CIC Association

Serving Community Enterprise

Big Venture Challenge - £1.2 million prize fund for 25 of the UKs top social entrepreneurs

The Big Venture Challenge is a national competition run by UnLtd to find the most ambitious social entrepreneurs in England. We are looking for people with big ideas who can build successful ventures to deliver social impact. Winners of the Big Venture Challenge will get an initial £25K grant plus the opportunity to pitch for up to £150K of further match funding. In addition the winners will get access to first class business support, networks and mentoring designed to keep pace with the fastest growing social ventures.

For full details Click Here

We also aim to strengthen the social investment market by using the Big Venture Challenge to attract new social investors to the market and provide access to seed finance for ambitious, scalable social ventures.

What finance and support do I get if I become a Big Venture Challenge Award Winner?

If you are selected as one of the 25 Big Venture Challenge Award Winners you will receive a package of finance and business support to help you scale up your social venture. This includes:

  • an initial £25K grant
  • the chance to apply for a £50K grant if you can match this with £50K investment in loan or equity
  • the chance to apply for a £100K grant if you can match this with £100K investment in loan or equity

In addition, each of the 25 winners will have access to an intensive programme of business support including:

  • A dedicated Development Manager to help you tailor your one-to-one support programme 
  • Access to a pro bono lawyer
  • Access to a pro bono financial specialist
  • Access to a pro bono mentor who will be a successful high growth entrepreneur
  • Access to a PR team
  • Bootcamps on relevant topics (eg. leadership, building a team, sales & marketing)
  • Access to a network of Super Connectors to help you build wider relationships

What do you mean by “scalable/scaling up”?

Scaling up may be taken as another word for growth although it is generally understood that scaling up takes place on a large and rapid scale and requires strategic external investment – as opposed to steady, organic growth using the company's own profits to build the business at a slower rate. Please see our case studies section for some examples of organisations that have scaled successfully.

What do you mean by “investment”?

In order to grow to scale rapidly, ventures normally require money to pay for extra capacity; for example, to increase production, sales, etc. For the purposes of the Big Venture Challenge we define investment as loan, equity or quasi-equity and not grant.

How do I know if I am eligible to apply for a Big Venture Challenge Award?

The application assessment focuses on two aspects: eligibility criteria and selection criteria, which you can view here.

We will check your application against the eligibility criteria. Should it fail on any of these criteria it will be rejected.

The application is then assessed against the selection criteria. Applications will be assessed on how well they meet the selection criteria. The application is then compared against other applications to determine whether it progresses to the next stage of the application process.

Does my venture need to be legally incorporated in a particular way in order to apply? For example can charities apply?

No, your venture doesn't need to have a particular legal structure to apply. Social entrepreneurs with ventures of any legal form may apply, including charities. You should recognise that raising investment capital to match the Big Venture Challenge Awards is integral to the programme and a key assessment question. Some structures may be more limiting in the types of investment capital they are able to take on. For example, a company limited by guarantee is unable to take equity finance as it has no shares but it can take on loans.

In addition, the Big Venture Challenge seeks to take financially viable social business models to scale. Any applicant needs to consider whether they can demonstrate they have such a model. See our case studies section for some relevant examples.

Is this programme for start-ups as well as more established ventures?

The programme is open to start-up and early stage ventures as well as established ventures. It is worth noting the aim of the programme is rapid scale of social impact. Therefore, if you have a start-up venture, to be a successful applicant you will need to show that you can move from nothing to significant social impact in a very short time. If you are not yet trading, you will need to show a strong personal track record in your field, a credible team in place, key delivery partners, an extensive network, you have piloted key aspects of the business model and have an operational plan based on extensive research and financial forecasts which will stand up to independent scrutiny.

Can I apply for the Big Venture Challenge if I am not the founder of the venture?

In short, yes. However, the reason we would prefer to work with the founder of a social venture is because we are looking for people who are deeply committed to the vision and will show persistence and determination to grow the venture even when the going gets tough. Our concern about candidates who are employees of the venture rather than founders is that they may be more likely to move on to another job. However, we are flexible and we do want to find the right people to work with. If a non-founder applies and we are convinced about their level of determination, persistence and commitment to growing the venture and scaling up the social impact we can make an exception and consider the application from a non-founder.

How do I apply for a Big Venture Challenge Award?

The application process to become a Big Venture Challenge Award Winner involves 3 stages:

  • submission of initial application form and financial spreadsheet
  • phone interview for further due diligence
  • face to face interview in London with a panel of experts including investors, entrepreneurs, UnLtd trustees.

This process will enable us to select the 25 most ambitious social entrepreneurs in England as Big Venture Challenge Award Winners. If you become an Award Winner, you also get the chance to pitch for further Awards of £50K and £100K if you are able to find match investment. In order to apply for these further Awards, the process involves:

  • submission of a business plan and updated financial forecast
  • supply letters of intent from match investors
  • face to face interview with a panel of experts including investors, entrepreneurs, UnLtd trustees.

This process will determine if you get the further match funding. 

When can I apply and what is the timeline?

  • applications open: May 9th
  • applications close: June 30th at 5pm
  • due diligence phone interviews: July and August
  • panel interviews: September 1st – 9th
  • approval by UnLtd Board: September 19th
  • Big Venture Challenge Winners announced: September 20th

Can everyone apply for the further £50K and £100K match grants and how many of these additional grants are available?

Only the 25 Big Venture Challenge Award Winners can apply for the further match grants. There will be:

  • 10 x £50K match grants available
  • 2 x £100K match grants available

The Big Venture Challenge is very much a competitive environment which will favour those social entrepreneurs and ventures that are able to secure co-investment to scale up the quickest.

If I am successful as one of the 25 Big Venture Challenge winners, when can I apply for the £50K and £100K match funding?

We anticipate that the 25 winners will need approximately 3 - 6 months of venture support before applying for the match funding. In exceptional circumstances, if some of the ventures are able to secure co-investment within 3 months, their business plan for scaling up social impact is robust and they can present a viable and compelling case, we will consider an application for the match funding at an earlier stage. However we reserve the right to reject any application for match funding at any stage. We may also propose that the venture requires more support in order to become investment ready before they apply for the match funding.

What types of finance counts as match funding? Can it be grant, for example?

In order to be eligible to apply for the further rounds of match funding of £50K or £100K from the Big Venture Challenge, you need to have evidence of match co-investment.

This co-investment must not be:

  • grant funding
  • your own money or that of friends or family
  • an asset backed loan such as a mortgage

The rationale for the Big Venture Challenge is to stimulate the seed investment market for social ventures by attracting new investors into the sector. The Big Venture Challenge is not an alternative source of cheap money. If we think that a venture is able to source investment on the open market without our support, we would propose that they are not the right candidate for this programme. However, if the Big Venture Challenge match funding and business support can leverage in new investment that would not otherwise happen, we would see this as a useful way for us to add value.

If I am successful through all the stages when would I get the grant?

If you are successful, you will agree a payment schedule with your UnLtd Ventures Consultant in line with your scaling up strategy. It is unlikely that you will get the initial £25K grant in one lump sum – it is usually spread out over quarterly payments. This is the same for the £50K and £100K match grants as well.

What is expected of me if my application is successful and I become a Big Venture Challenge winner?

There is one key expectation: that you and your organisation are committed to achieving your plans to scale up the social impact of your social venture. This is not a trivial ask as the “day job” of running the existing business must go on and the work required to secure finance and prepare for and deliver growth will not be insignificant. We are able to provide support and you will need to be ready to absorb and use that support to grow the business. In addition, we will also need to gather information from you for our monitoring reports. Each quarter you will need to update us on the following information:

  • your turnover
  • number of employees
  • number of volunteers
  • number of beneficiaries
  • social impact
  • any additional investment finance leveraged

This information will help us track the progress of the Big Venture Challenge winners and learn more about how social ventures scale up.

I have just received another UnLtd Award, am I still able to apply for Big Venture Challenge?

Yes. You may apply and your application will be assessed in the same way as every other. There is no advantage or disadvantage assigned to being an existing UnLtd Award winner.

Any financial and non-financial support associated with your UnLtd Award will be honoured regardless of whether you are successful in applying for Big Venture Challenge.

What is the difference between UnLtd Level 2 Awards and the Big Venture Challenge?

Level 2 Awards are for social entrepreneurs who have piloted their venture and are now ready to develop a growth strategy.

Big Venture Challenge is for social entrepreneurs who have already developed an ambitious growth strategy and are ready to implement that strategy to scale up at a rapid pace. Big Venture Challenge is open to starts-ups with high potential that can demonstrate viable plans for growth as well as more established ventures that want to expand.

The key difference is that the Big Venture Challenge Award Winners need to be ready to implement rapid growth.

I think I am eligible for a Level 2 Award, but not for Big Venture Challenge – what is available to me?

The UnLtd Level 2 competition will open again in Autumn 2011.

Will there be future rounds of Big Venture Challenge and, if so, will I be able to apply again if unsuccessful this time?

This is the first time the Big Venture Challenge has run. There are currently no plans to run future rounds; however, should the programme prove successful that may change.

If a second programme does begin in the future all unsuccessful applicants will be able to apply.

I still have further queries – is there anyone I can ask for further clarification?

Click Here for the website, or you can call UnLtd on 0207 566 1110 and ask for the UnLtd Ventures team or


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