Powering a quiet revolution

May 1, 2020

With UK companies such as Divine Chocolate and The Big Issue successfully combining ethics with profits, there’s plenty of evidence that having a social purpose can be very good for business. Here, Paul McEldon, chief executive of the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), tells us about new efforts to support socially-focused start-ups in our region

Social enterprises are big news right now and shouldn’t be underestimated by the traditional business community. The rise of the conscious consumer and the possibilities opened up by new technologies means the sector is thriving.

According to a recent report by Social Enterprise UK, 100,000 businesses contribute £60 billion to the UK economy and employ two million people. The sector is outperforming its mainstream counterparts in nearly every area of business including turnover growth, job creation and innovation.

A social enterprise is a company with a core mission to benefit and improve society, whether that’s the environment or community. Unlike a charity, it is still a business looking to make a profit. In the current climate, more individuals are coming forward wanting to start social enterprises. There’s a massive change going on.

Here in the North East, we’ve always been a hotbed for social enterprise. The model is best placed to address our industrial challenges and resulting societal issues. Social enterprises are on our high streets and in our  neighbourhoods, from coffee shops and care homes to banks and bus companies. The BIC itself is set up this way. We were established 25 years ago with a mission to inspire a new dawn of enterprise and employment in a region still reeling from the loss of heavy industries and our profits are reinvested into continuing this work.

Setting up a social enterprise is 80 per cent the same as any other business but expert support is needed to fill that crucial gap. Social entrepreneurs want to change the world but they can’t do it alone. That’s why we’ve recently launched Innovate for Good,
a programme designed to provide the right environment to develop, test and structure ideas.

This is the region’s first social enterprise incubator, providing the facility to hothouse entrepreneurs who share an aim to change the world for the better with their ideas, products, processes or services.

Alongside business planning, finance, market research and governance, our expert coaches and experienced social enterprise mentors help entrepreneurs to focus on the social aspect of business, looking at collective working and action, social impact measurement and community accountability. This facility will help harness the innovative spirit and drive of entrepreneurs who have the enthusiasm and passion for making a difference. We’re giving them the collaborative working space, practical tools and specialist support they need to maximise their chance of success and scale.

We welcomed our first cohort of 12 businesses earlier this year and they have some really innovative ideas about how to tackle issues including inequality, poverty, social isolation, ill-health, climate change and disability.

They’ll undergo a six month, fully- funded programme designed to accelerate and strengthen their plans. We’re really looking forward to seeing the impact these exciting and dynamic businesses have on the North East.

Case Study: Forces veteran to strengthen the region’s mental health

Former Royal Navy sailor Mark Walsh is one of a dozen social entrepreneurs to join Innovate for Good.

With a mission to support armed forces veterans, third sector workers and others struggling with mental health issues, the Sunderland-based counsellor is now working to explore how his business, Lighthouse Therapy Group CIC, can reach more people and have a greater impact in the North East.

Mark says: “I joined the Navy at the age of 17 and became very aware of the mental health challenges facing veterans and those in service.

“Since I launched my own practice, I’ve become aware of the pressures on so many others, including hard-working people who are simply struggling to balance the pressures of modern life and suffering with anxiety and low self-esteem.

“I’m determined to find ways to help people find some peace, to reconnect with the world around them, with each other and themselves.”

Mark adds: “Innovate for Good has provided me with a network of invaluable contacts and direct access to real-life scenarios that are already leading to inspiring ideas. This is an incredibly worthwhile initiative and the timing couldn’t be better for such an effort to bring about positive change in the world.”

North East BIC
To find out more about Innovate for Good partnership opportunities or to sign up for the next cohort of social entrepreneurs visit www.ne-bic.co.uk

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