Case Study - Loans

BeeBee Wraps

‘Wrap. Eat. Wash. Repeat.’ This is the strapline for BeeBee Wraps, an organic, plastic-free alternative to single-use clingfilm and the brainchild of Cambridge-based social entrepreneur, Kath Austin.

Whilst on maternity leave, Kath wanted to find a way to minimise her family’s use of plastic and became curious about how people kept food fresh before the invention of clingfilm. She discovered waxed cotton and waxed paper was used to protect food, so, Kath started to make waxed cotton covers for her own use, from her kitchen.

“I spent a few years playing about with it, identifying the best formula and sourcing ethical materials until I was confident it was a good product. Prompted by friends, who were by then also using the waxed cotton wraps I made, I was encouraged to turn my hobby into a business. I listed the product on Etsy, the online handcraft shop, and within 12 hours had two orders, neither of which were from my mum! And the orders just kept coming,” explains Kath.

Based on early sales it became apparent that the product of Kath’s cottage industry had the potential to make a real difference in the world. People are becoming much more conscious of the impact plastic is having on the environment and oceans thanks to the BBC’s Blue Planet and Sky’s Ocean Rescue, but quite how Kath could develop her business to achieve what was needed to make real change, remained a challenge. That was until she enrolled on a Cambridge Social Ventures’ (CSV) weekend. If deemed appropriate, attendees are invited to join an intensive programme, which supports the entrepreneur through their journey from concept to creation and to scale up the operation to make real social impact.

To speed the process up, Kath had a vision of waxing the cotton before it was cut. This had the added benefit of reducing wastage, as any scraps could be used as fire-lighters or twist ties. A friend put Kath in touch with Cambridge Consultants, who helped to design bespoke equipment and processes. In order to pay for the new equipment, the business needed finance and Kath explored the options available to a business that hadn’t been trading for very long. Choices were limited.

“We had so much traction in the business that it didn’t make sense to give away equity right now, and, due to our short trading history, our bank was unable to help. We therefore applied for a social loan from Foundation East, who provide business loans and support to small businesses and social enterprises. Foundation East gets funding from individuals and corporations in return for Community Investment Tax Relief.

“Even though I knew starting a business was risky, I was not in a position to risk our family home, which the bank would have expected. Foundation East was able to consider our application on its merits and did not require us to provide any security.” said Kath. “The support we get from our Foundation East account manager is priceless too. This is vital and particularly important for social enterprises. Most of us are in business because we want to make a difference, not because we are business people, necessarily. Tapping into Foundation East’s expertise, alongside the loan has been brilliant.”

As a result of Kath’s hard work, her mentors at CSV and finance from Foundation East, BeeBee Wraps now employs four full time and four part time manufacturing staff, one part time events manager, a part time accountant and a sales and marketing associate.

BeeBee Wraps’ food wrappers are made from organic cotton, tree resin, British beeswax and organic jojoba oil. They are 100% compostable and all the materials are sourced ethically and sustainably, from cotton grower through to production. As each wrap is capable of being used around 100 times, the product is saving the planet from over three-million single usages of non-biodegradable plastic. Furthermore, the company pays their staff at least the living wage and they support bee populations by working alongside beekeeping communities to perpetuate the pollinating population. "We strive to reach zero waste and low impact in everything we do," said Kath.

Ipswich Recovery Hub

In Ipswich alone it’s estimated there are 700 Class A drug users and 2180 binge drinkers. If you add to these the statistics regarding gambling, gaming, food, shopping and sexual addictions the cost of these to the state (healthcare, community, policing, education) is huge.

Simon Aalders and Daniel Farnham are passionate about making change, through inclusion and community support, and together came up with the idea to create a Recovery Hub based in the heart of the Ipswich Community. Simon has had extensive experience in addiction recovery including leading the Reducing the Strength campaign (reduced street drinking and disorder in Ipswich); developing the Suffolk Prostitution Strategy 2006 – 2012 (removal of street prostitution in Ipswich) and was the pioneer of Crossroads, a day treatment centre in Ipswich that supports offenders into treatment and employment. Daniel has established a treatment centre in another part of the UK, has been the Chief Executive and registered manager of a drug recovery unit and is a qualified re-hab practitioner.

The Recovery Hub Ipswich is a Community Hub that provides residential accommodation to recovering addicts who require ongoing support with their issues once they have completed an intensive rehabilitation programme. Key to the success of the Recovery Hub programme is mutual aid and peer mentor principles. The Recovery Hub will be the focus of recovery in Ipswich, establishing a community of people in the town to support each other, building resilience, inspiring others to recovery, and to demonstrate that people can, and do, recover from addiction and lead fulfilling lives.

As well as quality residential care and expert support, Recovery Hub also provides much needed community recreation space in Ipswich including an alcohol free café, music venue, function suite and a community garden.

Thanks to the generosity of The East of England Co-Operative, who agreed to grant a lease on a disused former pub at a reasonable rent with the first year rent free, the business partnership only needed to raise funds to undertake renovations, purchase equipment, stock, furnishing, IT as well as to provide some working capital during the renovation period.

“We approached a lot of funders to raise the finance needed to make the Recovery Hub idea a reality and were successful with a few small grants, but despite understanding and appreciating the social and health impact our scheme would create, the statutory and large grant making bodies weren’t able to provide the seed money we needed. Thankfully, Foundation East was prepared to support the venture without the need for us to provide security, so long as we had a solid business case and had a business support package with Social Incubator East in place.

“We heard about Foundation East through our relationship with The East of England Co-Operative. The East of England Co-Operative are members of Foundation East. Working with Foundation East to develop our application was really useful. Our loans manager, Valerie Jarrett challenged our business plan, our thinking and our model to help us firm up our application. Their ongoing support and guidance is still helping us shape our business,” Simon advises.

Recovery Hub's social impact goes far beyond creating employment, as Simon explains. “This is a unique model for a sustainable social franchise, with those going through the hub becoming recovery assets in their own right. It’s different to other recovery approaches because it’s set up to be part of, not separate to, the community from the outset.”

Harry Specters

According to research conducted by London School of Economics, Autism is the most costly medical condition in the UK. It is estimated at least £32 billion per year is spent on treatment, care and support for both children and adults along with the impact on the economy of lost earnings. Autism costs more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined,” states Harry Specters Chocolates founder Mona Shah.

Mona Shah is an experienced NHS corporate governance advisor with a love of chocolate, an autistic son and the mindset to make a difference. Whilst undertaking a chocolate making course, Mona had an epiphany: making and packaging chocolate involves a series of very routine tasks; perfect for individuals on the autistic spectrum. Having become increasingly aware of the lack of employment opportunities for people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, like her son, Mona spotted an opportunity to make a difference. The social enterprise that was to become Harry Specters Chocolates began its evolution.

“Most people want to lead meaningful lives. They want to be contributing members of society. People with autism are no exception. It is estimated that out of 350,000 people with autism of working age in the UK; only 15% are in full-time employment; 61% of those not employed are desperate to work and 79% of those on Incapacity Benefit want to work. There is no doubt that for people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, finding paid employment is a major challenge. This affects them mentally, physically and financially,” advises Mona.

Mona and her partner Shaz set up Harry Specters in the kitchen of their home in Cambridgeshire and as well as producing delicious award winning chocolates provide free training, work experience and employment opportunities to people with Autism. Two years on, and 100 people helped, the time had come to expand. They sought help through the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, with whom Foundation East is a founding partner. Finance from this scheme is only available to social enterprises and comes with a full business support package.

“I had no doubt about recommending Harry Specters to our loans assessment panel,” advises Valerie Jarrett, Business Loans Manager. “They had a good business, both financially and socially and it needed to move to the next stage. They had the proven ability to sell the product to high-end businesses, such as Nadler Hotels, The Cairn Group and Adnams. They had a fantastic support network, including Cambridge Social Ventures and Unlimited, and a proven business model.”

Since launching in December 2012 Mona has been successful in winning support from Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Social Impact scheme, a startup grant from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, a grant from UnLtd’s Big Venture Challenge Programme and investment from Clearly So as well as finance from Foundation East. She has also gained media coverage from The Economist, Times, FT, Guardian, Daily Mail and BBC Look East, raising awareness about the positive contributions people with autism are able to make to society, if only given the chance