Helping entrepreneurs with social ventures with Cambridge Judge
Pasnel discussion focus for start-up cohort on a mission
Belinda Bell is programme director of Cambridge Social Ventures, which runs programmes designed for people who will drive their businesses forward to create real, scaleable, lasting social or environmental change.
Cambridge Social Ventures has been developed at the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School. Belinda has been with the organisation since its inception in 2014. She’s also run a number of social ventures herself.
“This, for me, is about trying to extend the benefits of social ventures into a more broad business venture,” she says.
When it comes to the participants in the programmes, the remit is wide.
“We’re looking for a good fit,” Belinda says, “where the ideas can make a significant contribution to the problem they’re trying to solve – some are local and some global. These are people where the timing is right – they can commit fully to the venture they’re working on.”
The current group was assembled in March.
“They’re entrepreneurs, not students,” she says. “They’ve been recruited into a cohort. We do a training day like this every month. The next cohort starts in September – we’re interviewing now. We’ll take 10 to 15 people, this one is 15. They joined in March – some businesses have been going for nine years, some are just starting, so the state of their businesses is very varied. Some are working here – they can base themselves here (the Social Ventures offices are in Mill Lane).
“Running or setting up a business with a social interest at its core is essential. Only 20 per cent come from the university – this is about enabling the benefits of the university to be spread more widely, and creating social change.
“Since we started in May 2014, 112 ventures have come through: 685 entrepreneurs have joined one of our workshops since we started. Anyone is welcome to apply, we consider maybe half of the applicants, and half of those will join. BeeBee Wraps (sustainable food care) is one of ours. Repositive were in our very first cohort. Form the Future is one of ours…”
Your reporter was invited to be on a media panel alongside Simon Hall, a former BBC TV journalist and now a communications consultant, plus Tamzin Byrne, programme manager at Cambridge Social Ventures, who was a radio journalist in Australia before moving to Cambridge.
The entrepreneurs listened to the resumes from TV, print and radio environments, then asked questions.
Their business models were wildly different: Sourcing Justice addresses modern slavery issues at UN level; LatchAid is a 3D app to help breastfeeding mothers; Ministry of Waste is helping to solve the plastic crisis; LKmco’s programmes help young people into adulthood; Bush Adventures UK has a programme of outdoor activites, Danube Delta Life is a sustainable tourism firm...
The questions reveal that some haven’t really got to grips with how to portray their business in the media, and others are much more engaged.
While everyone was aware that being digitally engaged is crucial, how that worked in practice varied among the start-ups. So for instance, if you build a website but don’t use Twitter, how will you steer traffic to your site?
Clear differences of journalistic style also emerged. On radio and TV, things happen in the moment, while in the print world, there’s time for a more considered approach. Catering for each format will improve coverage.
An afternoon spent in the company of Belinda, Tamzin, Simon and all the entrepreneurs was very productive: the standard of expertise on display, and the enthusiasm of those involved, suggest that we’ll be hearing more from them. Here are three of their stories:
Samanta Skrivere, founder and CEO, Ministry of Waste
Ministry of Waste “aims to create an innovative waste management system for islands”. First up is an Indonesian island - Nusa Penida - though Samanta is based in Toulouse and Ministry of Waste is a UK-based social enterprise.
Samanta heard of the incubator while working for a French “social media monitoring” firm based in London.
“I heard about this incubator during that course at Cambridge Judge. Stansted to Toulouse is a good connection – the flight can cost less than a train to London.”
The pilot on Nusa Penida will test the business model’s assumptions.
“It’s to establish a waste management system. Sixty per cent of all plastic in the oceans comes from five countries: China, Indonesia – it’s second after China – the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. The project involves collecting the waste – daily – from from business and households, as well working with fishermen for old fishing gear recycling and doing very regular cleanups on the island to make the island the cleanest. We’re looking at every type of material we can process or recycle on the island to create a full circular economy approach.”
Samanta is also “in discussion with one big petrochemical company and two investors”.
“Once we can build the facility we will hire 30 or 40 people and expand on to other islands as soon as possible.”
Being on the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation’s year-long incubator has been time well spent.
“The course has helped me calculate the social and environmental impact of our economic activity. I can focus on subjects that take a month to roll out. For example August is my financial month and I have to be able to read financial reports.
“I’m not a financial person, I’m a doer, therefore this is a huge help to me and the project. You need to go and find innovative ways to achieve the results you want.”
Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, founder, Bricks 4 Autism
Gina is a clinical psychologist working in Cambridge. Bricks 4 Autism provides high-quality training, information and resources about Lego-based therapy.
Lego-based therapy – originally developed by Dr Dan LeGoff, a clinical neuropsychologist in America – is a social development programme for children with autism spectrum disorders or related social communication difficulties. For some children playing with Lego has the power to boost their social skills and build self-esteem.
Gina studied the approach for her PhD at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre, which endorses the training course, under the supervision of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.
“Bricks 4 Autism started in 2015,” she says. “Karen Anderson – a mentor – helped me set up as a CIC (community interest company).” The organisation trains 100 professionals a year on how to use Lego bricks for children with autism in social interaction.
“Often teachers are psychologists or speech language therapists – from all over the world. We’ve had visits from all over the world, from Australia, South America, South Africa, Oman, Europe.”
Of the course, she says: “It’s my first venture course. We’re five months in, we started in March, it goes on for a year, you get a mentor for the year and training once a month for the first six months.
“Starting a business is more work than I thought it would be but it’s very exciting at the same time, to understand how to run a business, and be sustainable, and have a social mission at its heart as well.”
Paul ‘Chuck’ Norris, founder, Bush Adventures UK
“Bush Adventures has just gone over the two-year mark,” says Chuck. “We started off as a limited company but became a CIC this month. We’re well and truly a social venture and not about the next dividend.”
Before starting up on he was a teacher and advanced behaviour management specialist. He just took the show outdoors.
“I’d been an expedition guide and outdoor leader in my holidays – so on leaving I married the two for the better,” is how he puts it. “Technology became prevalent, and outdoors provides the balance.”
Chuck now works with “a team of freelancers and a team of outdoor practitioners across the UK”. There are service agreements to deliver bushcraft training for national Scout Adventures centres, conservation work – “which is very rewarding” – and wilderness trips which take place at a site in Garboldisham near Thetford, where Bush Adventures has a three-acre plot in the woodlands, with “tents and structures including an outdoor toilet”.
This month he is hoping the Forestry Commission will approve his plan for a 37-acre section of Thetford Forest to be turned over for what he calls “an outdoor prescription – instead of a course of cognitive behaviour therapy, they do some wilderness therapy, learn how to light a fire and other outdoor skills”.
More about Cambridge Social Ventures here.