Starting a social enterprise

Social enterprises are businesses with a social purpose. They operate in the same markets as many conventional businesses, but rather than profits benefitting just a few people, they are used to create a positive impact in the community.


2 min read

1. Overview

According to Social Enterprise Scotland, there are more than 6,000 social enterprises in Scotland, generating over £2.3 billion for the economy and supporting more than 88,000 jobs. Social enterprises are businesses that reinvest all profits towards achieving social or environmental goals. They operate in a range of sectors and can be run under different legal forms.

2. Why set up a social enterprise?

Rather than relying purely on donations or grants to deliver their services, a social enterprise works like a business, by selling products or services to generate a profit. It then uses that profit to deliver a positive impact in the community. By using this model, the enterprise is more likely to be self-sustaining, and does not need to be restricted to meeting specific criteria to be eligible for grants.

Managing a 'multiple bottom line' - financial, social, and environmental - can result in unique challenges. However, bringing about positive change to people and communities can be very satisfying.

Social enterprises address a particular social or environmental need, for example:

  • training through employment for people who have traditionally found it hard to enter the labour market, like the long-term unemployed, young people, disabled people or ex-offenders
  • therapies for wellbeing
  • residential training in new skills
  • opportunities to experience new sports and activities.

Social enterprises could also respond to and build the increasing consumer demand for sustainable shopping for ethically sourced and locally produced goods. Highlighting the social and/or environmental credentials of your service/product could give you the edge over your competitors.

3. Financing your social enterprise

A written business plan will allow you to formally present your business to potential investors or loan providers.

You may want to investigate traditional finance providers like banks. Other sources of finance specifically for social enterprises include:

You can also get support from Just Enterprise, a Scottish Government programme offering business support and training for new and growing social enterprises.

Business Gateway offers free help and advice for new businesses. Contact your local office for more details.

4. Finding advice and support for your social enterprise

As with any business, a written business plan will allow you to identify where you need support from experts and peers in the community.

Social Enterprise Scotland is a membership organisation and representative body for the social enterprise community in Scotland which signposts to various sources of support.

You can also get support from Just Enterprise, a Scottish Government programme offering business support and training for new and growing social enterprises.

Get the support you need right now

You can connect with us through the contact form, call us or contact your local Business Gateway office.

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