by Ksenia Taranenko and Paulina Polak
Reflecting on the last three months of developing our social venture and launching our pilot cohort, we cannot underestimate the boost we received at the Social Venture Weekend organised at Cambridge Judge Business School .
Our social venture is ONPARTU. ONPARTU is a training and development programme for underemployed migrant women from Central and Eastern Europe, aimed at helping them integrate in the UK job market and improve their possibilities of moving into employment that matches their skills and education level.
Curious and insecure…
Our experience started as we arrived by train on a fresh spring evening and walked towards the school immediately feeling refreshed away from London’s hustle. As we entered the building, it was hard not to notice the richness of interior colours and the intricate staircase design. We joined a small crowd of people looking curious and a little insecure. Shortly we were all greeted by an extremely energetic and charismatic organiser Orsi Ihasz, Programme Manager for Enterprisers, who introduced the programme. Her warning that we should drink plenty of water throughout the weekend and prepare to be exhausted did not seem so relevant at that time, but soon we had to admit it was mentioned for a reason.
The power of the collective
From the very first lecture the programme proved to be very informative and relevant. The amount of information and the way it was condensed were truly impressive and we had to keep ourselves very alert and keep making notes to ensure we did not miss any of this precious knowledge. What made it so special as well as challenging was that each and every topic was relevant to our social venture. To mention just a few, market research, legal structures, financing, intelligent talking and de-risking your pitch were all the questions we had to face from the beginning of developing the programme.
Judging by the level of engagement of the audience around us, we were not the only ones. Great questions were asked and excellent answers given. It was good to feel everyone interacting in the room – often answers were found collectively, by the presenters, organisers and attendees together.
Hearing about the social business ideas other participants were developing provided a lot of insight – ranging from a non-for-profit company selling charity gift vouchers to relaxation recordings aiming to support stressed office workers. In any conversations we had with fellow attendees it was wonderful to receive a lot of support and interest in ONPARTU, which confirmed to us once again that what we are trying to achieve has value. Having present experts in the area of immigration, which is central to the programme, such as Dr Neil Stott, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Innovation, was also crucial and we had no doubts we were in the right place.
Something in the air
After celebrating the day with a delicious dinner and a walk around the beautiful Cambridge at night, the next morning we were ready for the last day of the weekend. It started with some more informative talks but soon it became apparent that something else was in the air and the excitement in the building grew as the participants moved on to preparing their five minute pitches to present to judges. We found ourselves in the middle of action, trying to write down thoughts and make notes at a table in the centre of the room. Not having followed Neil’s helpful advice on finding a quiet spot, we found ourselves having one interesting conversation after another with people around us. Strangely, having spoken about ONPARTU so much before and having a very clear picture of the project, it was still challenging to come up with a pitch. Eventually, it was done, delivered and greeted with a lot of positive feedback that meant a lot to us.
Relief and celebration
The late sunny Sunday afternoon was filled with the sense of relief, celebration and connection between everyone who had shared the experience of the weekend and the challenge of the pitches. It was amazing to witness how some of the projects developed over the weekend, seeing the difference between the idea presented on the first day and hearing it delivered in a pitch at the end.
The Social Venture Weekend definitely gave us a lot of information and ideas but what was even more important were the contacts we made with people who offered their support to the project and have contributed to our next steps since. It is inspiring to know that such opportunities exist and this kind of support is offered to social entrepreneurs, contributing to the development of the sector.