A decade of doing good business

September 13, 2017

Almost 6000 businesses with a social purpose have been set up in Scotland – almost half of them in the last 10 years and 10% in the last two years.

Many of the 5600 social enterprises in Scotland have been supported by Firstport, the development agency set up in 2007 to support social enterprise start-ups in Scotland.

Firstport is marking its 10th anniversary by publishing a report Learning to Start Something Good and a film Start Something Good, which demonstrates that social enterprise is a key factor in growing an inclusive Scottish economy.

Research carried out for the report showed:

  • More than half of the start-ups that the agency has supported are women (57% compared to 51% nationally)
  • Over a third are aged between 16 and 35 (36% compared to 25% nationally)
  • A quarter (25%) live in rural areas
  • 8% come from minority ethnic backgrounds (compared to 4% nationally).

Of the businesses they supported more than two years ago:

  • 81% of ventures are off the ground
  • 61% of the ventures have attracted further funding
  • 49% have taken on premises

Each of the businesses now employs an average of three people, rising to an average of more than five employees among the social entrepreneurs that Firstport first helped five or more years ago.

Firstport has set up Scotland’s first and only social enterprise accelerator programme LaunchMe, and awarded grants to over 800 individuals with funding from the Big Lottery Fund, Scottish Government, Resilient Scotland and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.

Chief Executive Karen McGregor said: “Social enterprises play an important role in supporting Scotland’s communities by tackling social, environmental and community issues. Over the past decade, we’ve supported almost 1000 social entrepeneurs, developed unique place-based programmes, changed the face of social investment in Scotland and shared our learning on how to best support emerging social enterprises.

“There are now 5600 social enterprises in Scotland, 34% of them formed in the last 10 years, providing over 81,000 full-time jobs, £3.8 billion in annual income and £2.74 billion in trading income*. It is an exciting time for the sector with new developments such as Scotland’s Ten Year Social Enterprise Strategy, and the Scottish Government funding for the Social Entrepreneurs Fund – delivered by Firstport - doubling to £1 million for each of the next three years.

“Social enterprise has a big role to play in Scotland’s future. Early stage support is key to kick-starting the innovative social businesses that will make a difference in the years to come. However more needs to be done to get the support system right, encourage more people with potential to create, lead and grow social enterprises, and to unlock more capital.”

Board chair Peter Shakeshaft added: “Social enterprise is an increasingly important part of our economy. Business angels in Scotland are becoming increasingly aware of social investment, which combined with social investment tax relief, is a formula that works for both the investor and investee and an area that has potential to expand further.”

One example is Reuben Chesters, founder of Glasgow food supplier Locavore, who received Firstport funding of £5000 in 2012 to test and develop his enterprise and later got a further award of £20,000 to expand to a bigger shop in the city’s Nithsdale Road.

In 2015 he won a place on LaunchMe, Firstport’s accelerator programme commissioned by Big Lottery Fund, to scale up to become a large social enterprise grocery store and take on the major supermarkets. After securing further private investment, Locavore recently secured a site on the city’s Southside which will include a café and function room as well as space to produce food for sale.

Reuben said: “Locavore could never have reached this stage without the advice, support and funding from Firstport.”


For further information, case studies and images please contact Carol Stewart or Jess Gray, Firstport Communications team on 0131 558 2724 or 07944 060322.

The Firstport film can also be seen at https://youtu.be/6dR1NLEsIFw

*Statistics from Social Enterprise in Scotland Census 2017


Established in 2007, Firstport is Scotland’s development agency for start-up social enterprise. They offer a full package of free business support and resources that includes start-up funds, business advice, practical tools and connections.

Firstport delivers an awards programme, which distributes money from the Scottish Government’s Social Entrepreneurs Fund. Firstport is also part of the Just Enterprise consortium, with responsibility for providing business support to start-up social enterprises across Scotland.

What is a social enterprise?

Social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. Just like any other business, social enterprises make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the social aims of the business or the local community. The main thing is they have an “asset lock” which ensures all profits are reinvested back into the business.

There's no one legal definition or form of social enterprise, they come in all shapes and sizes – community interest companies, mutual co-ops, housing associations, development trusts. Well known examples include the Big Issue, The Wise Group, Social Bite, Divine Chocolate and the Homeless World Cup.