Tech-social-entrepreneurship is an emerging entrepreneurial genre that is garnering increased attention from academics and practitioners. From challenges faced in education to healthcare to environmental sustainability, there is an ever-growing chasm of social issues. Yet simultaneously, the current digital era and shift to “Industry 5.0” has led to the development of novel and repurposed technology that can address these intractable problems.
As such, Tech-Social-Enterprises (TSE) are being launched in the private sector. Just as the name suggests, TSEs are firms that use technological innovation to enable their mission of social value creation in a financially sustainable way. While commercial entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and tech entrepreneurship are all not new fields on their own, the combination of the three has led to the new phenomena of firms with a unique hybrid identity. Their emergence can be seen in the proliferation of what is referred to as Tech For Good (TFG) enterprises in the United Kingdom.
A report published by TechNation found 490 TFG firms in the UK with a total valuation of £2.3 billion. These enterprises were highest in the AdTech (17.2%), EdTech (10.3%) and FinTech (9.2%) sectors. Although there has been notable TFG enterprise growth since 2008, the total number of firms is still significantly low, making up only 0.2% of all start-ups in the United Kingdom. Even so, these firms have the opportunity to capture the predicted $12 trillion market by 2030. Therefore, with this recent emergence of TFGs and their opportunity for future growth, the study of their identity deserves further scholarly enquiry.
It is important to note that the private sector’s involvement in solving social problems is not a new phenomenon. Social entrepreneurship and the creation of social enterprises (SE) have been an established yet ever-growing academic interest over the twenty-first century. SEs are similarly understood as firms focused on using social innovation to achieve their purpose of social value creation. Even though these SEs have developed creative solutions to drive positive societal change, historically they are equally known for their inability to scale the impact of these solutions. Essentially, scaling social impact is increasing the effectiveness of social solutions to better match the magnitude of the systemic issue and drive transformative change.. Often, SE’s innovative ideas and value creation fail to scale past their initial launch, making it an important subject of research. Hence, current social entrepreneurship scholarship is focused on understanding the barriers to scaling impact as well as the strategies to overcome them.
Ultimately, this brings into question whether the emerging phenomena of TSEs will also face the obstacle of scaling social impact or if their unique hybrid identity will prove otherwise.
This study is therefore relevant and necessary as it aims to specifically understand both TSE’s hybrid identity and how it affects scaling their social impact. Although the topics of identity and scaling have been previously addressed in social entrepreneurship, this study will do so through the lens of the emerging field of techsocial-entrepreneurship.
Extant literature in social entrepreneurship revealed the common challenge to scale social impact. After reviewing previous studies on defining social enterprises and scaling social impact, the key element of their hybrid identity was continually highlighted. What was found was that SE’s hybrid identity was argued to cause the clashing of social and commercial aims leading to mission drift and ultimately hinder the ability to scale social impact. Therefore, a gap was discovered in the theoretical understanding of the relationship between hybridity and scaling.
Trying to understand this phenomenon was met with the emergence of the field of tech-social-entrepreneurship. Similar to SEs these TSEs had a hybrid identity of commercial, social and tech entrepreneurship and could further address the issue of social impact scaling and identity. This study was therefore interested in understanding the phenomenon under the lens of tech for good enterprises in the UK. The research sought to understand whether TSEs would falter to the same challenges as SEs or if they would instead be well positioned to see their social value come to fruition at scale.
Therefore, this research study aimed to understand the emerging field of techsocial-enterprises’ hybrid identity and how this affected scaling their social impact for their beneficiaries. This was done by asking three research questions:
- What encapsulates the hybrid identity of tech-social-enterprises?
- How do tech-social-enterprises scale their social impact?
- How does the hybrid identity of tech-social-enterprises affect scaling social impact?
What the research from eight tech for good enterprises in the UK determined was that TSE’s hybrid identity enables social impact scaling through their use of technology and the creation of a virtuous cycle of social and commercial missions. From the research it was determined while there is still ambiguity in understanding the identity of TSEs in practice, the firms all viewed themselves as commercial tech enterprises driven by a social mission. By having a commercial identity, these firms saw this not at odds with the social mission but as a way of achieving their aims and reaching more beneficiaries. This was also coupled with the fact that their use of technology helped with efficiency, adaptability, and dissemination for their future social impact scaling.
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09 November 2022