Richard Jennings: The public sector can also host the innovative entrepreneur

Scotland has positioned itself as a hot house for entrepreneurs with the creation of an ecosystem to back start-up and scale-up companies with a focus on ­economic growth.

Initiatives such as his homeless village in Edinburgh have helped Social Bites Josh ­Littlejohn disrupt Scotlands approach to the problem. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Entrepreneurialism is often seen as the domain of highly innovative individuals and the private sector and it is less often a trait nurtured ­within the public sector and established ­businesses. Yet the level of change, challenge and opportunity across the housing sector presents a smorgasbord of opportunities for the budding entrepreneur. The question is how do we foster this?

High-profile and energetic individuals such as Social Bite’s Josh ­Littlejohn have disrupted Scotland’s approach to tackling homelessness by mobilising ­thousands of people to raise ­millions of pounds to seed the growth of ­Housing First. Susan Aktemel has established a social enterprise ­letting agency that has secured investment from social impact investors to ­manage and deliver homes to those on the periphery of the private rented sector, often excluded by being recipients of housing benefit.

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An entrepreneurial spirit exists within Scottish Government that has led to the establishment of the LAR Housing Trust and most recently the MMR Fund with PFP Capital. Both will deliver at least 1,000 new homes each through loan funding of more than £90 million that will bring in an additional £150m through private investment. The MMR Fund only happened due to an entrepreneurial and disruptive mindset within Places for People that recognised the need for the ­sector to invent its own future.

Richard Jennings, Managing Director, Castle Rock Edinvar

In 2016, we teamed up with SUNAMP, developers of the world’s first heat battery, and the Scottish Government, to deploy the technology in tackling fuel poverty. At the point we agreed to the joint venture, fewer than 20 systems had been installed. At the end of the project, with more than 600 installations, SUNAMP were at full production and had refined the technology, which has the potential to ­disrupt the heat and hot water ­market, delivering increased ­comfort with lower carbon and costs.

Understanding and managing the risks enabled our tenants to benefit from lower energy bills and has ­enabled SUNAMP to make a major step in its development.

Future opportunities for entrepreneurial activity are vast across our sector, from solutions to compliance monitoring and asset management, to delivery of digital services, ­supporting vulnerable tenants and promoting inclusion to name just a few. Fostering this activity is the responsibility of our sector and this will require a commercial skill set that understands and accepts risk, reducing the time from concept to commercial implementation.

Working in partnership with ­government and the private sector is key to fostering entrepreneurial talent and tackling some of housing’s knotty problems. This will require financial commitment, space to fail and a willingness to try something new. The longer term benefits will see solutions designed around the needs of tenants and communities, who are often the last to benefit from innovation and economic growth.

Richard Jennings, managing director, Castle Rock Edinvar.