Small Talk: Entrepreneurship as a force for social good

One doesn't hear so much talk of the "big society" these days, but that is not to say it isn't out there. The rise of social entrepreneurship has largely gone unnoticed by the mainstream business community – or policymakers for that matter – but thanks to the support of some organisations that might surprise you, this is a movement which is definitely in the ascendancy.

Those groups include the Schwab Foundation, which is a major funder of social enterprises but is better known as the organiser of the annual festival of capitalism in Davos that is the World Economic Forum, and Oxford University's Said Business School, home to a social-entrepreneurship centre founded by eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll's Skoll Foundation.

To the list must be added Lloyds Banking Group, which has just announced a new package of support for social entrepreneurs that is worth £14m. Its Social Entrepreneurs Programme, which follows a similar initiative run by the bank last year, is an alliance with the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), which operates 10 centres around the country.

Lloyds' funding is enough to pay for learning support from the SSE for 1,300 social entrepreneurs, with the bank also pledging contributions of between £4,000 and £25,000 for each entrepreneur's organisation.

But who exactly are these social entrepreneurs? It's a difficult concept to pin down – not least because there are many in the movement who argue that trying to provide a narrow definition would be counter-productive and potentially exclusive.

For its part, the SSE says a social entrepreneur "is someone who works in an entrepreneurial manner, but for public or social benefit, rather than to make money". It distinguishes social entrepreneurship from social enterprise, which many people use as interchangeable terms, on the basis that businesses in the latter space focus on profit as well as community good. By contrast, social entrepreneurs, the SSE argues, are wholly focused on public or social benefit.

In practice, the two concepts are clearly closely linked. And what is increasingly apparent is that many of the small businesses run as social enterprises not only add to the common good but also produce higher-than-average levels of commercial success. The survival rate, after five years, of organisations founded by graduates from the SSE is 13 per cent higher than for new businesses as a whole in the UK.

Enabling Enterprise, founded four years ago, is a good example of social entrepreneurship. The organisation works with schools in London, Manchester and Birmingham to help students develop a wider range of skills and experiences for life.

These small and medium-sized enterprises deserve more support of the type that Lloyds is now extending. Not just on the basis of the social good they deliver, but also because their track records of performance justify additional investment in the sector. The sustainable business models offered by many social enterprises have been valuable engines of job creation and added economic value.

Plus there's the fact that people like and trust these organisations, which is more than you can say about most private enterprises. In a post-financial crisis age, where free-market capitalism is no longer necessarily seen as a force for good, social entrepreneurship could just be the antidote to public antipathy towards business.

£3m launch for company spawned in university labs

Britain's universities have an excellent track record of spawning technologies that provide the foundation for commercial success. The University of Liverpool says an idea conceived in its laboratories will be another one: Versarien, set up in 2010 to commercialise a process for the production of porous metallic materials that the university pioneered, will today announce its intention to float on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim).

Versarien is expecting to raise £3m from investors in the initial public offering, and is targeting a market capitalisation of around £12m. Some £2.3m of the proceeds will be invested immediately in the acquisition of another business, Total Carbide, which works in similar technologies.

The combined companies will target the $11bn (£7.3bn) market for cooling systems in devices such as computers.

The materials invented in the University of Liverpool's labs have unusually good heat transfer properties – as a result, Versarien says its products are between three and 10 times more effective than traditional cooling systems.

Sun is still shining on the solar power sector

Solar-power panels still offer financial incentives, despite the Government's decision last year to slash the "feed-in tariffs" paid to those who install them on homes and other buildings.

The tariff still operates for smaller installations, while larger ones qualify for the Government's Renewable Obligation Certificate scheme, offering enhanced rates for power generated by renewable energy.

It is the latter projects that interest financial-services group Foresight.

It is issuing £20m C shares in its Foresight Solar Venture Capital Fund, and is also launching a solar-based enterprise investment scheme.

Small Businessman of the Week: Gilad Tiefenbrun, chief executive, Linn

My father Ivor founded Linn almost exactly 40 years ago to produce the Sondek LP12 turntable he had designed, to generate the best-possible audio quality. The company expanded over the next three decades and I joined in 2003, initially to run the R&D department. I became managing director in 2009 and my father became chairman.

Despite the economic environment, last year was arguably our best ever – sales up 5 per cent and profits up more than 20 per cent. Even in a recession people look for value; that may just be about a very low price or looking for something that will really last. The middle market gets squeezed.

My impact on the business has been to shift us into the digital age – when I first arrived we hadn't even begun to think about streaming media, so I immediately got a team working on that. We had our first digital streaming product on the market by 2007 and it was a huge hit – unlike on even the best quality CD players, you're actually hearing the music in exactly the way it sounds on the original studio master recording. We make everything in our Glasgow production facility, which gives the sort of teamwork that can really drive innovation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
News
Ireland will not find out whether gay couples have won the right to marry until Saturday afternoon
news
News
Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-chol
news
News
Manchester city skyline as seen from Oldham above the streets of terraced houses in North West England on 7 April 2015.
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?