How entrepreneurs can gain from corporate social responsibility - Investec Comment

Susie Steyn
The social entrepreneurs have the chance to pitch to a Dragons’ Den style panel
Businesses of all sizes can enrich people’s lives through more than just the products or services they sell. Strategically chosen community partnerships can have valuable mutual benefits, and keep employees and clients inspired. To ensure your corporate social responsibility initiatives gain traction, you should partner with people whose values align with your own.

A great example is Beyond Business, set up in 2005 and run in partnership with the Bromley By Bow Centre charity. This initiative seeks to nurture budding entrepreneurs in the boroughs of Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. It looks for founders who want to make a positive impact: social entrepreneurs, who have an idea for a business that will make sustainable profits but which will, just as importantly, improve the lives of people in areas of particularly high deprivation. Investec has been involved since 2008, and it is an example of how collaboration between a larger company and the newest of startups can have positive results all round.

Beyond Business aims to give targeted support and funding of up to £20,000 to successful applicants, helping the social entrepreneurs to succeed through the challenging early years of trading. It receives up to 200 applicants every year and these are whittled down to about eight entrepreneurs who best meet the programme’s criteria (however, a number of these receive advice on alternative avenues of support). The short-listed applicants then make a Dragons’ Den-style pitch to a panel, which includes volunteers from Investec, and this then decides who to back (usually five or six applicants each year).

The benefits to applicants are clear. If successful, they are welcomed into our network and helped to forge relationships with our affiliates. At an annual college, our volunteers assist with sales and marketing, and give support in IT, HR, legal and other business areas relevant to startups. But the assistance is not limited to the start of the entrepreneur’s journey. Beyond Business remains in close contact once the enterprises are launched, with an online forum to encourage them to approach each other and us when they need help.

By partnering with the right organisation, you can nurture entrepreneurial spirit in your employees, encouraging the generation of ideas and ownership in developing them within the company. Our employees voted to back entrepreneurs through our corporate sustainability partnerships, and it gives them the opportunity to strengthen their skills and empathy in the process of volunteering. The Beyond Business programme is particularly inspirational to all involved, due to the clear focus of our entrepreneurs on social impact alongside profit.

I believe there is nothing wrong with social responsibility seeking to deliver mutual benefits. My blue sky view is that the programme will continue its positive impact in communities that need it, and as our relationships with the entrepreneurs strengthen and their businesses develop, we can also help them with our commercial offering.

Beyond Business is a chance for us to respond to a pressing need. National startup success rates are not high, but we are humbled that about 90 per cent of the social enterprises launched through the programme since we stepped up as sole funder in 2011 are still trading into their third year. I credit part of this success to the personal approach we have taken – not commoditising our support, but being flexible in what we offer.

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