Spotlight on: UnLtd Social Enterprise fund boosts tech for good in Bristol
Running a sustainable digital or tech business that thrives by doing social good may be a pipe dream for some, but for the hundreds of businesses worldwide who are part of UnLtd those dreams are fast becoming realities.
UnLtd, the UK’s leading support organisation and network for social entrepreneurs, recently launched in Bristol tech business incubator Engine Shed to fund and support some of the South West’s most exciting and innovative businesses doing social good. And with its range of awards including the ‘Do It‘ award for early stage startups, right through to the ‘Grow It‘ award for scale-ups, there’s something for every stage of social enterprise.
“We provide support to startups as well as those looking to grow and scale”
UnLtd has already supported several social enterprise startups in the South West, including AutonoMe’s learning disability tech, Remarkable Lives – an innovative social tech venture that’s tackling loneliness and isolation – and, most recently, Grow Bristol – a high-tech urban farming enterprise.
So we caught up with UnLtd’s South West Award Manager Julie Carthy to see how it all works, as well as some of the startups taking part to find out how the fund and support received has helped them to grow their business in the early stages and beyond.
UnLtd, which was set up in 2000 by seven non-profit organisations, is funded by the income generated by a £100 million endowment from the Millennium Commission as a permanent source of grants for individuals throughout the United Kingdom to develop their skills and talents and contribute to the community.
“We have such a great range of UnLtd Award Winners in Bristol and the wider South West”
Julie tells us: “UnLtd supports social entrepreneurs to develop their ideas to turn them into successful social enterprises by providing funding and tailored support packages to help develop their personal and business skills. We provide support to startups as well as those looking to grow and scale. Our award winners can benefit from workshops, coaching, mentoring, pro-bono legal support, connections and focussed networking events.”
The journey: A summary of the social entrepreneur’s journey at UnLtd
Its team set up shop in Bristol in 2016, so its Bristol-based staff and award winners also benefit from meeting space to facilitate collaboration and networking with academics, high-tech, creative and low carbon entrepreneurs and innovators, business leaders, policy makers and professionals – as well as a consistent location for their meetings and events.
Julie adds: “We have such a great range of UnLtd Award Winners in Bristol and the wider South West and needed an inspirational meeting place to provide our coaching sessions and to host our popular workshops. The Engine Shed fits the bill perfectly and has the additional advantage of providing an accessible meeting space for the social entrepreneurs in the city – this is really useful when you don’t yet have an office of your own.”
Growing for good
Grow Bristol, one of UnLtd’s most recent award winners, has been becoming a greater part of the South West’s social enterprise ecosystem in the past couple of years.
The startup, which is developing and demonstrating innovative and sustainable ways of growing food in the city all year round, was given a ‘Do it’ award for early stage startups from UnLtd back in 2014 and shortly after demonstrated its smart aquaponics system (pictured right) in the Engine Shed itself.
Grow Bristol’s Founder Dermot O’Regan tells us: “We set up a fish tank, two layers of plants and LED lights alongside our promotional materials and over a period of 6 weeks were open to public visits, during which we gave demonstrations and talks to the general public, school groups and visiting dignitaries. In addition, our showcase became part of Venturefest Bristol and Bath 2015.”
Now, three years later, as Grow Bristol plans to scale up its commercial activities and grow its impact they looked to UnLtd for further support and have now being awarded a ‘Grow It’ award. This will help them achieve their growth plans over the next few months with not only some financial support but also tailored mentoring, expert advice and connections.
Dermot adds: “We will work with UnLtd on four main areas of development needs with specific challenges over the year ahead: governance and leadership, financial performance, market potential and social impact. My principle challenge and objective for the year ahead is to develop a new team around me and produce a business plan for growth and impact that will enable investment for the following year.”
But the success of the South West’s most philanthropic UnLtd startups doesn’t end there.
In 2016 UnLtd supported South West-based Remarkable Lives, an innovative social tech venture that’s harnessing the familiarity and accessibility of social networking to tackle loneliness and isolation, improve health and well being and provide real-life solutions to challenges confronting our ageing society.
“Our mission is to help society stay in touch and age well together”
The Remarkable Lives approach is founded in storytelling and was inspired by Founder Owen McNeir’s (pictured left) work in the care sector and his determination to help change society’s perceptions of later life by celebrating the life stories and achievements of older people, recording their hidden memories and rediscovering their untold stories.
With the help of an UnLtd ‘Do It’ Award and a successful Kickstarter campaign that caught the imagination of 107 backers, Remarkable Lives is poised to launch its app for Ageing Well this autumn.
Owen says: “The key to this solution is connectivity, achieved through the innovative application of proprietary technology and by encouraging active collaboration between family, friends and everyone involved in caring and supporting an individual in later life. Our mission is to help society stay in touch and age well together by providing a safe and empowering environment that allows people to connect their past with the present and with the future.”
So, if you’re a social entrepreneur with a bright idea to do some good in the South West community you can get involved by checking out the UnLtd website to see the types of ventures it supports and to look at the eligibility criteria for the various awards.
Julie adds: “You can submit an ‘Expression of Interest’ via the website for a particular award. But it is a good idea to have an informal conversation with me before you begin the application process.”
Thanks to Julie for chatting to us about UnLtd and to Dermot at Grow Bristol and Owen at Remarkable Lives for sharing their experiences. Julie holds regular drop-ins at the Engine Shed for those interested in getting involved in the UnLtd programme. The next will be on Wednesday 23 August 2017. To book a 30-minute slot contact [email protected]. You can also stay tuned with UnLtd opportunities by following them on Twitter here: @UnLtd.