The North East BIC’s Kevin Marquis and Paul McEldon, surrounded by some of the participating entrepreneurs.

The North East BIC’s Kevin Marquis and Paul McEldon (centre), surrounded by some of the participating entrepreneurs.

The North East Business and Innovation Centre (BIC) has launched the region’s first social enterprise incubator – designed to nurture entrepreneurs who want to use business as a force for good.

Innovate for Good is a facility designed to house entrepreneurs who share an aim to change the world for the better with their ideas, products, processes or services.

Based within the BIC’s new Innovation Zone at its Sunderland business park, the incubator is designed to provide the collaborative working space, practical tools and specialist support to stimulate new ideas and solutions to the challenges of today’s world.

The first cohort of 12 businesses has begun work on projects with the potential to tackle issues including inequality, poverty, isolation, climate change, ill-health and disability. Their ideas span everything from dementia support focused on using arts, activities and culture as an alternative to the traditional respite care model, to specialist training to get more disabled and disadvantaged women jobs in IT.

The aim of the incubator is to create a new community of next-generation social enterprises – businesses that value their social purpose as highly as profits, with profits reinvested or donated to improve people’s lives and the environment.

According to a recent report by Social Enterprise UK, this thriving sector of 100,000 businesses contributes £60bn to the UK economy, employs two million people and is outperforming mainstream counterparts in nearly every area of business including turnover growth, job creation and innovation.

BIC Chief Executive, Paul McEldon, said: “Social entrepreneurs play a crucial role in the UK economy and are on a mission to change the world – but they can’t do it on their own. Innovate for Good is all about creating the right environment to develop, test and structure their ideas, giving them the best possible chance of success.

“As a successful social enterprise ourselves, the BIC is dedicated to finding and encouraging ethical and sustainable ways of doing business and we have 25 years’ experience to share.”

The first intake of entrepreneurs are founders of young businesses that aim to make a difference in sectors including ageing and health, education, environment, leisure and IT. They will undergo a six-month fully-funded programme designed by the BIC to accelerate and strengthen their plans.

While working on their own business plans, the Innovate for Good entrepreneurs will also work together to tackle a group challenge – a real-world issue posed by a regional organisation. Solutions identified could lead to new businesses and collaborations.

Expert social enterprise advisers from the BIC will provide guidance throughout the programme and a panel of experienced social entrepreneurs will act as mentors.

The BIC’s Social Enterprise Manager, Kevin Marquis, said: “The North East has always been a hotbed for social enterprise. Industrial challenges and societal issues have led to the emergence of innovative solutions and the social enterprise model is best placed to address and deliver these.

“Social enterprises are in our neighbourhoods and on our high streets – from coffee shops and care homes to banks and bus companies. The sector is going through something of a revolution with the rise of conscious consumers who take more interest in the ethical practices of who they buy from.

"We are incredibly excited to help drive forward this momentum, encouraging a new wave of dynamic social enterprises who have the potential to make a real difference to the North East.”

The BIC plans to recruit a second cohort of entrepreneurs to join Innovate for Good in the autumn of 2020. To register your interest email lilla.preston@ne-bic.co.uk   

Related campaign: 

The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK. 

Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.

For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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