Closed Fund

Social Enterprise Start-up Fund

Backing the social enterprises that are making a positive impact on the social and economic fabric of their community.

The Social Enterprise Start-up Fund is an €800,000 Fund which will be delivered over two years: 2021 – 2022. The Fund was created by Rethink Ireland in partnership with the Department of Rural and Community Development via the Dormant Accounts Fund. The Department of Rural and Community Development was established in 2017 to provide a renewed and consolidated focus on rural and community development in Ireland. The consolidation into a new Department of both policy and supports in respect of community and rural development provides the means for a greater focus on creating vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities. The Department has responsibility for ensuring arrangements for strong oversight of the charities sector through facilitating the Charities Regulatory Authority in carrying out its independent statutory role. In July 2019 the Department also published Ireland’s first National Policy on Social Enterprise. The Policy is the Government’s framework to develop the sector in the years ahead both in terms of scale and impact.

What is this Fund's objective?

The objective of the fund is to support social enterprises at the start-up / early stage of their life cycle, to embed strong business principles and, in turn, deliver social impact, create jobs and inspire an emerging, next generation of Irish social enterprises.

The Fund will provide critical support to the most innovative and impactful start-up social enterprises across Ireland, supporting them to:

  • Build a plan to grow their social enterprise,
  • Map their key stakeholders and customers,
  • Create networks within the social enterprise sector,
  • Increase their financial sustainability,
  • Communicate their vision and mission to a wider audience.

What is a social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business that works primarily to improve the lives of people. Its business is social good. Social enterprises are at the heart of facing the greatest social challenges in Ireland. They are professional and experienced and use business skills and clever thinking to bridge the gaps in our society.  The money they make from their work is used to grow what they do so that they can reach all the people in society who need their help.


Social enterprises are innovating every day by inventing and developing solutions to Ireland’s most pressing social issues. They are creating meaningful jobs, tackling inequalities and supporting community development. We believe there is a need to foster and invest in these social enterprises to allow them to grow and spread their solutions throughout the country.

What does the Fund offer?

In 2021, the fund offers (up to) 25 Awardees:

  1. Cash grants 
  2. A place on the Accelerator Programme
  3. Business supports


  1. Cash grants

In 2021, the Fund will support up to 25 social enterprises with cash grants of €9,000 each.


  1. The Accelerator Programme

All successful applicants will win a place on our National Accelerator Programme specifically designed for social enterprises. The Accelerator Programme is designed to equip the social enterprises with the tools and techniques needed to expand their business skills and deepen their impact within their communities. 


It provides training from best-in-class experts across the private, non-profit and public sector. Training is provided across a range of functions including business modeling, financial sustainability and vision, and mission. By joining the programme, organisations will also gain access to a peer network of the best social enterprises in Ireland.


  1. Business supports

The Accelerator Programme also includes business supports tailored to the needs of each organisation such as strategic planning, business modeling, and communications.

Who can apply?

We invite applications from social enterprises (projects) that are at an early stage of their development and are looking to fully establish themselves in the market.


Rethink Ireland Core Criteria

  • The project must address a critical social issue* 
  • The project proposed must be innovative in an Irish context
  • The project must be based on the island of Ireland and must make its main impact in the Republic of Ireland
  • The project must have potential and a desire to scale or replicate in Ireland (it may also have potential internationally, but this is not a requirement)
  •  The project has passed the idea stage, i.e. has completed some market research, developed a prototype, made at least one sale, etc.
  • Applicants need to be of a not-for-profit nature. Legal forms include e.g. a company limited by guarantee, a co-operative, a trust, and other not for profit legal entities**
  • If your organisation has charitable status then it will meet the eligibility criteria


If you have another legal form, but meet the definition of social enterprise under the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland, the Fund may be able to support you. We will ask you further questions about this on the Application Form. 


* In the context of this Fund, a clear ambition, supported by some research or a clear plan, to impact a critical social issue shall be deemed sufficient.

** Where the proposed social enterprise is developed as a partnership, it is sufficient if the lead applicant is operating as a not-for-profit organisation.


Social Enterprise Start-Up Fund criteria

The project must be a social enterprise which:

  • Had income levels of less than €100,000 in the previous year
  • Has some traded revenue***
  • Does not have unrestricted reserves in excess of 10 weeks of operating expenditure (including via a parent organisation)


***Traded income is income which is generated from the sale of goods and services. It includes contracts (service level agreements) with state bodies or other state/semi-state bodies where clear deliverables are completed in exchange for a fee. It does not include fundraising income, donation income, or cash grants from government / philanthropic organisations.”


Existing Rethink Ireland Awardee Eligibility

  • Past and current Social Enterprise Development Fund Genesis participants are eligible to apply
  • Past awardees that have been recipients of cash grants are ineligible, except where they are the parent organisation, the applicant is entirely different, and is run separately by a new project lead
  • Existing awardees in receipt of funding from Rethink Ireland are ineligible


How can you apply to the Fund?

Applications for the Social Enterprise Start-Up Fund are now closed.

Successful applicants will be informed by September 2021, and the public awards announcement will follow. 



Frequently asked questions

What is expected of Awardees?

Awardees will be expected to take part in a four-month Accelerator Programme, with a minimum of two days per month devoted to working on your awarded project.


Can you make more than one application? 

No, applicants may only submit one application per social enterprise for the purposes of the Social Enterprise Start-Up Fund.


What can cash grants be spent on? 

The cash grant must be spent on the social enterprise/project that won the award. The specific use of the cash grants will be agreed between Rethink Ireland and the Awardee. Cash grants may not be used to pay off debts or purchase vehicles, land or buildings or to fund research.


Who will decide who wins the awards? 

As outlined above, an internal team will review and shortlist applications. Final decisions are made by the Board of Rethink Ireland and the Minister for Rural and Community Development.


How do applicants find out where they are in the selection process? 

We will contact all applicants by phone or email after final decisions have been made.


What projects are not eligible?

  • Projects seeking funds for scholarships
  • Projects seeking to fund capital items – buildings, vans, and so on
  • Research projects
  • Party political projects
  • Projects that screen beneficiaries in or out by faith or religious denomination
  • Projects that do not provide a benefit to people or the environment, for example, projects that benefit animals only
  • Projects where the main impact is outside the Republic of Ireland
  • Projects that are an idea (only) and that have not yet started


Who is not eligible to apply?

  • A person who is younger than 18.
  • Any staff member from Rethink Ireland and Department of Rural and Community Development staff, Directors and their family members. Family members include siblings, parents, spouses or civil partners or children.
  • Any consultant currently working with Rethink Ireland.



Terms and Conditions

By applying for the Social Enterprise Start-Up Fund, all applicants have agreed to the following terms and conditions.

  1. You are 18 years of age or older.
  2. You have given full and truthful information, both verbal and written, at all stages of the application and selection process.
  3. You are eligible to apply. This means that your organisation meets the criteria for Rethink Ireland and, as described.
  4. You have the right to apply. This means that you hold the necessary rights to carry out the project.
  5. By sending in your application, you accept these terms and conditions and our Privacy Statement. If you do not comply with these terms and conditions, you may be disqualified and may have to return any award granted.
  6. Rethink Ireland will hold the personal details which you submitted with your application form. We will only share this information with the third parties administering the application and selection process unless we agree otherwise with you. Please see our Privacy Statement for full details.
  7. The Awardees must take part in publicity about the grant. Rethink Ireland reserves the right to publish the names of organisations that are successful in their applications.
  8. If you decline an award or if the award is taken back because you did not comply with the terms and conditions, the Directors may select an alternative Awardee.
  9. Rethink Ireland reserves the right to disqualify any entrant, to change the terms and conditions without notice, or to cancel the application process at any stage.
  10. You consent to the Government of Ireland Statement on Public Finances  if selected as a winning applicant

Any further questions?

Please contact