Why Enterprise Grants matter – by SSE & Unltd

1 Nov 2023

Great to see our very own Alastair Wilson (CEO – SSE), in collaboration with Mark Norbury (CEO – Unltd) speaking about enterprise grant making in Pioneer’s Post this week. Match Trading and Scale Up awards, both delivered since 2016, by SSE and Unltd respectively, are innovative examples of enterprise grant-making, grants that encourage trading activity and nudge organisations to be more sustainable, with Match Trading supporting almost 1000 social entrepreneurs during that time.  


Kitty’s Launderette


Traditional grant funding is often overly restricted and can encourage dependence. Grants that focus on boosting traded income can help social enterprises to grow on their own terms, not in ways dictated by their funders – and to become more financially sustainable, say the bosses of UnLtd and School for Social Entrepreneurs. 

Social entrepreneurship is about people with bold solutions, organisations tackling the key challenges of today and communities creating social and economic value. There are many approaches, and each can bring about real change: whether it’s a café supporting homeless people into employment or an app enabling older people and their families to stay safe, well and connected.  

And yet, we at the School for Social Entrepreneurs and UnLtd know from our combined 49 years of experience supporting thousands of UK social entrepreneurs that there is a shared need common to all across our diverse sector. The need for financial sustainability.   

This is what keeps social entrepreneurs up at night. For the impact, not for the money. Every social entrepreneur is driven to continue so that they can improve lives and livelihoods – and not just continue, but expand or deepen their social impact.   

Traditional grant funding has its limitations – often overly restricted (by theme, community, nature of spend or timeframe) and often fostering dependence. By contrast, income created through ‘enterprise activity’ (ie selling something) offers core, flexible, replicable, diversified funding. This means social entrepreneurs can grow and develop on their own terms, not ones dictated by funders. If we trust social enterprises to solve some of the biggest challenges in society, should we not also nurture their own agency and growth? 


Mark Norbury (left) and Alastair Wilson (right)


Over the past decade we have developed pioneering models to support enterprise activity in the UK. We are encouraged and excited by the results. Through our Match Trading and Scaling Up Awards, we have built capacity alongside flexible finance. We aim for organisations to increase self-sufficiency and agency, while accelerating impact. Critically we each offer in-depth learning and support alongside finance.   

Match Trading is an incentivised grant that, pound for pound, matches an organisation’s ability to increase its traded income. Developed in 2016 by SSE, it has so far supported 871 organisations with £7m of funding. These organisations have grown their trading income by a combined total of £17.6m. Data from independent evaluations shows that Match Trading has been successful; SSE’s most recent analysis demonstrates that such grants increase trading income by 29%, versus 12% from traditional grants.

Take Kitty’s Laundrette (pictured top), a co-operative social enterprise, in the Everton and Anfield area of Liverpool, providing domestic and commercial access to affordable and ecological laundry services. Predominantly grant-dependent before receiving a Match Trading grant on SSE and Power to Change’s Trade Up programme, income from trading almost doubled following the learning programme and grant. It now sits at turnover of £160k (75% traded income, 25% grants).

Grace Harrison, co-founder and project co-ordinator of Kitty’s Laundrette, says: “Match Trading added the wind to our sails at an important time. There was a shared goal and a sense of mutual progress. It was good to be on a programme that had an emphasis on trading and our long-term sustainability. Our organisation started as a project with the need to fundraise, but we always wanted to move towards a more sustainable model.”

Scaling Up Awards (formerly called Grow It Awards) from UnLtd offer social entrepreneurs funding of up to £18,000 – alongside specialist advice, training and mentoring – to help scale up their ventures, usually over around 12 months. Since 2016 UnLtd has supported 293 social entrepreneurs with these awards totalling £4.6m. When surveyed at the end of their support, 96% of these social entrepreneurs said they were better able to make a living from their social venture, with 81% stating that their turnover had increased. Critically, social entrepreneurs also reported feeling far better equipped to run their businesses – with 88% revealing that UnLtd’s support had helped them develop their business skills and the same proportion feeling more able to make effective business decisions in response to challenges.

The Boury Academy CIC (pictured below), a performing arts school offering affordable professional training for children and young people, based in the London borough of Lambeth, is one social enterprise which benefited from an UnLtd Scaling Up award.

The Boury Academy CIC


Founder and CEO, Caroline Boury, says: “The award was fundamental in that it allowed me to pay myself a small salary for the first time ever. From that point on my 18-month-old twins went into nursery two and a half days a week which allowed me time to focus on the business and took away that feeling of being a burden on my family and draining resources… that was a major thing.”

As members of the Enterprise Grants Task Force, we were excited to read the recent report that we commissioned, by Social Spider CIC. Enterprise Grants are identified as critical to actively supporting enterprising behaviour for social enterprises, but in the UK, there’s only a total of £2.6m such grant money made available per year. Match Trading and Grow It (Scaling Up) support were highlighted as two national examples of Enterprise Grants, which was encouraging.

We still have much learning to do in this important emerging field of enterprise grant making. We would welcome more exploration from funders, both UK and our global counterparts, as to how they can bring in more enterprise grantmaking and development support to encourage sustainability, agency and impact. Together we can collaborate, innovate and strengthen the field.