Make the most of the rapidly growing social investment market was the key message to come out of the biggest Social Finance Fair ever held outside London yesterday.
The Social Enterprise West Midlands (SEWM) event, which was held at 4 Brindleyplace in Birmingham, urged more than 220 delegates to forget the era of Government grants and funding and instead concentrate on attracting a whole host of new finance options now available to them.
Speakers from Big Society Capital, Social Investment Business and Big Lottery provided a stimulating insight into the type of funding now available, including unsecured loans, quasi-equity and community share investment.
This was reinforced by a keynote address from the Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd MP, who broke away from the Conservative Conference to reiterate the Government’s commitment to accelerating the growth of the social investment market.
Melanie Mills, Chief Executive of SEWM, was delighted with the turnout: “Social enterprises are more confident about the future than SMEs, with 57% predicting growth over the next year.
“However, feedback from our members tells us that access to finance and cash flow problems are still dominating the landscape and proving big barriers to starting-up and growing.”
She continued: “The event had three main aims; to inform ‘civil society’ organisations of the key information they need to know about investment, to introduce delegates to social finance providers and to invest the time and specialist resource needed to bring investors and social ventures together.
“The challenge is not about availability of investment capital, but about matching credible enterprises that can and will deliver solid social and financial returns.”
Backed by PwC, CAF, Unity Trust Bank, UnLtd and Locality, the Social Finance Fair also staged four 30-minute master classes to give practical advice and tips on business critical issues.
These ranged from investment readiness, preparing applications, making sense of investor terminology and the new concept of Crowd Funding.
Seen by many as the ‘new finance kid on the block’, it provides a way for people to pool small amount of monies to back a social enterprise and its popularity is growing exponentially.
Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, added his support: “Government wants charities and social enterprises to play a bigger role in society and that will involve us making it easier to access long-term, affordable finance.
“We are therefore committed to building the investment pipeline by providing a ladder of support for social entrepreneurs from start-up through to investment and growth.”
One of the key aspects of the event was to provide successful case studies of social enterprises that had been successful in raising finance.
Reviive, which restores unwanted furniture for sale, agreed a £40,000 unsecured loan from the Charity Bank to help it start-up and open a shop in Shrewsbury.
As a result of this backing, it now employs staff, creates work placements and trains volunteers, as well as providing recycled furniture at low cost.
“The loan investment was to pay for the initial set up costs, marketing, premises adaptations and to provide cash flow. This is being repaid over 5 years,” explained Jean Jarvis, Director of Reviive.
“We’ve made a profit in each year and we are now looking to develop three more sites over the next twelve months.”
The Social Finance Fair was also a celebration of the culinary expertise available in the West Midlands, with 11 food specialists – all social enterprises - providing the catering for the entire day.
The treats ranged from homemade soup (Change Kitchen CIC) and sticky chicken skewers (The Signing Tree Conference Centre) to delicious cakes (DevenishGirlBakery) and macaroons from Miss Macaroon.
Social Enterprise West Midlands, which has recently been acquired by the Aspire Group, is a business network of over 400 members with a shared vision of growing the social enterprise sector.
It provides information, resources and networking opportunities for anyone interested in starting, developing or working with social enterprises.
For further information, please visit www.socialenterprisewm.org.uk or contact 0845 450 7515.