wellbeing Economy Governments group, along with Iceland, New Zealand, Wales and Finland, with Canada.

I think social enterprises’ growth has the potential to secure significant economic growth in Scotland

At the Ventures Lab launch, Gray said social enterprises were crucial to the transition to a wellbeing economy. He said: “I think we’re starting to get a better understanding among the general public and the business community about what a wellbeing economy is, and the fact that there is virtue, a business virtue and an economic virtue, in us pursuing it.”

“Social enterprises do have a key role to play. They are by nature, purposeful businesses, they have sustainability at the heart. I think their growth has the potential to secure significant economic growth in Scotland.”

The Ventures Lab is welcoming applications from university and college start-ups and spin-outs, carve-out programmes from international organisations, charities restructuring into social enterprises and individual social entrepreneurs.


Collaborations with every university in Scotland

Mackie said the Ventures Lab aimed to collaborate with every university in Scotland, so the universities could connect new social entrepreneurs with the Ventures Lab, which will then help the entrepreneurs understand the range of opportunities that are available to them, one of which is the pathway to the Ventures Lab.  

Martin Avila, group CEO at CEIS Group, said collaboration between the higher education sector and the social enterprise ecosystem was key to putting positive social and environmental outcomes at the heart of the Scottish economy. 

Avila said: “We’ve got here, as you see, universities not competing, but working together, the social innovation ecosystem, not competing, but working together. So much of what we’re doing here is in partnership.

“We can see that the next stage in social innovation is high-knowledge, high-worth global challenges that need to be tackled. The university innovation ecosystem is absolutely key to that.”


Top image: (left to right) Ross McKenzie, director of venture support, Challenges Group, Neil Gray, Scottish government wellbeing economy secretary, Martin Avila, group CEO, CEIS Group, Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director, Converge, Dr Catherine Breslin, head of industry engagement & commercialisation, University of Strathclyde and Gael Drummond, CEO, Firstport in a panel discussion at the launch of the Ventures Lab (credit: CEIS Group)

Photo of Neil Gray: Scottish Government (CC BY 2.0 DEED)


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