Social Innovation Lab: encouraging social entrepreneurship 

USEBy Evelyn Mantoiu, 1st year International Relations and Politics student

The Social Innovation Lab is a project powered by University of Sheffield Enterprise (USE), where participants work together to develop and pitch an idea for a social enterprise business.

The main focus of the programme is to offer a chance for students to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Participants are paired into groups, and each team works on a social enterprise idea led by a project-leader, who is the person behind the initial concept. They work over the span of four sessions to prepare for the final event, where they present their idea to of a panel of judges. Participants have to prepare a commercial video, make a pitch and take part in a Q&A session to compete for the first prize of £100.

On 23 March 2015, six teams pitched their ideas for social enterprises to a panel of four judges, as part of the Social Enterprise Lab closing event. The competing social enterprises ideas were “Loco 4 Local” - an app designed to bring together local producers and customers, “Give and Go” - an app designed to enable skills exchanges between students, “Chatsquare” - a platform for debate, “Baking for a Living” - aiming at reintegrating homeless people into society by training them as bakers, “Mind your Mind” - focused on mental health and well being, and “LIVE (Living and Integration Via English)” - aimed at teaching English to people from disadvantaged communities.

The winners of the competition were “Mind your Mind”. The team managed to convince the judges that their idea was the one deserving to win the big prize. Ayesha Roche, the project leader for “Mind your Mind” said that she felt really happy to have managed to win the competition, that this has given her confidence in her idea, and that she hopes to implement her idea and make it a reality in the future. Ayesha believes that the key to her team’s success was splitting the workload evenly and enjoying the process.

“LIVE” was awarded place and the team was surprised and excited for their success. Mariana, the project leader, said: “It was a pleasure to work with the team. I had a great time.” Regarding the whole experience and implementing the project, she said that it was “very satisfactory to see the project becoming a reality.” Siyi Wu from “LIVE” said “it was a great experience. It was my first time working in a diverse team, very different from my degree.” She said that this experience improved her communication skills and has given her a new found interest in social entrepreneurship.

Sophia San is a veteran of the project, having taken part in the Social Innovation Lab last year. She enjoyed it so much, she decided to go for it this year too. This year with “LIVE”, she won second place and said that the whole experience was amazing and working in a team was great. Sophia said that she has been able to apply some of the things she learnt at the Social Innovation Lab to her degree.

Miriam, project leader for “Baking for a Living” said that the inspiration for the project was her love for baking and trying to integrate this into the community. Regarding the project, she said “I really enjoyed. It was really fun and we made good friends.” Miriam and her team mates are determined to enter their project into USE's Evolve Competition.

Kiran Antcliff, one of the judges, said that all the participants were really good, and that he was pleasantly surprised with the way they performed. He believe that the key to success lies in doing your research, paying attention to details and keeping in touch with reality. He encourages others students to take up the challenge and take part in the next session of the Social Innovation Lab. Matt and Darren, the coordinators of the Social Innovation lab 2015, had only praise for this year's participants. They were impressed by the quality of the pitch and the videos.

In my opinion, all the projects were amazing. It was a really great evening and I was impressed by the quality of the presentations and by how well prepared the participants were with regard to the pitching and the commercial video. Everyone had such amazing ideas and were very passionate about their social enterprises.

If you are interested in getting involved in the next Social Innovation Lab, check USE website for more details and follow them on Twitter for announcements.