Plan A: company structure, shareholders, and an editorial advisory board for an expansionary/investment strategy 

The page on 'The homelessness sector as beneficiaries' argues that for an income stream based on subscription fees for the university and professional education sector, a partnership with an existing publisher would be helpful – perhaps necessary.

Here we aim to spell out how this might work.

 

We had argued that ‘The immediate value of the PIElink in the homelessness sector lies in its current (and expanding) role as the mouthpiece for a community of practice, linking researchers, practitioners and policy makers in a field where there is currently both growing public concern and growing research interest. ‘ But it also has potential value as training material for future professional staff; and there is an income stream here which has been overlooked in the past. There is therefore a potential business model in prospect, which could bring significant income and/or other benefits to stakeholders, cast now in the role of shareholders of a company.  

(In publishing terms, the PIElink might well be seen as the prototype for a development in on-line publishing.  The longer term value of the site and the community may even be more in its role as a pilot and a ‘minimum viable product’, offering a testing ground for a concept with far wider application, in academic publication – but fortuitously starting up in a field which lends itself particularly well to such an approach.) 

Though a partnership arrangement with a publisher makes practical sense, there are many forms of partnership structures available, and it is not useful at the stage to explore many of the options here.  The key point at this stage is the formal distinction between management and shareholders, and the option for shareholders, besides having the formal powers of share ownership, to also have an advisory role, and to form – perhaps with co-optees -an editorial advisory board

An editorial board offer participating agencies an influence far wider than that of shareholders at an annual general meeting. It allows them to ensure that the content, the medium and the style of the material produced is fully up-to-date and relevant to the needs of the sector. As shareholders, this helps to ensure that the product or service in which they have a financial interest is well developed. But more significantly, it helps ensure that the public social benefit is maximized.  (See: The homelessness sector as potential beneficiaries)

NB: In Plan B, with no great expansionary aims into the educational publishing market, a simpler company structure is possible, in which the shareholders or their representatives on a management board employ a more standard, hand-on management team, just to maintain the existing site’s functions aa  community of practice.

However, as noted ( in The homelessness sector as potential beneficiaries), all these UK organisations are social enterprises – most have charitable status – with an assets lock. They can benefit, therefore, from any income the project might eventually make, over and above the wider benefit to society which they are there to promote, provided only that any income is used in pursuance of their original aims.  As social enterprises, however, they are eligible for various forms of state- or philanthropic funded sources of income for investment, at very favorable rates.  Such investment often comes with a condition of the investor taking an equity share; and it is partly for this reason that a proportion of the shares is to be held back, and not gifted at the outset.

The PIEink web community project has therefore now been incorporated as a private company limited by shares.   It is proposed that a proportion (but under 50%) of the first shares issue will be gifted outright to a handful of mainly UK based, nation-wide organisations which are active in this field – primarily in  homelessness, psychology and inclusion health – who thereby become stakeholders in the company, and in a position to support and promote a project from whose success they expect to gain, in broad social impact terms, if not in financial terms.

For more details, email us.