Let's experiment with how we do business
The Ventures Lab is a space where we can experiment with doing business differently.In the world of startups, we talk of innovation, of disruption, of progress. We expect a constant stream of new ways to work, travel, communicate, play, create and collaborate from our entrepreneurs.But here's the contradiction. The systems and narratives that entrepreneurs operate within keep the range of outcomes very narrow. Profit or purpose. Unicorn or “Lifestyle business”. Venture capital or bootstrap. Values or valuation. Exit or bust. Death or glory.It's a poor choice to offer our entrepreneurs and innovators. Why do we stop innovating when it comes to how we bring good ideas to life? When it comes to legal entities, funding instruments, ownership structures – we just do what we’ve always done. When we're looking for visions of how the future will be different to the past, why do we assume that the structure of it will always look the same?Let’s explore how we can do business that builds a better world – humane, diverse, sustainable and collaborative. Let’s stop building the companies that fit the funding - and instead design funding solutions that help solve problems.Can we co-opt the structures we already have to work differently? Can we invent new ones? Can we enable more people to participate? Can we write new stories? Can we light new paths through entrepreneurship?
I'm Daisy. By day, I'm Head of Group Investment Programmes at Firstport, Scotland's agency for startup social entrepreneurs, running a revenue-based fund that invests in social enterprises. In addition, I'm Scotland Chapter Lead for Zebras Unite, a global movement seeking to build the culture, capital and community for businesses in the New Economy. I’m also a scout for a London venture fund, working to ensure underrepresented founders and overlooked markets get venture capital, if that’s what’s right for them.Here’s what I’m working on at the moment:
banging the drum about alternative early stage investment in Scotland and the wider UK
supporting the development of the purpose-driven business ecosystem in Scotland
venture scouting – if you’re an ambitious and underrepresented or overlooked founder building a global company, get at me!
monthly events and content for Zebras Unite Edinburgh
gathering stories and resources here, for founders following a different path
I’m happy to chat, collaborate and occasionally consult. If any of these topics interest you, drop me a line!
Who’s doing the work of doing business differently? These organisations are innovating in the system, redesigning the structures of entrepreneurship to fit the problems we face.Either in the UK, or open to UK partnerships/ applicants.
Calm Company Fund (previously Earnest Capital) – funding for bootstrappers, that treats the investor like another founder – when you get paid, they get paid. Also preserves optionality depending on the path that's right for you. They have specifically said they’re open to UK companies!
Tiny Seed - a remote accelerator for SaaS that includes funding along similar lines to Earnest. Now with European cohorts!
Clearco – same again, except they've really led the way on this in the US and have some other interesting products that will hopefully make it over to the UK sometime.
2050 – an evergreen VC fund focused on impact for the long-term.
Catalyst Fund - a revenue-based fund for asset-locked social enterprises in Scotland.
Accelerators and programmes
Crisis Venture Studio - support for start-ups working to end or prevent homelessness from the charity Crisis.
Unfound - What if Uber was owned by the drivers? Or Spotify owned by the artists? Unfound is the UK's digital platform co-op accelerator.
Catch22 - in collaboration with Social Tech Trust and Hatch Enterprise, Catch22 will be taking a different approach to supporting social enterprises with the Youth Employment Fund by supporting startups to build solid B2G models, delivering public services and unlocking investment.
Governance and structure
Purposely - a tool to help you write purpose right into the DNA of your company, your articles of association.
Going for Gold - a report on how to use a Golden Share to protect your company's mission. Interestingly, the British Venture Capital Association's draft response to the Cabinet Office’s call for evidence on Mission-led businesses cites the use of a golden share as a great way to protect a startup's mission when taking on investment.
Community Shares and Community Benefit Societies - community shares are a democratic form of equity, only available to Community Benefit Societies in the UK. Often used for local communities to raise finance to acquire assets, Community Shares are also relevant for online communities of interest.
Purpose Economy - supporting steward entrepreneurship, the concept that entrepreneurs are stewards of a company's purpose and profits are a means to fulfil that purpose.
Business in a just economy
B Corp - an holistic certification for businesses that demonstrates their commitment to all stakeholders.
The Business of Wellbeing - a wellbeing economy delivers human and planetary thriving as its highest priority, instead of growth, and businesses can be part of that.
Future Fit - tools to guide companies and investors to create value for themselves and society, now and in the future.
Doughnut Economics for Business - the aim of this tool is to facilitate a deep reflection on the internal organisational design of a business, and on what systemic changes are needed if it is to become regenerative and distributive by design, and so help bring humanity into the Doughnut.
Responsible, humane technology
Ethical Explorer - tools for thinking about the impact of the tech you're building.
Mozilla Foundation - protecting the internet as a global public resource, Mozilla has loads of interesting resources and events.
Tech Transformed - originally developed by Dot Everyone, a suite of tools to help you be a responsible innovator.
Tech for Good - global movement supporting the use of technology in making the world a better place
Most of the startup stories we hear have one of two outcomes: unicorn or bust. It can be hard to believe that there can be another way, or even infinite different ways, to do business. And perhaps even harder to believe that if you've set out in one direction, you can change your destination.If you're looking for real life inspiration, check out these stories from founders who found a new path...
Founders on finance
Here's Buffer's Joel Gascoigne on how he bought the company out of the VC dilemma: We Spent $3.3M Buying Out Investors: Why and How We Did It
Zebras Unite co-founder Jennifer Brandel found the right kind of investment, and investor, for her company Hearken: Hearken expands to Europe. Here’s the backstory + an interview with our “Zebra” investor
Library of Things is exploring the 'how' of doing business better - read about how they're using some of the structures explored in the 'Innovators' section such as steward ownership, golden shares and demand dividends here in the UK: Investing in our Future
Gumroad's Sahil Lavingia thought he was riding a rocketship but ended up building a sustainable, independent business: Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company
Growth-at-all-costs didn't work for Wistia - so they raised $17m in debt to buy out their VC investors: How an Offer to Sell Wistia Inspired Us to Take On $17M in Debt
Thompson Aderinkomi built a startup, lost it and built it again with the help of a different kind of funding from Indie VC: Indie and Me
Rand Fishkin had started a venture-backed startup before but knew that that wouldn't work for his new company, SparkToro, so he raised a different kind of funding: SparkToro Raised a Very Unusual Round of Funding & We’re Open-Sourcing Our Docs
Exploring new models
Equal Care Co-op is delivering a digital social care platform as a multi-stakeholder co-op, raising funds through community shares: New tech platform ready to “radically reshape” UK social care system
Have you heard about Mondragon, the world's largest worker-owned co-operative?
How Yvon Chouinard turned his eco-conscious, anti-corporate ideals into the credo of a successful clothing company: Patagonia's Philosopher-King
Juho Makkonen of Sharetribe opted for a 'steward-ownership' model to ensure the company would always work in service of society, not the other way around: Steward-ownership is capitalism 2.0
In 1961, the three Robertson sisters founded a charity, gifting it their shares in the family business. The business was Edrington, which today makes some of the biggest names in Scotch whiskies, and is still majority-owned by The Robertson Trust, Scotland's largest independent grant-making charity. Read about Robertson and Edrington.
Obran does private equity with a difference - a co-op conglomerate holding profitable small to medium size businesses and real estate on behalf of worker-owners.
Blipfoto exited to community and is now owned by its users.
Books & Articles
Blogs, articles, long reads, academic papers and books - the theory behind the practice.If you're buying books, please consider secondhand!
Innovating with Investment
Investment Memo for Earnest Fund 2 by Tyler Tringas. The best thesis out there on alternative early stage funding.
Don't go chasing unicorns: a classic take on why VC should never have become the default form of startup funding, and what to do about it, from Aner Ben-Ami.
Why we burn the unicorn by Bryce Roberts of the sadly-missed Indie VC. "If you don’t look like, act like, talk like, build like, raise like, live where, or work on what VCs typically fund your efforts are not any less worthy."
Adventure Finance by Aunnie Patton Power (book!): How to Create a Funding Journey That Blends Profit and Purpose
The Diffraction of Venture Capital by Nicholas Colin. Why Venture Capital is changing, and why it's changing now.
Revenue-Based Investing by David Teten. A whole series of articles on alternatives to VC.
How our impact-first approach led us to our first Perpetual Bond by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. A new option for equity-like social investment.
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth (book!)
The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams (book!)
Prosperity without Growth by Tim Jackson (book!)
The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy and Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism by Mariana Mazzucato (books!)
How can start-ups and charities collaborate for good? Check out this paper, Better Together, from Nesta for inspiring examples.
The Innovation Blind Spot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas and What to Do About It by Ross Baird (book!)
Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism by Wendy Liu (book!)
The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato (book!)
Exit with Impact
Is there a trend in Buying Corporate Social Responsibility? Check out this interesting paper on corporates acquiring social impact companies (B-Corps in this instance).
Let's experiment with the way we put ideas into the world. Together!
Please get in touch if you're interested in conversation, collaboration or consultation.