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Would you like to start a social enterprise or a business that benefits your local community or makes a positive social or environmental impact? The City Business Library provides plenty of free information to help you get started.

Getting started

Cobra (Complete Business Reference Adviser) has a wealth of information on the practicalities of starting and running a social enterprise. There are factsheets about writing a business plan and raising finance as well as details of legislation that might affect a business and useful contacts. There are also factsheets about the different legal structures a social enterprise might take. Cobra is available remotely.

Researching the market

The Library subscribes to four well respected market research databases which describe present trends and give predictions for the future. Short excerpts from reports can be copied and downloaded:

  • IBISWorld reports look in depth at the UK markets, trends and forecasts.
  • Passport, Statista and MarketLine look at the UK and overseas markets, trends and forecasts. MarketLine is available remotely.

Evidencing the need

When bidding for funding, a social enterprise has not only to prove that it is commercially viable, but to evidence the need within the community, society or the environment.

Resources to help you evidence the need include:

  • Passport provides statistics on themes and countries including macro and socio-economic data for 40 countries.
  • Nomis holds the UK official labour market statistics and area profiles including data on population, employment, unemployment, earnings, benefit claimants and businesses.
  • Office for National Statistics is the official UK statistics body.
  • The United Nations statistics division
  • Local authority websites also have socio-economic data for their area. 


  • ClearlySo has published a Guide for the Ambitious Social Entrepreneur.
  • Funding Central has information about over 4000 grants, contracts and loans available to voluntary organisations and social enterprises.
  • Responsible Finance work to increase fair finance through a network of finance providers.
  • The Library also has directories listing charities and foundations that give grants to non-profit making organisations.

Organisations that support social enterprises

  • Ashoka provide start up finance and support.
  • Big Lottery Fund provides finance and has detailed information about making a successful application for funding.
  • ClearlySo source finance for scaling up projects.
  • Olmec supports BME social enterprises to start and grow.
  • Red Ochre provide mentoring, training and coaching and impact evaluation.
  • School for Social Entrepreneurs provide courses and specialist programmes on starting, running and expanding a social enterprise.
  • Social Enterprise UK is the biggest network of social enterprises in the UK
  • Unltd offer support and advice to start up social enterprises.


Ethical Consumer features detailed product guides, news of ethical products and campaigns, and much more.

Pioneers Post has features about social enterprise projects in the UK and overseas and news about the sector.

Useful free websites

  • The Government website contains information about starting up and running a business in the UK, including information about registering a limited company, a community interest company or a charity.
  • Startups is a general website about starting a business.
  • Co-operatives UK provides information on how to form a cooperative and offers a forum for getting together with other cooperatives.
  • Start up loans is a government funded scheme to provide loans and mentors for entrepreneurs who are aged 18 and over.
  • The Business Startup Exhibition is held twice a year in London (May and November) over two days. Entry tickets and seminars are free.