How the Mill House is shaping Canberra’s social enterprises

Posted 15 Feb 2019

Story by CBR Innovation Network

Have you been sitting on a business idea that could make a social impact?

Sometimes the thought of diving in head first can be daunting, especially if you have never owned a business before. There are many programs in Canberra that can help you take the first steps. One of these programs, The Mill House Ventures is designed to help startups and businesses who are dedicated to make a difference by addressing social, economic and environmental challenges.

So how do the team do this? We had a chat with Cindy Mitchell, General Manager of the Mill House Ventures and a passionate advocate for helping startups make meaningful impact.

What is The Mill House?

The Mill House is the social enterprise ‘node’ of the Canberra Innovation Network.  Our role in the innovation ecosystem is to provide specific support for entrepreneurs who want to trade for purpose.  What does that mean?  Of course, every business trade for purpose. However, usually that purpose is to create profit for the owner. We think businesses motivated by profit are great and can do good in the world. But, sometimes, a business can be a means to addressing difficult social, economic, or environmental challenges. By operating as a social enterprise an entrepreneur might bring greater attention to a cause or issue, provide employment for people who are excluded from mainstream economic participation or create some other specific, measurable outcome for a community.

When people chose to trade in this way, they come to operate a hybrid business. These hybrids have many of the challenges of a for-profit business along with many of the community expectations of a not-for-profit with respect to consultation, transparency and accountability for impact over time.  That’s a big job!

How exactly do you help?

The Mill House Ventures is an innovative social enterprise business advisory and investment intermediary. Our flagship program, the GRIST Social Enterprise Accelerator is an intensive four-month capacity building program based on the Social Traders, CRUNCH program. This year’s program starts in July and will be delivered in 5 workshops over four months, with lots of support for business and financial model development in between. It is an intensive program that is not suited to all social ventures, so we offer other training, peer networking and other engagements that allows people to take the time they need to explore the concept of trading for a purpose.  Applications for GRIST 2019 will open in April and our target is 10 ventures from Canberra and the region.

Most of all, Mill House is a community of practise—a place of connection and support for the indefatigable changemakers who are committed to service and product innovation and sustainable impact.  We operate from the Social Enterprise Hub at the University of Canberra and several social enterprises work from our cheerful co-working space.

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