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Social entrepreneurs: Lord Sugar wants you! (Probably)

It’s easy to mock the BBC TV series The Apprentice. Very easy indeed; so easy that even the BBC does it. That notwithstanding, it is perhaps the single most prominent showcase for entrepreneurship in the UK.

Entrepreneurship, yes – social entrepreneurship, much less so. The Apprentice has been a zone entirely characterised by antisocial entrepreneurship, aside, as far as Google and I can tell, from one exception. Melody Hossaini, the founder of life skills and employability social enterprise InspirEngage, made a decent fist of flying the social enterprise flag, reaching the tenth of 12 episodes in series seven. Since then, nowt, although an honourable mention should go to Tim Campbell, winner of the first series, who went on to become a social enterprise ambassador after leaving Lord Sugar’s employ.

The lack of social enterpreneurs on the show is a question that the trade body Social Enterprise UK has also considered, although in its case it led to the conclusion that the BBC should commission more programmes showcasing the work of social enterprise to the general public. I, however, would suggest that nothing could better bring the work of social entrepreneurs into the public consciousness than having another one of the breed appear on The Apprentice.

Picking up on a few signals Lord Sugar has been giving out, I think the time is ripe for a social entrepreneur to come in and grab the £250,000 investment on offer to the winner of the next series. A couple of times now Lord Sugar and his sidekicks have alluded to the fact that as a relatively old and extremely wealthy man, he doesn’t really need to make a whole lot more money – what actually excites him now is interesting products. A couple of series back he fired, “with regret”, a candidate who planned to start a telemarketing business, on the grounds that he didn’t really fancy the bad reputation that came with what he described as a “grubby little business”. What could be less grubby, and more appealing to someone who is tiring of material wealth, than a business with a social output and ethos?

Applications close on 26 January. The application form is short, and the question “What makes you different from everyone else applying?” is surely the place for the virtues of the social entrepreneur to shine through.

Potential social entrepreneur applicants might protest that surely they’d be better off just going to a social enterprise-oriented investor for an investment. To this, I say take this road less travelled as an act of public kindness – by putting social enterprise on the map, you’ll be doing a favour to so many. They might protest that they don’t have the hard-nosed, dog-eat-dog edge to do well on the show. To this, I say remember that it’s all for a good cause, be pragmatic, go a bit Machiavellian; it’s worth the prize.

They might protest that they don’t have the ego to make it through. To this, I say I’m sure there’s at least a bit of ego in there, even if you’re normally too proud to show it. We promise to remember that you’re a good person really. They might protest that being on The Apprentice, they’ll inevitably come out of it looking like a bit of a wally. To this, I say yes, yes you probably will.

That last point notwithstanding, there must surely be a social entrepreneur out there who would be keen to step up to the plate. Don’t all rush at once.