Social enterprise start-ups combine entrepreneurship with offering opportunities for a wide range of needs says Duncan Thorp
AS EVERY entrepreneur knows, starting up a new business can be tough. It means taking risks, working long hours, learning as you go along and dealing with the unexpected.
Starting up a social enterprise faces exactly the same issues as other businesses but with the additional rewards and challenges of a social or environmental mission. It seeks to solve or improve a social issue and exists for that reason, locking profit into the business. Firstport is the national organisation which helps on that journey. A social enterprise start up could be from scratch or indeed converting a private sector business into a social enterprise.
Port Edgar Watersports CIC is a social enterprise watersports centre based at South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, offering a range of activities and equipment hire. Caroline St Johnston, Business Development Manager:
“We’ve been trading since January 2014 when Edinburgh Leisure closed the Sailing School.
“Our vision is to make watersports accessible to everyone. We’re working with local schools and youth groups and giving people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with additional needs, the opportunity to try watersports. Our team of 30 staff are our biggest asset and have been incredible at getting behind the new business. They’re full of great ideas and passionate about getting everyone out enjoying the water. We try to ensure they’re involved as much as possible in shaping the new business.
“The biggest challenge is time. It’s a seasonal business and we didn’t have long to ensure processes and facilities were in place for staff to do the best job possible and customers to get the best experience. We know we’re not going to get it right all the time so when things do go wrong we learn from our mistakes. We’re excited about the future and believe Port Edgar Watersports CIC can become a globally acclaimed watersports centre and social enterprise.”
INCH Architecture and Design is an innovative practice founded in Glasgow in 2012 and working throughout Scotland. Architect, Lesley Palmer, says:
“We were established to assist third sector organisations, charities, communities and individuals. Our company is a social enterprise, established as a Company Limited by Guarantee. This is a unique business model for an architecture practice and was chosen by the founding members following 25 years combined experience of working on architecture projects for charities, housing associations and social enterprises.
“We were proud to work with clients making positive change and we aligned our company objectives to reflect this. At the core INCH are architects and designers all striving towards a common goal - to produce excellent design founded in sustainable social re-investment. We look positively towards the future of social enterprise in Scotland. Key to this is continued growth and profitability. These are as important to a social enterprise as they are to any other business – the extent of social re-investment reliant on the profit generated. It’s therefore important that we provide quality and professionalism equal to our “for-profit” competitors. Through re-investment and commitment to our social aims, as well as strong business practice, we can do this and have a positive impact on the people we work with, as well as the practice of architecture itself.”
Life-Pod was founded two years ago by director Linda Fay, following a career in corporate communications in the utilities and finance sectors. Linda is the UK’s only certified Chronic Disorganisation Specialist. Life-Pod provides support for people who are affected by hoarding and other chronic disorganisation issues.
“Life-Pod is a Community Interest Company. I chose a social enterprise model because I believe that co-operation between support organisations is the best way to resolve hoarding issues - by working together to create a holistic approach for dealing with the problem. The social enterprise community embraces collaboration and partnership, which fits well with my values and beliefs.
“One of the challenges Life-Pod faced early on was engaging with health and social care practitioners, but they overcame this and we now regularly advise housing, health and social care teams. I firmly believe that being a social enterprise made it easier to have a conversation with social care practitioners because they recognised Life-Pod’s clear social aims and that the organisation isn’t driven by financial gain.
“The Self-directed Support Act is generating opportunities for Life-Pod to provide support that addresses a client’s long-term needs, with prevention not crisis intervention. Also, by working collaboratively with other practitioners, a more holistic approach to hoarding is provided. Being a member of the social enterprise community in Scotland provides great networking opportunities with like-minded entrepreneurs, as well as providing a conduit for keeping abreast of housing, health and social care policy.”
The start-ups that have joined Social Enterprise Scotland as members over the past couple of years demonstrate real innovation, dynamism and new thinking in business. For Scotland’s economy and society to thrive we need to encourage and support social enterprise business models. As we develop public and private sector reform, social enterprises are confronting social issues, offering real solutions and, whether we realise it or not, benefitting every one of us.