Powering a quiet revolution

March 31, 2020

Paul McEldon, chief executive of the North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC), reveals new efforts to support socially-focused start-ups in our region

There seems to be something of a quiet revolution when it comes to social enterprise. Do the facts and figures back this up?

Yes, it’s 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.

What exactly is a social enterprise?

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. Social enterprises are often the ones that react to longstanding issues, such as healthcare and education, or to find innovative ways to battle new problems.

What’s the North East’s track record in this area?

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. Our success at supporting 4000 businesses to start up – 75 per cent of which were still trading after three years – and creating 7500 jobs demonstrates the incredible impact a social enterprise can have on a community.

Do social enterprises need different support to other businesses?

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 the North East BIC’s just launched Innovate for Good, a business incubator designed to provide the right environment to develop, test and structure ideas.

Alongside business planning, finance, market research and governance, 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’ve just welcomed our first cohort of 12 businesses who 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 looking forward to seeing the impact these exciting and dynamic businesses have on the North East.

North East Business and Innovation Centre
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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