Comment: How ‘business for good’ is good for business

Nick Freer says WeAreTheFuture has great pulling power. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Nick Freer says WeAreTheFuture has great pulling power. Picture: Stewart Attwood
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At last week’s WeAreTheFuture-run Startup Summit in Edinburgh, many of the great and the good of Scotland’s entrepreneurial scene gathered to talk all things business.

WeAreTheFuture, in tandem with FutureX, has extraordinary pulling power, and has built an almost cult-type following based on a “business for good” message. It is populated by a young gang of switched-on folks who believe fiercely that the status quo in the business world is ripe for disruption and encouraged the panellists and audience on the day to look forward to what our companies could look like ten years from now.

Sir Tom Hunter, the irrepressible force for change on the Scottish scene, interviewed BrewDog co-founder James Watt, who talked about how Sir Tom’s work with The Hunter Foundation inspired BrewDog to give away a fifth of annual profits to charities, social enterprises and staff.

This brought a murmur of approval and sporadic hand-clapping from an audience mainly hushed to see and hear from two of Scotland’s biggest business beasts of recent times. For me, it was nice to see how one generation of entrepreneurs is advising the next for the greater good.

This “greater good”, in business terms, is now about so much more than growth for growth’s sake. It’s also about doing the right thing – by your employees, your customers, your partners and the communities you engage with.

An amusing and informing moment came when Watt was asked how BrewDog’s US venture capitalist backer, San Francisco-based TSG, had reacted when the idea of giving away profits had been first floated at a board meeting not long after the VC had invested in the Scottish craft brewer.

The upshot was that there is an increasing realisation that “business for good” is good for business. Bruce Walker of WeAreTheFuture and FutureX talks about how Generation Y make decisions about where they want to work much more around the ethical and socially responsible credentials of employers than ever before.

Much more than a CSR “sticking plaster” that large corporates have historically favoured, the mindset is that ethics needs to run through an organisation like letters through a stick of rock. Guys like Walker, Watt and Hunter see a future where it is the norm that companies give a significant chunk of their profits away to drive social change.

Talking of social enterprise, Social Bite co-founder Josh Littlejohn espoused the kind of business he has always wanted to create by getting to know the principles and practices of Bangladeshi micro-lender Muhammad Yunus – who built scores of highly valued companies without ever owning a single share in any of them.

Littlejohn and the Social Bite team are building a following of their own and, maybe most importantly, having an enormous impact on business leaders and government in this country. Anyone who doubts this need only look at Social Bite’s plans to have almost 10,000 people sleeping out under the stars this December to support homeless people.

The pitching competition, which sees the winner receive a trip to Silicon Valley, saw Tarryn Gorre-founded food tech start-up Kafoodle edge digital health player Care Sourcer and Beezer Apps to the prize. Handing over the award, last year’s winner Cameron Graham of StoriiCare said how transformative his own trip to “The Valley” had been – StoriiCare now has an office just outside San Francisco and has gained an audience with some top venture capitalists.

A highlight of the Startup Summit, which was opened by the First Minister, for many was an inspirational keynote address by Chris van der Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios, TVSquared and Entrepreneurial Scotland, who talked about how founders should think about internationalisation from day one and find opportunities to flourish in spite of “big, bad Brexit”.

(Nick Freer is a founding director at the Freer Consultancy and Full Circle Partners)