Social and commercial enterprise interactions: Insights from UK business incubators
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With numbers of social enterprises in the UK continuing to grow and innovate, this research responds to the scarcity of information surrounding social and commercial enterprises co-located in business incubators, and asks: how and why do social and commercial enterprises interact in a business incubator? The research provides qualitative insights for a rich understanding of the network dynamics, subtle interactions and influences that occur amongst peer groups of mixed social and commercial enterprises during business incubation.
Drawing on social capital theory, the study utilises multiple methods through a practice-led, qualitative methodology. Employing novel observation techniques in business incubation and semi-structured interviews with social enterprise founders, themes of learning, interaction, and identity are explored. The themes are analysed in the context of new evidence on the scale of social and commercial enterprises co-locating in UK business incubators.
This thesis contributes to the business incubation literature with an enhanced incubator typology and a narrative of social enterprise in a business incubation context that has not previously been addressed, revealing a complex reality of factors that influence their selection of and engagement in business support, environment, and network. A novel observation technique was adapted from the cultural sector and tested in a business incubator for the first time. Findings revealed that many of the social enterprise startups were adopting a bricolage
approach to their sourcing of business support and using a combination of strong and weak ties to strengthen and extend their network and access to knowledge. The importance of their incubatee peers fluctuated depending on the level of maturity of the enterprise. This exploratory study indicates the potential for an emerging research agenda within the real-world mixed ecosystem where social and commercial startups co-exist.
While the incubation sector and other startup programs continue to offer specialist social enterprise support, this research concludes that incubators supporting both social and commercial enterprises enable social enterprises to address the significant challenges associated with balancing their commercial and social objectives. In so doing, the outcomes are of importance to policymakers, social enterprise support organisations and incubation managers in the planning and development of business incubation and support for social enterprise.