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Researching and piloting a new idea

Will your idea work?

If you have an idea for a social enterprise it is important to test your idea and do some basic market research before setting anything up.

At the School for Social Entrepreneurs we expect people to be able to answer the following questions when applying to one of our Start Up programmes:

What is your experience and understanding of the issue? 

It is critical that you have an understanding of the social issue you are looking to tackle. If you have first hand experience of it – for example you are an ex-offender with an idea to reduce re-offending – then your personal experience means you are well placed to come up with a solution. If you have not been directly affected by the issue you are looking to address, you should have spoken to and have an understanding of the experiences and aspirations of the people your idea is designed to benefit.

Who else is doing something similar? 

There may already be some great social enterprises doing something similar to what you want to do. It is beneficial to find out who they are for two main reasons:

1. They are your competition.

You need to be able to communicate how your idea is different and why someone should use your services over someone else’s.

2. They may be willing to share their knowledge and experiences with you.

Social entrepreneurs tend to be happy to share their experiences with like-minded individuals. Contact them and see if you can speak to someone to find out more about their model and what their challenges have been.

Have you spoken to people about your idea?

To test if your idea is likely to work you will need to tell people about it and seek their feedback. You should try not to be too protective or defensive about your idea. The concept you originally came up with will naturally evolve over time as you gather other people’s insight and point of view.

Keep an open mind and listen to feedback. It will be particularly useful to speak to your potential customers and listen to their feedback.

Piloting a new idea

Talking to people is a useful way of checking if there is an appetite for your idea but doing something practical will give you the best insight. Some of the advantages of doing a pilot are:

  • It will put your product or service to the test. Sometimes it is only by test-driving a new idea that you can expose both its strengths and weaknesses.
  • It will help you discover whether there is a market. Piloting on a small-scale helps you find out if there is market for your product or service, who that market is and what they are willing to pay for it.
  • A pilot gives you insight into the reality of running your own social enterprise. Running a small-scale pilot provides you a low risk way to see what’s involved in starting your own social enterprise.
  • By running a pilot project you can begin to build a track record and start to develop credibility.


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