In this blog, the author discusses a new faculty-led spin-out company at the LSE that aims to support aspiring entrepreneurs and to improve businesses already in operation.
This is the fifth blog in the Blogmas 2021 series.
The fabric of society and our status quo
Last year, in what turned out to be a difficult winter as the COVID-19 pandemic kept ravaging lives and livelihoods, I wrote a blogpost to discuss social categories and equal access. I explained that organisational sociologists refer to the “categorical imperative” as the phenomenon in which any elements of the social structure that fall between social categories experience a “discount.” For example, people who are not entirely white but not “dark enough” may experience less inclusivity from majority and minority groups; movies that are neither clearly romantic nor horror in genre may receive less attention from both segments of the fan base. The same logic can explain why a trade that is paid but demands only a few hours per week may receive no recognition as either pastime or employment. So much of the fabric of society is socially constructed – social categories are invented and then assigned limitations on that basis. We have the right and the responsibility to make choices and actions that more purposefully and intentionally weave that fabric.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many more of us to the suffering of others: limited access to food, to medical care, to transport, to joyful activity, to space, to support, and to choices. We learned how feasible it may be to restrict our choices on almost anything for a few weeks, but our outlook on life erodes when we restrict the choices in our lives endlessly. The silver lining is that empathy with suffering is the first step in the innovation process.
Changing the status quo starting with the business world
As the pandemic highlighted the many social interventions necessary to make society truly inclusive, it also revealed how much adaptive business behaviour could achieve for the fabric of society. In my mind, there are two increasing trends in the economy nowadays that can be leveraged for inclusivity: people need more customised forms of employment, and customers need more customised products and services. Society invented the definition of a job, whether it lasts eight hours per day and whether it runs five days per week. Society invented bureaucracy and the form and level of control that is acceptable from line managers. Society invented the shape of commercial services, what is expected of, say, restaurant services and their traded price. We can re-invent all that.
A large proportion of people either excluded from work or in debt due to crisis would be willing to set up a small business or sole trade to improve their situation, on their own terms. Current business owners would be willing to make changes that improve the productivity of their businesses, on their own terms. A main barrier stopping these potential and current entrepreneurs from engaging in business or business improvement is the lack of access to appropriate business knowledge to manage change on their own terms. The rise of misinformation on social media has worsened this barrier. And yet, with appropriate business knowledge, entrepreneurs could invent solutions that are more likely to be implemented because these are solutions based on entrepreneurs’ own terms, and not on categories and rules socially constructed decades ago.
One intervention to re-invent work and business, and hopefully influence the fabric of society
As one intervention towards a more inclusive society, I am helping to grow what is now a pioneering, faculty-led spin-out company at the LSE, a new venture to support entrepreneurs to invent and re-invent products, services, and employment. With a planned launch in 2022, this LSE spin-out company will offer EdTech tools to gain business knowledge in an interactive, adaptive approach to fast track a new business plan, an expansion, or a business pivot, towards a more fitting link between the future of work and modern customer needs.
Education has always been the door to social mobility
Education has always been the door to social mobility, that is, the path to joining the middle class even if one was born with more limited means. However, while education delivers several outputs and benefits to its participants, including certifications and formative experiences to infuse critical thinking during youth, its persistent core deliverable is knowledge. Our LSE spin-out company aims to take that one deliverable, particularly as it relates to business management, and make it directly accessible. While I believe in easy access to everyone who wants a university degree, I also believe in democratising knowledge itself beyond the university campus.
For everyone who is considering a (full- or part-time) business idea, becoming a (long-term or temporary) sole trader, or improving a business already in operation, our LSE spin-out company aims to support them in the journey to make that ambition a reality.
As with every venture, this LSE spin-out still requires significant work, as I face challenges of how to keep the cost structure low for a service that translates business knowledge into a format that helps anyone become an entrepreneur regardless of their interest in university life.
I am indebted to our colleagues at LSE innovation and beyond for supporting the creation of this spin-out company. I plan to announce the recruitment of volunteers to improve the service and online portal during 2022 and would invite those interested to get in touch.
We have socially constructed much of society. We can socially re-invent it too.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and in no way reflect those of the Global Health at LSE Blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.