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Incubate, Accelerate, Amplify: What did we learn from the first application process?

A sign is positioned on an easel which reads "Incubate, Accelerate and Amplify". The sign looks like the night sky, with star constellations, planets and a rocket depicted around the edges.

Earlier this year we ran an application process to identify and support social entrepreneurs who have ideas to positively impact the delivery of public services. Here’s what we learned from our first application process.

This was the first year that Catch22 ran an open application process for our Incubate, Accelerate, Amplify programme, which is supported by the National Lottery Community Fund. We received 75 applications and carried out 15 first-round interviews followed by six second-round interviews.

Who applied?

Overall, we were successful in attracting a diverse pool of applicants in terms of:

  • Geography – 75% applicants were from outside London.
  • Gender – 75% applications came from women or all-women teams.
  • Underrepresented groups – 88% applicants identified as having a disability, had experience of being a carer or of the care systems, or received free school meals.

What did we learn?

After the selection process, we asked all applicants who were invited to an interview two key questions:

  • If you knew someone who might be a potential applicant, how likely is it that you would recommend applying for a place on Catch22’s ‘Incubate, Accelerate, Amplify’ programme?
  • What changes would we have to make to earn an even higher rating?

We were pleased to earn a Net Promoter Score of 64%, but applicants also provided invaluable feedback that we will use to improve our application process going forward. This includes:

1. More clarity on what we are looking for – especially for early-stage ideas

“It sounds like you are looking for very early start up ideas but in reality we got the impression you were looking for a start-up that had at least a year’s experience.”

Our programme is called ‘Incubate, Accelerate, Amplify’ in recognition that we work with social entrepreneurs that are just starting out, as well as those that are looking to scale. This range is reflected in who we’ve selected.

But, we should have been clearer in saying the following: where applicants were at an early-stage of developing their idea, we looked for experience in their career-to- date to evaluate their level of insight into the problem that they are trying to solve. In instances where we felt that experience was lacking, we looked for ideas that had been developed a little further.

Learning: Next time, we’ll be much clearer on what level of experience or knowledge that we’re looking for.

2. Making sure that applicants don’t feel penalised for being open about their developmental areas

“I chose to be open and honest – however I felt that this potentially created ‘concerns’ which may have impacted negatively on our application.“

We designed our application process to ensure we attracted a diverse range of applicants. Steps we took to do this included offering an alternative to the written application form, support to write applications, feedback and guidance to prepare for interviews, as well as providing someone to speak on the phone at any time regarding an application.

But, we recognise there is room for improvement. Our programme is exclusively for social entrepreneurs with lived and learned experience. All of our applicants have direct experience of the social problems that they are trying to tackle and we encouraged applicants to speak openly about their life experiences. Getting the right balance between encouraging openness and ensuring that applicants can give the best representation of themselves is not always easy.

Learning: Next time, we will harder to  offer the right balance between encouraging openness, whilst helping applicants give the best representation of themselves.

3. Clarity on how the programme works for applicants outside of London

“There was a sense of lack of certainty of how the programme would… work for those outside of London.”

The original version of our programme was based in London. With the support of the National Lottery Community Fund, we broadened our search for applicants from across England and Wales, as we think that entrepreneurial opportunities are overly concentrated in certain areas.

During our application process, we weren’t always as clear as we could be in terms of how the programme would work outside of London. In part, this was because we were still figuring it out as this is the first time we are doing this, but also because we look to tailor our support to each social entrepreneur.

Learning: Next time, we will be clearer on our offer including our promise of one face-to-face day with each of our social entrepreneurs every two weeks and more if necessary!

Thank you so much to all of our applicants. We were privileged to hear from so many who have overcome significant challenges. 

“I would just like to thank you all for this experience as it has literally been a life-changing process already for me. You have all given me a huge confidence boost throughout the whole process. I am feeling a bit proud of myself.

– Incubate, Accelerate, Amplify applicant