Sir Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, has backed the launch of the Yorkshire Venture Philanthropy investment programme, which aims to boost investment in social enterprises in the region.
The YVP investment programme, which is managed by Leeds Community Foundation, is seeking to attract private investors now that its EU backed grants programme has been established.
Over the past 16 months, £300,000 in grants has been given to 44 social enterprises in Yorkshire and applications have been received from another 100.
Sir Tim called for more aggressive champions of a business model whose power he said is underestimated.
He also encouraged social entrepreneurs not to consider profit a dirty word when their business has a social or community purpose and to be more self-confident in their business abilities.
Social enterprises work to tackle social problems and improve communities, people’s lives or the environment. They make money from selling goods and services in the open market and re-invest the profits back into the business or the local community.
Sir Tim, founder of the award-winning Eden Project environmental social enterprise in Cornwall, was speaking at a dinner in Leeds addressing an audience of 150 business people, professional advisers, potential investors and social entrepreneurs at the launch.
“Social enterprise is the most important change in corporate organisation for 300 years,” he said.
“It is an exciting new way of doing business and will in the future be seen as the transformational social movement of our age.
“I am delighted to be supporting the Yorkshire Venture Philanthropy investment programme, which I believe is really valuable, as social enterprise is the most significant emerging sector of the economy,” he added.
Sally-Anne Greenfield, chief executive of Leeds Community Foundation, said: “We are now appealing to business people and investors to consider supporting social enterprises with either financial investment or expertise.
“There is a huge variety of enterprises ranging from those providing employment for disabled and disadvantaged people, to recycling and print businesses, housing, and community arts and leisure facilities. We believe social enterprise has an important role to play in tackling important social and environment issues here in Yorkshire.
“Not only does it play a key role in bolstering the economy, it is also a method of creating jobs in the areas where they are needed most.”
The YVP investment programme offers a variety of methods for investors to get involved including partnerships involving special funds.
It also offers specific investment opportunities and donations to particular enterprises.
Recent statistics show that social enterprise is one of the more dynamic sectors of the economy and is driving real economic growth as well as making a contribution to local communi- ties.
Some 58 per cent of social enterprises grew last year compared to 28 per cent of SMEs, according to a report by Social Enterprise and the BIS Annual Small Business Survey.
Into the Dragons’ Den
During the event, three local social enterprises, Seagulls, a Leeds-based community resource centre; Enabled Works, a disabled workers co-operative; and swimming pool Bramley Baths pitched for £10,000 of YVP investment funds.
The three had to pitch to three ‘dragons’, named after the TV programme Dragons’ Den, who included Deirdre Bounds, ethical entrepreneur and founder of i to i, Jonathan Straight, CEO of Straight, and Peter Yendell, chairman of Endless.
The audience voted via text which enterprise they wanted to get the top investment of £6,000, which was won by Enabled Works with the other two collecting £2,000 each.