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Top 5: Scalability road tests

April 8, 2016

Scaling social enterprise

Last week we looked at approaches to scale. But often the first question to ask is whether an organisation should be scaling at all. Funders and social entrepreneurs both experience the pressure to find (or become) a high-scale unicorn venture – although the view from Silicon Valley suggests that might be a mistake! – and that can lead people to try to scale too soon or in an inappropriate way. Guidance and advice about readiness to scale is an essential service support organisations can provide to shoot-from-the-hip social entrepreneurs. Luckily we’ve got your back with this quick resource guide.

  • Sometimes the most important question is: should you scale at all? Nesta’s Making it Big (which we linked to last week as well, it’s worth the read) helpfully frames scaling as one stage within the broader process of developing a social innovation, which can come sooner, later, or not at all.
  • For a close examination of all the relevant issues, Ashoka Globalizer’s PATRI framework provides five detailed decision trees for entrepreneurs to establish their strengths and weaknesses as they prepare to scale. For each issue – is your goal valid, is your design scalable, is your model transferable, is your organisation ready to scale, and is your implementation planning robust? – they offer actions to address specific unresolved issues.
  • ICSF use a similar approach in their Social Replication Toolkit (enter your email for the download link), which provides more guidance and support through their process of Prove – Design – Systematise – Pilot – Scale.
  • A more light-touch approach that still covers the main bases comes from UnLtd Ventures’ short 5-page document thinking through three key questions to scale: Does the opportunity exist; Can you transfer your knowledge to others; and is your organisation ready to scale?
  • Finally, many of us have supported socially-minded entrepreneurs with limited business experience, and we’ve seen SEs where the social value and business model don’t mesh perfectly with each other. At a small scale that is often manageable, but when scaling this can cause big problems. In particular, two researchers from Endeavor found that scaling works best where the business and impact models go hand in hand; and worst where there are many conflicts and the social goals are often given priority. They created a useful ‘ease of scaling’ matrix and discuss their findings in an HBR article. The moral of the story? Immature business models are important to be aware of; as is the personal motivation of the entrepreneur themselves.

What practical experience do you have about supporting SEs to scale (or persuading them not to try!)? Share your experience with us and let’s see what practical tools and tips we can bring together!

You might have noticed a theme between this week and last week: together with some of you, we have been working on a scaling handbook for GIZ, the German Development Agency: this has given us a wealth of resources and information on scaling inclusive businesses that we will be sharing over the coming weeks. There’s a long editorial and piloting process between now and final publication, but watch this space!

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