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Relationships Matter: examining the effectiveness of building relationship quality when supporting social entrepreneurs in business start-up

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Karen ElliottORCiD


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Business start-up support for the social enterprise sector has been acknowledged as transactional in nature and fails to provide the nurturing, coaching or mentoring needs espoused by social entrepreneurs (Barki et al., 2015). Evidence suggests that social entrepreneurs fail to see themselves as part of such transactional business environments; their specific needs remain unfulfilled by support agencies that are financially or outcome driven rather than fulfilling a social need (Manigart and Wright, 2013). Acknowledging that social entrepreneurs’ specificity of needs are complex in nature while they operate within an emergent business system, we view the social entrepreneurs world as a self-organising complex adaptive system; crucially, “complicated worlds are reducible, whereas complex ones are not” they adapt in unpredictable ways (Byrne, 1998; Miller and Page, 2007: 9). By sharing the processes for strengthening entrepreneur-investor and support relationships, nascent social businesses are likely to be more successful financially and in achieving their social aims (Gordon and Orozoco, 2015). We adopt a complexity stance which is ideally suited for investigating the social entrepreneurs’ world of non-linearity where we argue some models and approaches do not allow for the nuanced and detailed nature of relational value required by this sector in the start-up phase. To understand social entrepreneurs’ start-up support experiences, we conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders over a nine-month period during 2016/17, involving: social entrepreneurs, social-enterprise investors and social entrepreneurial start-up support agencies. Preliminary findings suggest that it is vital for investors and support agencies to demonstrate trust towards social entrepreneurs from the first point of contact and interaction. Recognising that humans can interpret interactions differently based on individual subjective norms and values, providing a disorderly and unpredictable conscious complex system (Geyer and Rihani, 2010). Contrary to traditional profit-focused entrepreneurial ventures where profit and growth is the foci for development (Renko, 2013), socially-focused ventures espouse a relational approach to their perceived ‘journey’ from ideation to investment readiness stages is key for progress to occur. In short, interpersonal interaction makes the difference between long-term chances of success and the social entrepreneur abandoning investment or support opportunities. Hence, preliminary findings point to how business start-up services could improve support to this emerging sector in adopting a more complex and relational-based interactive approach.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wilson J, Elliott K

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 9th International Social Innovation Research Conference (ISIRC)

Year of Conference: 2017

Print publication date: 26/01/2018

Online publication date: 19/10/2018

Acceptance date: 04/08/2017