Over a million pounds into south-west social enterprises…and counting!

I am so pleased that my first blog of 2019 for the Health & Wellbeing Challenge Fund (SW) (HWCF) is one where I get to announce we’ve achieved a huge milestone. As of January 31st, the Fund has invested £1,825,000 into 26 social enterprises operating in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, which takes the Fund to over halfway in deploying our available investment pot.

To reach this point, the HWCF team have spent a lot of boot leather and car tyres going across the south west meeting a vast range of dedicated people running an even broader range of superb enterprises.

Some of those who have received investment are a surprise because they don’t obviously tick any health or wellbeing boxes, including a cyber-security firm and a food distributor. However, when we have dug deeper, we have discovered that even in some of the most unlikely enterprises, they have health and wellbeing at their heart. That cyber-security firm (Blue Screen IT) are training people with autism or who have been on the verge of committing crimes such as fraud online and given them an alternative; our £150,000 means they can continue to do this and more. Somerset Local Food use their distribution team to keep isolated rural people connected and reduce loneliness. Alongside these there are the more ‘obvious’ investments, such as firms doing a fantastic job providing housing for vulnerable adults (Hollywell Housing, Plymouth Lighthouse) or delivering innovative care solutions for the elderly (NEDCare, Karrek Community Care, Quovita).

The challenges for those seeking social investment remain broadly the same as when the Fund was launched, but we are seeing a definite trend for the most forward-thinking organizations to meet these challenges and build upon them. When working with a social enterprise, we often find that the things that tend to need the most consideration prior to investment by the enterprises themselves are:

  • Is there a big enough leadership and management team, with wide enough experience and willingness to adapt to take us to this next step in our journey?
  • Is there a large enough market and clear plans in place for accessing this market to keep our enterprise running?
  • Can we demonstrate that we are making clear improvements to the lives of others?
  • Will we have enough cash available when we need it and will we make a profit?

Using the REACH Fund to ensure that these questions are answered prior to making an investment decision has been critical both to ourselves as investors and those we have invested in. We find that sometimes those interested will often leave asking about a loan until two to three months before they need the funding, but as the REACH process can take 1-3 months+ and the lending process takes a further 1-4 months, there is a clear benefit to talking to us sooner rather than later.

We of course are happy to speak to enterprises at any stage of their journey, but for those who are less certain about their ability to manage or access repayable finance, we have seen the benefit they get from taking impartial support from our Ventures team. Ventures support enterprises across the UK with professional, independent, pre-investment support to overcome their challenges in defining impact, growing revenue streams, or identifying the most suitable form of investment or investor for them.

What I have learnt over the past year is that each social enterprise is different, they are all in a different place on their journey, and with another million to lend out over the next 12 months, who knows what brilliant people, ideas, and enterprises will land in my inbox. So, if you’re not sure if you’re one of these, get in touch, we may both just be pleasantly surprised.

Leila Sharland, Investment Manager
Health & Wellbeing Challenge Fund (South West)