Bethnal Green Ventures is an accelerator programme for people who want to change the world using technology.
We invest in and support great teams with new ideas to help build solutions to social and environmental problems through an intensive three-month programme.
It’s a new way of supporting people to grow sustainable social innovations that have the potential to change the lives of millions of people.
We think there’s huge potential for the online world to radically improve things that really matter in the offline world: from how we provide health and social care to designing new forms of education, energy creation and employment.
These ideas don’t come from traditional companies, governments or charities. They start with smart, passionate, practical people.
And they can’t be created within old organisations either. They’re social startups: new organisational forms that blur the boundaries between public, private and social.
Bethnal Green Ventures seeks out tough problems and great people and matches them with the support they need to grow sustainable, scalable social innovations.
Bethnal Green Ventures seeks out people with great ideas: they might be software developers, designers or people with personal experience of something they want to change – from teachers and doctors, to patients and carers. We look for very early-stage ideas – not business plans – and we’re more interested in potential than experience.
We select teams of between two and four people to be part of the Bethnal Green Ventures programme. We invest £15,000 in each team in exchange for 6% equity. Each team will get to spend three months with us building their idea. We provide a community of support and advice to help build, test and launch each startup. We also provide six months of free office space in Central London.
Our aim is to not only to launch a set of new ventures, but to build an alumni community that will go on to create and run even more social startups in the future.Who’s behind BGV?
Social Innovation Camp brings together software developers and designers with people who have a social problem to solve and helps them build web-based solutions to social problems – from hacking together some software to working out how to sustain an idea – all in just 48 hours.
We’re now helping other people run their own Social Innovation Camps in other parts of the world.
Social Innovation Camp is all about taking a back-of-the-envelope idea and prototyping it.
We’re learning a huge amount about what makes an idea fly or flounder as we watch projects develop on from Social Innovation Camps and now we want to build a new way of helping people grow an idea that one stage further: from prototype idea to social startup.
The Foundation’s namesake, Michael Young, was a social reformer responsible for the creation of a number of hugely successful social ventures including the Open University, Which? magazine and Healthline (the precursor of NHS Direct) – all of which started out in the same building as us.
We’re now based at Nesta, near Chancery Lane in London, but the social ventures we’re working with come from all over the UK – and increasingly around the world.
If you’d like to find out more about Bethnal Green Ventures, just get in touch.
Bethnal Green Ventures is a project of Social Innovation Camp Ltd, registered at 18 Victoria Park Square, London E2 9PF
What’s the deal?
If you are selected for BGV we will invest £15,000 in your startup in exchange for 6% equity; run a three month support programme to help you hone your idea and connect you with the people to make it happen; introduce you to our large network of mentors, investors and customers and provide six months of central London office space.
Can I apply as an individual?
You can try but it’s very unlikely that we’ll fund you. We’ve found that a startup is much more likely to succeed when it’s started by a small team rather than just by one individual.
What other terms are attached to the investment?
As we mentioned we ask for 6% of the shares in the company with the same type of shares as founders (usually ordinary shares). We also ask to be kept up-to-date with important information once you’ve flown the BGV nest, but it won’t be anything too arduous. We don’t ask for a board seat or anything like that. You can spend the money we give you however you like.
Do we already have to be incorporated as a company before we apply?
No – we can help you do that if you’re selected. We’ll get you all set up and put the money in your bank account by the beginning of the programme. If you’ve already got a company set up, we’ll just get you to sign a bit of paperwork and then transfer the money to you.
Do you select based more on the idea or the team?
Mainly on the team. It is a good idea to get in touch before you apply if you can so you can get a slot to talk with us on the phone or meet face-to-face. We also want to know why the problem you’re trying to solve is an important one and that you are committed to working on it.
Do you support not-for-profit companies, charities or community interest companies?
Afraid not. We’re just focusing on for-profit social businesses. Our advice (in the UK) would always be to start out as a company limited by shares. Once you’re big and successful it’s much easier to see what legal form you should take. If you do anything complicated from day-1 you’ll find it’s more likely to hold you back.
My idea isn’t based on technology, can I apply?
No. We’re just focusing on ideas that use technology (hardware and software). That’s what we know about and we think it’s more likely that ideas based on technology can grow to help millions of people which is our ultimate goal for all the companies we fund.
Do we have to live in London?
During the programme, yes.
Do we have to be British to apply?
No, not as long as you have the right to work in the UK.
How are you funded?
The funding for investment and to run the programme comes from Nesta, The Nominet Trust and the Cabinet Office through the Social Incubator Fund.
Why Bethnal Green?
Well partly it’s where the programme launched but also Bethnal Green has a pretty amazing heritage as a hub for social innovations. Michael Young was based here for much of his life. It also has a lively startup scene.
Can you help with accounting and legal stuff?
Yes, but we’ll just teach you how to handle all that stuff in the easiest and least time consuming way.
Do we have to have a technical co-founder?
Almost certainly. We’ll be looking for your potential as a technology startup and we think that means having design and engineering skills in house.
What will interviews be like?
Very friendly and nothing to worry about. They’ll be held at Nesta’s offices near Chancery Lane tube station. They’ll last between 15-30 mins and we’ll send you details about who you’ll be meeting before your session.
I’ve already got funding and investment, can I apply?
Yes – please do. We’re focusing on very early stage companies though so if you’ve already got venture capital funding, it’s unlikely that we’re the right people to help you.
What’s the ultimate aim for BGV?
Funny you should ask. This is what we’re trying to achieve.
How will BGV make money?
If the companies we back do well then our stake in those companies will become valuable and we’ll get a return on our investment. We know this is a long shot but we think there’s a lot of value in helping to create new companies that solve social or environmental problems.
What’s the food going to be like?
Tasty and pretty healthy. We’ll do our absolute best to try and feed everybody according to their preferences.
What’s the best pub in Bethnal Green?
So many to choose from. The Camel, The Sun, The Seabright Arms and The Approach are all excellent.
Why are you just ripping off Y Combinator’s approach?
In his paper ‘Copying Y Combinator‘ Jed Christiansen writes that, “The first rule of copying Y Combinator is: Do Not copy Y Combinator”.
You can probably guess the second rule.
We did our homework in designing BGV but it’s certainly going to be very different to Y Combinator or any of the other programmes that have sprung up. We visited a lot of accelerator programmes to learn how they worked and came to realise that accelerator programmes work for some very simple reasons and then some very complex ones too.
The format of investing in batches of startups helps massively because of the peer group that’s created and because it becomes an attractor for seed stage investors and people who want to help startups get going. But just copying the format is absolutely no guarantee of success. Our aim is different to Y Combinator’s and our network is very different too.
The Big Idea
Our aim with Bethnal Green Ventures is to find and support the most talented startup founders and help them create technology based solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.
We want to connect the small teams of founders we select to experienced people who have done it before and who are keen to help more people do the same. Our network of founders includes engineers, designers and entrepreneurs as well as people with personal experience and expertise in the problems we’re trying to solve. As time goes on, the founders we select will go on to support future generations.
We’ll help founders put to use all the amazing technologies that have already been developed and create new ones. There’s never been a better time to stand on the shoulders of giants. The tools available today are better and cheaper to use than ever before.
We want to demonstrate that solutions don’t have to be expensive or top-down and that a small group of talented people can reimagine how social problems are addressed without the need for large amounts of government funding. We want to demonstrate that with some smart thinking, we can use startups as a vehicle to solve social problems.
If we get it right, in five years time we will have helped create a group of hundreds of founders – all working on solving social problems. Some of them will have built huge new businesses and BGV will have seen the upside of that through our stakes in them becoming valuable. Many will have failed once and will be trying again. Others will be putting to use the entrepreneurial approach they learned through BGV in larger organisations.
We hope BGV will have an impact even wider than the people it helps directly. It will be an inspiration to others to build social ventures that will go on to help millions of people. If we succeed people who experience a social problem, won’t wait for government, big business or a charity to solve the problem for them, they’ll have the confidence and role models to start doing something about it themselves.