Well it's been just over a month since I left my last job and started working full time on my new venture which you know as ivo. So I thought I'd write a regular blog to share my experience of setting up a new social enterprise in the current economic climate. Am I mad I hear you say? Possibly, but I do like a challenge!
Some context. I spent the last year and a half as head of volunteering for a charity that provides care and support services for children, families and vulnerable adults. As well as leading the service, I completed a review and restructure. After 18 months of regular salary it was very tempting to stay, especially having spent five years previously running a consultancy practice in a challenging times. Plus the job itself was hugely rewarding, the people were lovely and it was good to be running a direct service again. But in the end I decided my passions lay elsewhere and recruited a new Head to implement the changes I'd recommended and once again took the plunge into the world of start up.
Of course regular readers will know that ivo isn't completely new. It's predecessor i-volunteer had been running for a couple of years, thanks to funding from the former Red Foundation, but during this time it had been run more as a project, alongside the many other Red activities. What was clear was that if it was to have any future it would require full time development without the distractions of other projects and I took the aforementioned job so I could save up to give myself at least six months of development time to give it a kickstart. Thankfully the job was was pretty flexible so I was able to keep i-volunteer ticking over whilst also planning and overseeing its technical relaunch and the new site went live on the 20th April, with me going full time a month later.
It's been a busy first month. I've managed to write a business plan, it took ages and was no small feat for someone like me who hates writing things down - it's in my head surely that should be enough?!! But producing it was a great opportunity to take stock and it's given me a really positive vibe for our future potential. We ran a launch competition which boosted our membership by thousands, and I managed to submit a funding bid - one of many to follow I'm sure. I also had an opportunity to reconnect with some of the other big volunteering agencies recently which may well lead to partnership opportunities which could be exciting.
Plus I recently signed a lease on an office which is very exciting. Great location on the South Bank in London and a good deal financially, sharing with another social start up, which will enable me to recruit some volunteers and interns to increase our capacity. There is something about having a space to which you can invite people which just isn't the same as working from home - much as I love being able to roll out of bed and straight into the office!
This isn't my first social start up. I set up Red Foundation in 2006 but back then the financial climate was very different, at least it was for the first three years before the recession hit. But what surprises me this time around is how little has changed in terms of available support to help small enterprises like mine get going. There is still no easy way to access basic advice - for example where to get cheap office furniture and IT equipment or social investment - despite the myriad of social enterprise and charity infrastructure bodies out there. There are plenty of training and networking opportunities, and whilst they have some value I often can't afford them and normally you just see the same faces - other start ups looking for the same thing as you. It seems crazy to me that in the current climate this basic type of support is still so hard to find - thank goodness for Twitter, if it wasn't for the twitterverse I'd have really struggled with some of the basics!
In many ways it's a terrible time to start a new venture and it's quite feasible that I'll fail. But I've reached a point in my life where I've realised that loving what you do is far more important than being well paid and so I have to try - who knows if I succeed I may end up with both.
This is probably one my last days of working from the kitchen table for ivo - we move into our new pad next week - hopefully I'll have lots to share as we go forward so watch this space!