The rise of social enterprise in regional Victoria

Elements of amplification

In starting Runway (Geelong’s first startup program – backed by The State Government of Victoria’s LaunchVic initiative), we had and still have the view that any type of startup can apply to the program. They don’t have to be tech based and we’re not looking at specific industry verticals. At this stage, it’s a case of seeing what’s out there. While we thought there may be some industries that are a natural fit for the region we really didn’t know what to expect.

Our first cohort starts on June 14th, and 5 out of the 7 startups fit in to the social enterprise category. So what does that mean.

“Social enterprise” can be defined as an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being.

In the recent release of the Victorian State Government’s Social Enterprise Strategy, the strategy states that of 20,000 social enterprises across Australia – one quarter of them are in Victoria[1].

There are likely factors at play that mean the quantity of social enterprises entering our program shouldn’t be a surprise and a question yet to be answered is, is this a trend that will continue?

We know that regional and rural locations have almost no economic growth in comparison to major cities across Australia. This is where the term “two speed economy” comes from. In fact, Victoria is now Australia’s most centralised economy with 81 percent of economic activity taking place in Melbourne[2].

As a consequence, social issues in regional and rural centres – youth unemployment rates[3], the hospitalisation of people with mental health problems[4], access to health services – are more prevalent and more apparent.

Almost 8 million people live outside of capital cities in Australia[5] and when people in these communities are constantly confronted by these types of issues, it’s inevitable that a percentage of this group will mobilise to do something about it.

This mobilisation is further amplified by the attitudes of our two newest generations – Millennials and Generation Z. “Connecting their jobs to social impact will remain a priority for Generation Z as it has been for millennials”.[6] “Gen Zs are increasingly purpose driven and socially motivated. They want businesses to be involved in making the world a better place and are more likely to work for and buy from businesses that do so.”[7]

That brings us back to Runway and Geelong’s startup economy. The four startups entering our program that are social enterprise focussed are; Clann (addressing family day-care), ecokit (sustainable, environmentally friendly, modular housing), Mindful Sourcing (ethical sourcing of products), Trusted Food (eradicating counterfeit and unsafe food products) and GCORE (a solution for aiding field workers in hostile and complex locations).

This is not to downplay the importance of our other startups – that do have linkages back to the wellbeing of individuals and do solve important problems, albeit less socially inclined. There’s no denying however, that it is enormously rewarding to be involved with an organisation supporting businesses that have a strong social conscience.

Geelong has a history with successful businesses and startups in the social enterprise space. One of the most recent examples is CNSDose; the premise of the business is fast-tracking finding the right anti-depressant. Their approach is on evidence based genetics reporting which results in better outcomes for patients. CNSDose is in the process of a US wide rollout[8].

Where to from here?

Geelong already has key pieces of the puzzle in place. Upstart Challenge is an entrepreneurship program for high-school students – teaching ideation and pitching, the program has expanded rapidly to more than 20 schools across the region.

Founders, Heather Kelly and Jen Perks say that the social enterprise startups make up more than 70 percent of the ideas they’re seeing come through the program. Two great examples of this are “Emergency Local”[9], which centralises local emergency information in to a single app and “Nurture for Hope” a program designed to aid teenagers with eating disorders.

Deakin University, with its two Geelong Campuses – also has an entrepreneurship program for staff and students, Spark.

The message here is that for people in and around the Geelong region, there is a clear entrepreneurship pathway that takes you all the way from school – through to launching your business on a global stage.

It will be interesting to observe the next data point in Runway’s journey, the second cohort of Runway startups – due to commence later this year. Will the percentage of social enterprise startups be as high as our first group? Based on what we’re seeing there’s every possibility.



Leighton Wells
Chief Operations Officer, Runway












Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s