Introducing the social enterprise innovators

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Our very own Tom Storey was featured in a special piece on social enterprises on  the Business in the Community website recently.

Tom Storey

Introducing the social enterprise innovators

Since 2012, Business in the Community’s social enterprise support programme arc been providing  business expertise, training and networking to social enterprises, helping raise their profiles, build profits and create jobs. A major report on the impact the programme has had so far will be launched at our AGM and Annual Leadership Network event on 9 December, at which many of the social enterprises it has supported will also be presenting their products and services in a unique Christmas market. As well as having social purpose running through them, these businesses are often highly innovative, identifying and developing new ways to build working lives, and create jobs and commercial value from social impact.

We spoke to the founders of five social enterprises on the arc programme, between them addressing issues including housing, reducing re-offending, digital inclusion and breaking down barriers to jobs, about how they had innovated and what they’d achieved. There’ll be a new interview every day this week.

Tuesday: Tom Storey, founder, K10

Tom Storey, founder of social enterprise K10 Tom Storey created apprentice training agency K10 in 2010 as an industry-led response to declining number of apprentices in the construction industry. By acting as an employer and moving apprentices around subcontractors, K10 tackles the problem of short contracts that make it difficult for many firms to offer apprenticeships, creates training and employment opportunities for local people, and plugs skills gaps.

The enterprise also carries out community outreach, designs training, and works with councils, developers and contractors to help them create skills strategies.

What’s the ultimate aim of your enterprise?

I set the company up in the first place because I felt frustrated. Amazing buildings were getting built and there just weren’t enough young local people being supported into apprenticeships on the projects. So the ultimate objective to me is to support large numbers of young local people into life-changing careers.

K10 apprentices at the Olympic Park

Where have you innovated in your business?

We were the first large construction Apprentice Training Agency in the country – we’ve been recognised as pioneers in our field. We’re innovative in the way that we look to address skills gaps and develop training collaboratively with councils, contractors and colleges. And we’re very innovative in our social impact measurement. As soon as we engage with someone, we track what their needs are and how they progress through the training, and we’ve got some really robust data around the positive impact our work has.

Do you think that the social enterprise sector generally is innovative enough?

People who work in social enterprise can almost be too innovative. They often think very creatively about how to solve problems, and I think the challenge is taking that innovation and integrating it into the normal working practices of conventional businesses.

How has Business in the Community supported your enterprise?

It’s been great. It’s given me networking opportunities, providing links with major employers, thought leadership that keeps me abreast of all the different things that are happening, and then it provides a really good platform to demonstrate what we’ve been doing and for it to be recognised more broadly.

What’s next for K10?

We’re moving into employment and skills consultancy, working with major companies like British Land and Grainger plc on their employment and skills strategies. We’re supporting projects so that they maximise the opportunities for local people, and, crucially, so that social impact measurement is in place to quantify the positive impact that the intervention has.

Friday: Tom Brundage, General Manager, Specialisterne

Tom Brundage, General Manager, SpecialisterneTom Brundage runs Specialisterne, a social enterprise which places adults on the autistic spectrum into employment – primarily into IT roles. Around 85% of autistic adults in the UK are unemployed, despite many having highly sought-after skills.

By supporting these individuals, Specialisterne enables them to build sustainable careers, which reduces their reliance on the state and ageing parents, and helps employers fill skills gaps.

What’s the ultimate aim of Specialisterne?

We address a glaring social need which we think we can relatively easily fix. People on the spectrum face difficulties in finding and maintaining work which costs society over £30bn in benefits paid and tax lost.

Getting them over that threshold and into work, and giving them a sustainable, independent lifestyle has an enormous impact on the individuals, their families, and wider society.

Where would you say that Specialisterne is innovative?

We recognise that there has to be an element of support in employment to help people on the spectrum. Before they get to the workplace, we assess them. We’ll be there for the interview – people on the spectrum may not understand when people use business speak, so we act as translator.

We present an autism awareness session to managers and colleagues, and provide ongoing support to help the individual on the spectrum make that change into the new working environment.

The other place where we’re innovative is acting as evangelists for the ‘autism advantage’, the unique set of skills that people with autism have. Activities that require a high level of attention to detail, an intolerance of errors, or involve the ability to spot patterns come naturally to many people on the spectrum.

Because of this, we see areas like software development and testing, data analytics and big data being ripe for people on the spectrum. So we’re trying to shift away from the stereotypical and negative perception people on the spectrum just being very socially awkward, and focus on their positive side instead.

Do you think the social enterprise sector is innovative generally?

I was just in Nottingham with 18 other organisations, all 2015 winners of the Corporate Social Venturing programme, run by the Big Issue Invest organisation. I found a lot of really business-savvy innovative people there.

How has the support from arc helped you grow your enterprise?

We’ve had a lot of help from arc: business advisors from BP helped us focus our marketing and sales strategy and we worked with a number of supporters of arc who helped with placements. We’ve been really thrilled, and we want to maintain that link with the organisation that’s been really good to us.

What’s next for Specialisterne?

Our current mission is to scale up what we’ve started; taking this proven concept and implementing it more rapidly. There’s a lot of work involved – when we place somebody in employment at a new site, one of us actually shows up. If we had funding to take advantage of the opportunities that we have right in front of us, we’d go out and recruit people, and we could grow rapidly.

Thursday: Kelly Klein, founder of Student@Home

Kelly Klein, founder of Student@HomeKelly Klein is the founder of Student@Home, a social enterprise which employs IT students, sending them into homes and offices to help solve IT issues. The students, recruited predominantly from inner city areas, gain employment and work experience. A B2B arm works with housing associations, offering preferential rates and helping reduce digital exclusion.

What’s your ultimate aim for Student@Home?

The ultimate aim is to become one of the leading providers of IT support in the country, and provide work experience to IT students.

How have you innovated in your enterprise?

If you live in social housing you’re unlikely to be online, but the whole benefits system is going online. So I thought we could definitely help housing associations by getting their residents online, and began offering thems one to one tuition and repairing computers and devices in 2012. We now offer them about ten different types of services, from selling them education materials to apps to websites.

We’ve been innovative with our recruitment process as well. I’ve interviewed maybe 1,200 IT students, so, I made that process as efficient as possible with a points based application and interview system run out of an app.

How has arc helped your business develop?

They’ve really supported us by introducing us to business volunteers. I was introduce to Oliver Erpy at BP, who was really helpful on our recruitment process. And then they introduced me to Felicity Morris, also at BP, and she’s been helping me with leadership in my business.

What’s next for Student@Home?

We’re fundraising, we’re looking to expand our B2C offering, and looking to hire more people


Wednesday: Katharine Hibbert, founder of Dot Dot Dot Property

One of social enterprise Dot Dot Dot Property's guardiansKatharine Hibbert set up Dot Dot Dot Property in 2011 to let people who do brilliant voluntary work live cheaply in buildings that would otherwise be empty. The social enterprise works with landlords who have empty buildings, often prior to renovation, sale or demolition, and places ‘guardians’ in them. Landlords benefit from increased security, while guardians gain cheap rent, allowing them to devote more time to volunteering.

What’s the ultimate ambition for your enterprise?

Our immediate ambition is to provide good housing to as many people as possible at a time of housing crisis to enable them to live better and give more back. Ultimately we’d like to see a change in attitudes to housing, a better understanding, acted on by politicians, that a lack of decent affordable housing blights people’s lives and squashes civil society.

How has Dot Dot Dot been innovative?

We saw that landlords had a need for a security solution and delivered it to them in an innovative way that allows us to help our guardians to do more voluntary work. Our offer is actually more cost-effective than the others in the market, and it also creates housing which enables people to do amazing stuff.

We also innovate in how we manage our residents. We look for people who are committed to doing voluntary work, support them and check up on whether they are reporting accurately.

People who want to be involved in volunteering, who want to be good neighbours are exactly the kinds of people that you want to have looking after your building. So, by housing people who want to make a difference in the world, we’re more likely to be housing people who will be great neighbours and reliable custodians of the buildings.

Do you think the social enterprise sector is innovative enough?

The challenge for getting bigger as a social enterprise is not so much having new ideas as delivering the ideas that you have to a really high standard really consistently. Excessive focus on innovation can be a distraction from the importance of really solid delivery.

What’s next for you?

We’re continuing to grow. In the last 18 months or so we’ve grown until we’re now in all compass points of London and in a couple of other towns and cities in the southeast. So we’ll continue to grow in our existing markets and beyond them.


Monday: Leslie Alfin, founder, PRACTivate

One of PRACTivate's supported enterprises – with founder Leslie Alfin on the rightLeslie Alfin (far right) runs PRACTivate, a London-based social business that she describes as a “business incubator launching other social businesses designed, developed, operated and managed by ex-offenders and former gang members.”

PRACTivate offers them a structured transitional environment where they can apply their business skills to legitimate careers, build a sustainable financial future and play a role in the restoration of local economies, breaking the cycle of reoffending.

What’s the ultimate aim of PRACTivate?

We want to eliminate punitive prison policy, and the socio-economic root causes of offence and re-offence. It’s a very big ambition but basically it starts with exposure to opportunity.

Where have you innovated in your social enterprise?

There really isn’t anything out there like us. We’ve been very successful in integrating social impact into our business model, creating revenue streams, and social impact, through commercialised components of our infrastructure model. We identify individuals who have acquired practical business skills on the street, usually through involvement in gang enterprise, and acknowledge that practical experience. These young men and women have valuable skills and experience that we see as a valuable resource for our social businesses.

The assumption that they have to begin from the beginning, when they’ve already been running businesses is not doing justice to them and it’s also not terribly resourceful. Recognising their experience allows them to move laterally into our legitimate social businesses, and then we help them understand the differences in cultures so that they can integrate successfully from street business culture into a more mainstream environment.

Do you think social enterprise in general is innovative?

I think social enterprise is really in its adolescence, and like any entrepreneurship there are degrees of innovation and non-innovation. Those who are innovative, as in any sector, are probably going to do better. But when you’re catalysing positive social impact, whatever works! If it’s innovative great, if it works and it’s not terribly innovative, go for it.

How has arc helped you develop PRACTivate?

The arc team has been very helpful in introducing us to people. They’ve been great in making introductions to potential funding opportunities and people who help to get the word out.

And what’s next for PRACTivate?

Launching our 360o management and career experience – our first fully funded pilot – in partnership with Walk to Freedom in Luton. At the end of that, in May, we’re going to have 12 graduates who will be prepared for either apprenticeships or other positions in PRACTivate or partner organisations.



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