Social enterprise is not a new concept in Western Australia but it has attracted attention in recent times, with government funding committed to encouraging new social ventures and social entrepreneurs having greater access to dedicated business support.
Op-shops are a familiar example of a social enterprise, trading donated clothes to generate revenue that fuels the services provided by not-for-profits like the Salvation Army.
Developing more innovative businesses with models like this is something Brodie McCulloch is keen to do with his organisation Social Innovation in Western Australia.
SiiWA recently established its first major project, Spacecubed, to fill a void Mr McCulloch saw when he returned from working overseas. He wanted to start a social enterprise but could not find the right support mechanisms.
“Entrepreneurs in Western Australia don’t get much support, there isn’t a whole lot around,” Mr McCulloch said.
“There are accounting courses and things like that but, really, when you are starting a business, you need the community support of other people who have been through or are going through that start-up process.”
It is a 550-square metre co-working office space on St Georges Terrace between Barrack Street and Sherwood Court.
It aims to create collaboration and innovation between a diverse membership base drawn in roughly equal parts from the social and environmental, corporate and government and technology and creative sectors.
“The idea is to get that mix of backgrounds, perspectives to make things really interesting. Already there are collaborations happening and that will continue to grow,” Mr McCulloch said.
“There is a lot of value having people from different sectors working together.
“Having a for-profit guy sitting next to a not-for-profit guy or having an apps developer sitting next to someone who is working on a bike repair social enterprise; they come up with new ideas and that is where the value is.”
Spacecubed opened last month and has 40 members. It is looking to expand to 150 members within three months.
Mr McCulloch said co-working spaces were typical in Europe and generally took two years to get off the ground and become self-sustaining.
The ultimate goal is to have the central space for Spacecubed in the CBD and other spaces around the metropolitan area.
“I hope we will have some really great social enterprises coming out of here that are ‘scaling’ and having a large impact in WA and tackling some of the really difficult social issues,” Mr McCulloch said of this three-year outlook for Spacecubed.
The WA government announced its $10 million social enterprise fund earlier this month, which is a grants system to provide support to social enterprises at the ideas stage and to ventures that are already established.
SiiWA is a member of the fund’s consortium, alongside Social Ventures Australia, Social Traders, UWA’s Centre for Social Impact and Western Australia Council of Social Service.
The fund will be focused on providing support to social enterprise start-ups that have received funding and are looking to establish sound business plans and deliver on those plans.
“Starting a business is hard, starting a not for profit is hard and starting a business with the core goal of delivering a social outcome or impact is really hard,” Mr McCulloch said.
“That is where this fund can invest in those ideas and build the capacity to get those off the ground.”