An Interview with Social Entrepreneur and Entrepreneur in Residence; Gareth Hart

Following his blog post earlier this week on Social Enterprise Myths, Guest Author Gareth Hart was kind enough to give us an interview to give us more of an insight into both his path as a Social Entrepreneur, and what he would like to see in the future of Social Enterprises.

What inspired or drove you to start your work with Social Enterprises?

I’ve worked in and around social enterprise for a long time but the trigger was attending an event at Dartington Hall Trust in 2010. I looked around and loved the vibe and the ideas that were being bounced around. The idea of running a business that delivered a good cause rather than a standard business or traditional charity motivated me to look into it more. When I was made redundant from a previous job I decided to try setting up and running my own social enterprise, hence Iridescent Ideas CIC was born.

Plymouth is A Social Enterprise City, what would you like to see happen with Plymouth and Social Enterprise in the Future?

 

I want social enterprise to become central to the way we do business in the city. My vision is that anyone starting a business would want to make that business a social enterprise.

Plymouth is a great place for social enterprise right now. We have one of the most active business networks in the UK (Plymouth Social Enterprise Network) delivering great support. Plymouth University is the world’s first social enterprise university and the City Council has cross party support for social enterprise.

We need to raise awareness of the fantastic work that social enterprises in Plymouth already do. Look at shops and businesses across the city and you’ll find social enterprises in action. There are bike shops, bakeries, photographers, cafes and pubs. We have social enterprises delivering health and social care, housing, dentistry, business advice, community energy, sport and leisure, recycling, education, the arts and more.

I feel that there is still a huge myth/controversy amongst many when it comes to types and social enterprise as such. How do you think we/or this myth can be eradicated?

There is still a lot to do to raise public awareness about social enterprise. Most people have heard of The Big Issue, Eden Project and Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Restaurants and when you explain the idea of ‘business with a good cause’ the penny drops.

We need to keep showcasing great social enterprises. For example did you know you can get your car washed by a social enterprise in Plymouth, there is a social enterprise hairdressers in Birmingham, buses are run by social enterprise in London and there are even social enterprise sports shops, florists and car garages.

What would you like to see to be put in place or implemented by government (or society) to encourage more social entrepreneurship?

We need more coherent business support for social entrepreneurs. We need to develop an ‘ecosystem’ that encourages social enterprise. If you look at ‘standard’ business there is a lot of support that has grown up over several hundred years – lawyers, accountants, marketing companies etc. We need to get this around social entrepreneurs as well.

The government could be more creative with the tax regime too – e.g. there is a Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) to encourage getting finance into social enterprises. However, the rates of relief are the same as for other schemes for ‘standard’ businesses. I’d like to see SITR extended so it encourages changes in behaviour. To stimulate social enterprise start-up other incentives could be offered in the first year or so of trading such as corporation tax exemptions, business rate relief, national insurance holidays etc.

We also need better implementation and more teeth for the Social Value Act – it needs to be extended and made mandatory, not a consideration

This manifesto from the Social Economy Alliance – a collaboration of organizations involved in developing social enterprise – is a great starting point: http://www.socialenterprise.org.uk/public/uploads/editor/Social-Economy-Alliance-2015-Manifesto.pdf

You have (once) mentioned that it is important for social entrepreneurs to have one main vision and to define their clear aim when setting up social enterprise. Can you please explain why do you think this is important?

I think the best businesses are the ones with a clear and simple proposition. Love them or hate them Microsoft’s “put a PC on every desk” was a strong idea. When you are talking social enterprise it is even more important to articulate the social cause clearly and the business solution. I meet a lot of new starts who need to clarify what they are ‘selling’. I advise clients to complete this statement: “We sell x to y.”

How does your business, Iridescent Ideas, contribute to the development of social enterprises and awareness of social enterprise regionally?

We provide business advice to help social entrepreneurs start and grow successful social enterprises. We give support around business planning, legal structures and governance, finding funding and finance and also help organizations prove the social impact of their work.

We are creating a prize fund that will encourage social enterprise development in tech sectors such as space industries, nano-tech, bio-tech/medical and environmental technologies.

We strive to get social enterprise stories in the mainstream media so we have written articles for the Western Morning News, Plymouth Herald and business magazines. We regularly blog and write white papers on social enterprise themes.

We also do a lot of policy and development work with local networks such as the dynamic Plymouth Social Enterprise Network, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Cornwall social enterprise zone and others to support and promote social enterprise development.

What is your number one recommendation for young social enterprises when faced with the problem(or how to avoid this problem) of ‘being taken seriously’ as a business?

If social enterprises, like any other business, deliver great quality products and services that people need and want they can’t fail to be taken seriously.

If you wanted to learn more about Social Enterprise, Gareth or even what we do at The Future Entrepreneurship Centre these links should help: The Social Enterprise Platform is a website where we update information on Social Enterprise Events we have supported or held as a centre, including our previous webinar series. Alongside running Iridescent Ideas and being an Entrepreneur in Residence Gareth has acted as both a mentor and Panelist on our BETA Enterprise programme.

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