Don't wait to turnover £1 million to start nurturing relationships with investors

By Servane Mouazan

We were delighted when Adele Blakebrough, CEO of the Social Business Trust, opened our first Make A Wave incubator. She generously shared insights  on growing, scaling and funding for social businesses.  Adele also described the characteristics that make a venture worthy of investment by her organization.  A couple of years later, we think her advice is just as relevant and so we’re sharing it with our whole community.

Adele has a practitioner background. She has always been interested in linking social enterprises with peers, experts, diverse sources of finance and more importantly, growing them into recognised household brands. She will be satisfied if anyone can name at least 100 of the +/-66,000 social businesses that are said to be on the market place. She acknowledges that some projects are meant to stay small and local, whilst others should grow regionally, even nationally, to make a substantial and incremental difference.

The Social Business Trust targets established businesses that turn over £1 million a year, but that can also prove their social model and the impact they make. Being a charity, the Social Business Trust focuses essentially on organisations that have an asset lock and have a clear model of reinvestment in their social purpose. Charities who have a product to sell and a viable proposition, can qualify, others with a model solely focused on donations and that are not replicable on a larger scale won’t qualify.

Adele stresses that beyond the robust business model and evidence of impact, the Trust also looks at the profile of the CEO. Is she passionate enough to lead the organisation to the next level? Additionally, they wants to see strong teams that demonstrate the intention to grow regionally and nationally. A characteristic of successful investees is their willingness to welcome outside experts. Adele stresses that she sometimes notices reluctance to absorb outside expertise. Working in silos can be dangerous at that stage. 

Importantly, Adele was keen to point out that social entrepreneurs shouldn’t wait to turn over £1 million to start nurturing relationships with potential investors!

By connecting early, investors can involve entrepreneurs in development opportunities, relevant events or seminars that will help them reach the £1 million threshold.

She says “the more we see you, the more we are likely to remember your face and your story. I personally like to see the progress you make.”

The top 3 tips Adele shared with the group:

1) Communicate clearly. Be able to communicate in one short sentence what your business is all about: your aim, what you do and how you pay for it. (Whatever your sources of finance are: grant, equity, public contracts, etc)

2) Don’t give up when somebody says no! That’s the worst they can do. So show sheer determination and stick around until someone says yes.

3) Set ambitious and audacious goals but start small in a very focused way. So test your model as you go, again and again. And change what needs to be changed.

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