A Paralympian wheelchair racer, a man expelled from school at 15, and a young entrepreneur diagnosed with muscular dystrophy have been named as the most “exceptional” social entrepreneurs in the UK.
Key Fund, one of the UK’s leading social investors which operates across the North and the Midlands, sees four of its investees announced as finalists in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards – the annual celebration of Britain’s entrepreneurs who have accessed responsible business finance.
Limitless Travel, a Birmingham-based global travel firm that aims to make the world accessible to all disabled travellers, is one of just three UK finalists for the Microentrepreneur Award for Growth.
Limitless Travel was launched after founder Angus Drummond was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and experienced the difficulties of travelling with a disability. The business now employs 14 people and enables and empowers hundreds of people to travel in the UK and worldwide.
Angus Drummond said: “We are building not only a commercially successful business but one that is socially responsible and having a huge impact on people’s lives by enabling people with a disability to travel, often for the first time in a number of years.”
Louis Speight, 29, was born with cerebral palsy and despite bullying in school and an eating disorder, he went on to become a European record-breaking Paralympian. Louis co-founded his Holmfirth-based specialist sports coaching company, Omnis Circumvado - Latin for "all encompassing” - to give inclusive opportunities to people with complex needs. Louis is one of just four UK finalists for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Louis Speight said: "This is an unexpected honour, which feels like fantastic vindication for all the hard work both myself and my partner Richard have put in over the last year. We are both deeply passionate about the work of Omnis CiC and we believe Omnis shows that business can still be a force for good."
Key Fund, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020, was initially set up to breathe life into communities hit by the collapse of coal and steel industries in South Yorkshire. It has grown to support social enterprises start up or scale up across the North and the Midlands.
Matt Smith, CEO of Key Fund, said: “Social enterprises are simply businesses with a social or environmental mission at their heart. Over the years, this movement has grown and is now at the forefront of tackling society’s biggest challenges, from poverty and inequality to the environment.”
Over two decades, Key Fund has invested blended grant and loan finance worth £54M and given business support to over 2,500 organisations, enabling 1,354 safeguarding 2,171 jobs and creating 520 new businesses.
Many of the UK’s 5.9 million SMEs would not exist without the financial and business support they access from the UK’s ethical responsible finance sector.
All the businesses Key Fund supports have been turned down by mainstream banks or lenders. 80% of investments are in businesses that operate in the top 30% most deprived areas on the indices of multiple deprivation.
Yasin El Ashrafi grew up on an inner-city estate. Expelled from school at 15, from 16 to 24 Yasin’s “main mission in life was to get high.” When his son was born with severe cerebral palsy, Yasin turned his life around. He realised he needed to be his own boss in order to have the flexibility to care for him and gained a teaching qualification, starting community projects teaching music and enterprise skills, and setting up a recording studio, HQ, in Leicester city centre.
Yasin was named Mentor of the Year by The Prince’s Trust in 2018, and is one of just three UK finalists in the Social Entrepreneur of the Year category.
Yasin El Ashrafi said: "I was overjoyed hearing the news that we have made it to the final in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards 2020, through my work at HQ, my aim is to help as many creatives as I can to start their own businesses enabling them to start working towards their dreams."
Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, said social entrepreneurs and responsible finance providers like Key Fund, “play a vital role in strengthening communities throughout the UK by creating jobs, unlocking opportunities, and addressing social and environmental challenges.”
In 2019, the UK’s ethical responsible finance sector lent £171 million to thousands of credit-worthy businesses and social enterprises.
Also a finalist in the Young Entrepreneur category is 27-year-old Edward Boot, who founded Nottingham’s Nonsuch Studios in 2013, aged just 20. The theatre company now employs six people and generates audiences of 50,000 plus every year. It works with people across communities using creativity to boost confidence, improve health and wellbeing, reduce isolation, bring people together, boost self-resilience and share cultural differences.
Matt Smith, CEO of Key Fund, said: Matt said: “Against a backdrop of austerity and rising inequality, local people are taking control of the issues that matter to them with real passion. Social entrepreneurs are remarkable individuals working at the coalface of their communities, offering very real solutions to endemic problems. They transform lives.”
Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, added: “I’ve seen first-hand the difference community-based lending can make to people’s lives and local communities. When small and micro businesses that cannot access mainstream lending receive finance it’s transformational – the economic activity generated can tackle inequality and promote inclusive growth in left-behind communities.”
Winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at the Awards Ceremony in Bristol on 12 May 2020.
Key Fund aims to invest £5 million of blended grant and loan finance this year to enterprises across the North and Midlands.
More about the awards.