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We meet David Barker, founder of Techcentre and one of our nominees for the Social Entrepreneur Index 2020.

What does your social enterprise do?

Techcentre works in partnership with clients to innovate new social enterprise technology startups to tackle issues in society.

What made you start your business up?

Unfortunately, there aren’t enough entrepreneurs focused on using technology to innovate new ways to tackle issues in society. Setting up Techcentre, we can be intentional about the mission to find new ways to tackle societal problems, and then work with social funders and government to innovate new solutions that we then support through the key three phases of prototyping, piloting and scaling up.

How do you measure your impact?

Techcentre’s social impact is measured by the social impact reporting of the social enterprises we help create.

For example, our first three startups we helped innovate and create have social impact reporting, including:

  • www.charityithelp.org.uk – three years helping charities, 712 services delivered to charities, £735,000 estimated value of services provided pro-bono
  • www.placer.co.uk – nine universities live, 4,124 employers promoted 7,000 opportunities to 235,000 students with 25,000 saved to shortlists and 2,000 applications
  • www.thevp.org.uk – 115 schools signed up, 233 volunteers signed up, 95 volunteers so far delivered enrichment activities for students in schools with ratings of 3.6 out of 4 from volunteers and 3.8 out of 4 from schools on their experiences.

What help did you have to start your social enterprise?

Like many entrepreneurs, the risk investment capital to-date has come from myself to start the agency. This was important in the early days as I was still shaping what a Social Innovation Agency would look like and this has helped me to pivot quickly. As we start to finalise our unique proposition, and have case studies, we can then start to also look to attract our own investors to start scaling up Techcentre, combined with building our network of investors to invest in our client startups.

How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?

It’s important when defining a legal structure to think about what will be the best vehicle to scale exponentially your social impact. For Techcentre, we are a normal business model as we will require traditional investment capital to scale-up. For our startups, we also help choose the correct legal form. For Placer this is a normal business model, but for two others these are charities.

What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?

Being involved in projects that can help improve people’s lives!

What have been the three biggest challenges that you have overcome (or that you’re still working on)?

Financial – it’s not easy using your own money and time to start something, but we are close to being in a position where we can attract funding from investors to scale up Techcentre.

Personal – I’m married and it’s not always easy to balance the time and commitment you have to put into startups with a personal life. However, I’m thankful my wife understood that before we got married and is very supportive!

COVID-19 – Like all businesses and entrepreneurs, COVID-19 is having an impact. I’m overcoming this with an Entrepreneur’s Mindset from previous experience. I’ve produced a video on this that may help others too.

What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Really do your research on the social issue you are tackling and how others are tackling them. Your social enterprise needs to be different – even subtly – so understanding the eco-system will help affirm you are on the right track. It may also uncover some excellent strategic partnerships for you.

Why do you think social enterprise is important?

If we look at many social issues today, the statistics are getting worse and not better. Therefore we need innovation and social entrepreneurship at its core is about innovation and new ideas for social impact. It’s OK for entrepreneurs to just be entrepreneurs - but I’m hoping we will attract more entrepreneurs to be social entrepreneurs, especially in this time where the world is getting worse for so many people.

What’s been your most rewarding experience as a social entrepreneur?

My first social enterprise innovation was popup academies training long-term unemployed people into work. We received £1m from the UK Government that saw us pilot in seven UK towns and cities training 233 long-term unemployed people. One woman was unemployed for 19 years, who is now working. That was exciting to see!

What information sources would you recommend (books, websites, organisations?) to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?

‘Good to Great’ and ‘Built to Last’ are two books I always recommend. It’s important we create social enterprises that are going to be here for the long term – too many people in society lose hope when projects come and go and they need consistency.

What’s been the most surprising thing about creating a social enterprise?

I thought I’d only create only one social enterprise, but so far have created five and looking at starting a sixth!

What are your plans for the next two to five years?

Ensure our first client startups scale successfully whilst also laying foundations to receive investment into Techcentre for us to scale up also.

What is the biggest change you would like to see in the world?

Every student in education all over the world to have access to a connected device and the internet!

What have been your three proudest moments as a social entrepreneur?

  • Seeing unemployed people now in work from my first social enterprise
  • Seeing charities transformed by good technology and more lives changed in my third social enterprise
  • Seeing undergraduates at university focused on obtaining work experience to increase their employability in my fourth social enterprise

What would you say to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider the social impact of their businesses?

In difficult times, think of suppliers and their employees as much as you do for your own employees. We need to keep cash flowing into supply chains as much as in our business.

Also, consider paying contractors more if they charge too little. Too often contractors are driven down and it’s important we help them charge more where they should.

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 information visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk

Amanda Armstrong
Article by Amanda Armstrong
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