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Friday, April 29, 2016

Meet the Venture Further 2016 Social category finalists


Business Analysis and Strategic Management student Eric Hin realised that opportunities for homeless people and ex-prisoners to reintegrate with society and lead fulfilling lives are very limited. To tackle this, he founded Sozio, a social enterprise aimed at tackling negative images of these disadvantaged communities, helping them reconnect with those around them.

“Homeless people in particular often struggle to find a second chance. They are particularly limited in terms of the support available to them, as without a permanent address you cannot receive any benefits, and there are very few structured programmes helping them develop skills and improve their livelihoods,” Eric explains. “At Sozio, we want to offer this community a second chance.”

Sozio was inspired by the work of Domingos Totora, who makes furniture and other products from purely recycled cardboard. Through Sozio, participants will be encouraged to build similar green products, but at the same time they will be trained to take on a managerial role. Eventually, the participants themselves will be running the company. “We want the organisation to feel like a home, as well as equipping them with valuable business skills so that they can contribute in a meaningful way to society,” Eric says.

The first phase of the project will focus on the homeless and ex-prisoners, but in future Eric hopes to reach out to other disadvantaged communities, such as those with disabilities and mental health issues. They also plan to collaborate with charities and other social enterprises, in order to have the widest possible impact. 

“Our initial aim is to get as many homeless people off the streets of Manchester as possible, but we believe that our concept has the potential to be implemented throughout the whole of the UK. It is predicated on building relationships centred on trust, something which is crucial if we are to effectively tackle the problems disadvantaged communities face. 

“Venture Further has played a big part in helping us develop the courage to move our idea to the next step. The application process is incredibly motivating, as it forces you to hone your business plan but also makes you realise the true potential of your ideas, and how with the right funding and support, it is possible to make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Student Talent Pool 

While studying for his PhD in Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, Leopoldo Rodríguez noticed that so often students who create their own start-up fail to move the business forward, due to a lack of access to the right skills. Recognising the need to remove this significant barrier to progress, Leopoldo founded Student Talent Pool , a service that matches students with certain skills to internal university start-ups.

“Students often struggle to bridge the gap between having a great idea and transforming that into a viable business that attracts investment, as they do not have access to the broad range of skills necessary to do this,” Leopoldo says. “A classic example is someone who has developed a brilliant concept for an app, but does not know an app developer, so the project falls flat before it has even begun. We know that there is a huge pool of talent at the university, and we want to leverage this to ensure more start-ups have the chance to be successful, uniting people with a common entrepreneurial spirit.”

Leopoldo and his team are currently piloting the programme, holding launch events and workshops at the University of Manchester where students can find out how to get involved. Students will be able to contact them directly to tell them what skills they have and what kind of projects they would like to be involved with. In the future, their aim is that this will be managed through a website.
In the first year, Leopoldo hopes to run three to five projects. Start-ups will describe the projects they would like to push through, which will then be advertised to students who can volunteer to get involved. 

“This is not only a great way to build up your CV, but you will be playing a central role in the growth of a student start-up.

“Today’s job market is incredibly competitive, so the more hands-on business experience you have, the better. A start-up environment is the perfect place to refine and build on your existing skills, but also develop new ones – the collaborative environment means you find yourself doing a bit of everything, which is a really valuable addition to anyone’s CV.”

The team’s long-term goal is to attract external companies wishing to sponsor events or advertise their own projects, for which they would pay a small fee. “As Student Talent Pool is a social enterprise, we want it to be self-sustaining. Getting external companies involved is a great way to diversify the kind of projects students can be involved with, but also make sure that the service remains free for the student entrepreneurs and volunteers,” Leopoldo explains. 

“Venture Further has been a fantastic opportunity for us. We have benefitted greatly from the interaction with other start-ups, as it allowed us to refine our own ideas by learning about the challenges they face. It has also meant that many students are already keen to be part of the programme, a huge bonus!”

Social Growth 

Master of Enterprise graduate Georgios Konstantakopoulos, along with his partner Liam Wright, was driven to help businesses understand their impact, both societal and environmental. In response, they set up Social Growth, with the aim to ensure as many SMEs as possible are social enterprises, generating purpose-led profits that have a positive impact on the world around them. 

“Social Growth currently works in two ways. We have the Social Growth Lab where we help companies create viable business opportunities with a sustainable twist, or adapt a current business model to be more sustainable.” Georgios continues, “We also run Manchester Social Entrepreneurs, a community of more than 640 entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries with one thing in common; they all want to make a positive impact on society”

Manchester Social Entrepreneurs meet to inspire, educate and support likeminded people in forming social enterprises all over Manchester. With SMEs making up 99% of all businesses in the UK, there is plenty of scope to expand this idea further afield. 
Georgios explains, “We understand that for a business to be viable it must make a profit, but we are here to help companies do so in a sustainable and ethical way. Social Growth will identify ethical and sustainable supply chain options and opportunities for a business to give back to the community around it.

“We are often asked why companies would want to engage with us and the answer is simple: we need to sustain the finite resources of the planet and build on the emerging trend of ethical consumerism, something which has grown 400% in the last decade to £75 billion in the UK last year.

“At Social Growth we want to help SMEs capture some of this market by not just having a social responsibility programme, but by having the principles of social entrepreneurship at the very core of the business model.”

“Entering Venture Further is just the start for us; we want to take our events across the UK to as many cities as possible. We really do believe we can make the world 100% sustainable.”

Insta Lingua (Agathe Montre)

While spending her third year in Spain last year, fourth year Business Management and Spanish student Agathe Montre experienced how frustrating it can be when you are unable to express yourself through language.

“When I went to Spain I realised that despite all the classes I took, I actually couldn’t speak the language!” Agathe says that not being able to express herself affected her confidence: “It had a real impact on my wellbeing, and it made me realise how many others must feel like this when they are trying to get to grips with a new language.”

Her experience made her recognise the real value of learning a language through oral practice with proficient speakers, through conversation and everyday language.
Agathe hopes to develop an app that will allow people learning a language to connect with native speakers, which she believes will empower people to do more with their lives.

A learner and a native speaker will each build profiles on the app. When they log in, they will be matched with people with shared interests in their area who want to learn and speak a certain language.
The app is in early stages at the moment but, through further investment, Agathe hopes to start developing and coding the app.

For now, the app will launch in the UK, targeting people who already have a grasp of the basics of a language. Later she wants to take it to other countries , targeting the expatriate community, as she believes English is one of the most important languages in the world today.

“It is a real opportunity for language learners. I feel it is important for people in other countries to build the confidence to speak English through practice, to allow them more opportunities to get them further.”
However, Agathe hopes to attract more languages than just English. 

“Britain is one of the most cosmopolitan places in the world, with so many different languages being spoken. However, through my research I have found that when it comes to foreign languages the UK’s standard is much lower than other countries. This app hopes to take advantage of the diversity on Britain’s doorstep and provide more opportunities for people as the world continues to get smaller.”

When the app is launched, Agathe hopes to build partnerships with museums and cafes to ensure people meet in safe places. In turn, through customer deals and incentives, she hopes that this will also provide opportunities for revenue those using the app will not be paid.

Agathe concludes: “Insta Lingua will give people the confidence to speak more proficiently in a language that’s new to them, but more importantly it has been designed to provide access to more opportunities for people globally.”

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