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Responsible Finance

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Responsible Finance: More coverage for Citi awards finalists!

27.02.2020 Share

Pontypridd’s Purple Shoots punches above weight with international acclaim
Lisa Baker, Editor, Welsh Business News & News from Wales

A Pontypridd-based provider of “little loans to give business ideas a chance” has been praised by business experts and an international foundation – not only for how it helps communities and customers to build resilience, but for its own resilience.

Purple Shoots, a registered charity, provides small loans to start or run a small business to individuals unable to access finance from other sources, such as banks. Its work is a catalyst for entrepreneurship and self-reliance and has created over 500 jobs and started numerous thriving businesses. Remarkably, 96% of clients were on benefits when they received a loan.

This month Purple Shoots, which has made over 560 loans worth over £1.3 million since launching, was named one of the “most resilient” community development finance providers in the whole of the UK in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, funded by the Citi Foundation.

Karen Davies, who founded Purple Shoots in 2013 and runs the charity “on a shoestring budget,” said:

“I set up Purple Shoots to tackle unemployment and disadvantage in Wales because I could see a lot of people who had skills, talents and something to contribute. With longterm unemployment and traditional opportunities limited in many former mining communities in South and West Wales, people often turn to enterprise as a route to economic independence.

“But with few assets, a history of illness or disability, or an adverse credit record, they find it difficult to access finance from mainstream sources to get businesses off the ground. We are different from other lenders and may be able to help people even if everyone else has turned them down.

“We’re thrilled with this recognition of the impact of our work and our own resilience. As a small organisation it can be hard to be noticed, even though we make a profound and unique impact in the communities in Wales and now Gloucestershire where we work. It’s great that what we are trying to do has been recognised.”

Purple Shoots’ customers include Kismet Vintage, a vintage and antique furniture shop in Swansea launched by Claire and Kevin Richards. The business now offers furniture refurbishment and reupholstering too, and Clare and Kevin have launched a second outlet, Kismet Coffee House.

But Kismet only began because Purple Shoots provided a loan when banks would not.

“We tried the normal route of applying for a startup loan,” says Claire Richards, who had suffered from a debilitating spinal injury before launching Kismet, “but computer says no, basically. We approached Purple Shoots and their loan allowed us to step up and open the doors to the public.”

Other thriving businesses which began with a Purple Shoots loan include Lisa’s Cake Station in Tonypandy, whose mouthwatering cakes sell-out daily; SDR Progression in Newport, a physical therapy centre working mainly with children and adults with cerebral palsy; Cardiff’s Bread and Salt restaurant, and Laura Shannon, a slow fashion brand producing items which are fully handmade, hand sequinned and beaded and digitally printed with original prints.

The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards judges, including journalist James Pickford of the Financial Times, were also impressed with Purple Shoots’ “self-reliant groups.”

Purple Shoots launched these groups because “early on we recognised our loan programme wasn’t reaching the people furthest from employment, lacking the self-confidence and skills to even begin a journey into employment and economic independence,” says Karen Davies, adding: “So we launched our self-reliant groups (SRG) programme in Wales during 2015. Groups save money and learn new skills together. Purple Shoots helps to establish groups and offers ongoing advice, but the groups run and grow themselves. In 2017 we expanded this programme into Bristol and Gloucestershire, where there are also significant pockets of poverty. Our self-reliant groups and microloans are complementary: when the group or a member develops a business idea, we may be able to offer a start-up loan.”

Another passionate advocate for microfinance is serial entrepreneur Peter Saunders OBE, a former UK Business Angel of the Year who now acts as an advisor to Purple Shoots.

“I’ve always enjoyed combining business with social benefits,” says Peter, “and microfinance is a very interesting area. For most governmental and financial organisations it is too risky and the sums are too small to be viable as a lender. But for Karen and Purple Shoots, their low cost of operating and flexibility mean they are able to make a success of it. Karen is exceptional at what she does and I would love to see governments do more to ensure there is sufficient capital available for responsible finance providers like Purple Shoots to meet the demand from would-be entrepreneurs.”

Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, said: “Responsible finance providers like Purple Shoots provide a lifeline for small and micro businesses that cannot access mainstream lending, and I’ve seen first-hand the difference community-based lending can make to people’s lives and local communities. The economic activity generated can tackle inequality and promote inclusive growth in communities.”

Purple Shoots must now wait until 12 May 2020 when the winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in Bristol. Karen Davies added: “It is remarkable to have survived and thrived for over 6 years, in which our lending has had a profound impact. This award would demonstrate how entrepreneurship and self-employment offers a genuine opportunity to people on benefits or in poverty – if they can access finance.”



A tour operator set up to help disabled people overcome barriers to travelling has been named a finalist in a national business award

Birmingham-based Limitless Travel is through to the final of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, an annual celebration of Britain’s entrepreneurs who have accessed responsible business finance.

Limitless Travel was launched after founder Angus Drummond was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. He quit his job in investment banking and decided to travel the world, when he discovered the difficulties of travelling with a disability.

Drummond launched a review and advice website for disabled travellers that has grown into a tour operation providing supported and bespoke holidays for people with a wide range of mobility restrictions and disabilities.

The business now employs 14 people and enables hundreds of people to travel in the UK and worldwide – 80% of its customers are taking a holiday for the first time in five years.

Limitless Travel’s positive impact on customers’ lives and its global growth impressed an independent panel of business experts, including James Pickford of The Financial Times. Judges named it as one of three UK finalists for the Microentrepreneur Award for Growth.

Drummond said: “I’m delighted to be a finalist in the Microentrepreneur Award for Growth category and for Limitless Travel to be recognised for everything that it has achieved.

“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.”

The award winner will be announced in Bristol on 12 May.



Preston Markets café up for national award

A Preston Markets café has been shortlisted for a national award.

Brew + Bake is one of three finalists in the Environmental Sustainability category of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, an annual celebration of microentrepreneurs who have accessed responsible business finance.

Owner Julie Fausset used a £10,000 start up loan from Lancashire Community Finance to set up Brew + Bake in 2018. She now employs six people.

The café’s commercial success and Julie’s support for local economic sustainability through her employment and purchasing practices have led to Brew + Bake being shortlisted for the award by a panel of independent judges.

Julie said: “I’m extremely proud to be nominated and recognised for the hard work we’ve put into Brew + Bake over the last two years.

“We love working closely with sustainable suppliers in the North West and showcasing their fantastic produce. It’s great to see Preston supporting local independent businesses.”

Elaine Rimmer of Lancashire Community Finance said: “I am delighted that Brew + Bake is shortlisted for the Environmental Sustainability Citi Award.

“Julie approached us for start-up finance in 2017 with a vision to make Lancashire’s larder accessible to all. With our support, she developed a commercial proposition that combined with her environmental conscience.

“In 18 short months, she has established herself in a highly-competitive market, received excellent feedback from local people and already outgrown her first unit! We have no doubt her success will continue well into the future.”

The UK’s 5.6 million microenterprises – businesses with 10 or fewer staff – account for 96 per cent of all businesses, and employ over nine million people. In 2019, the responsible finance sector lent £171 million to thousands of businesses and social enterprises rejected by or unable to access finance from mainstream lenders.

Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, said: “Microenterprises like Brew + Bake play a vital role in strengthening communities throughout the UK by creating jobs, unlocking opportunities, and addressing social and environmental challenges.

“The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards recognise the positive impact they are having on a local and national scale, and these exceptional finalists and the responsible finance providers which supported them all contribute to the economic, social and environmental vibrancy of their communities.”

Brew + Bake will find out in May if they have won the award, and the £7,500 prize money.



From zero-hours frustration to one of UK’s “most exceptional” entrepreneurs for record-breaking Paralympian

A record-breaking Paralympian wheelchair racer whose Holmfirth-based specialist sports coaching company gives inclusive opportunities to people with complex needs has been named one of the most exceptional young entrepreneurs in the UK.

Louis Speight, 29, was born with cerebral palsy and often told “you can’t do things” in his childhood. But despite bullying in school and an eating disorder, Speight told his parents he wanted to be a wheelchair racer. He secured a scholarship to study sports science, specialising in clinical rehabilitation, and became a European record-breaking Paralympian, ranked no.1 in the world.

Although meeting paraplegic athletes living full independent lives was an “eye-opener,” Speight is most passionate about those with complex needs excluded from para-sport.

A zero-hours contract as a sports coach left Speight frustrated – “it’s a crap way to live,” he says, and he and former manager Richard Szostak, an experienced business leader, left the company they worked for (“it was all about taking profits out of communities,”) to launch their own social enterprise, Omnis Circumvado Community Interest Company in June 2018. Omnis Circumvado is latin for “all encompassing.”

The firm, whose programmes are all free to users, works with children, young people, and adults with the most complex needs in school and community settings.

Alongside the physical benefits, Louis believes in sport’s social power to forge friendships, learn skills and develop a person. They also break down other divisions, hosting cricket and sports with multi-ethnic groups to build stronger communities across West Yorkshire.

Its impact has so impressed an independent panel of business experts that this week Louis was named one of just 4 UK finalists for a “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” Award.

The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, funded by the Citi Foundation, are an annual celebration of Britain’s microentrepreneurs that have accessed “responsible” business finance. Responsible finance provider, Key Fund, provided a business loan and grant package to support Omnis Circumvado’s development when the firm was approaching a six-figure turnover, but urgently needed working capital.

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.”

Jane Austin of Key Fund commented: “We are delighted and unsurprised that Louis and Omnis have been shortlisted. Louis has incredibly insightful interpersonal skills and expertise in encouraging people of all ages and abilities to take part in physical activity that’s right for them – and in supporting sports leaders to include the right kind of activity. Together with fellow coach Richard, they have delivered activity programmes that change lives, as the business continues to grow.”

The UK’s 5.6 million microenterprises – businesses with 10 or fewer staff – account for 96% of all businesses, and employ over 9 million people. Some would not exist at all without the financial and business support they access from the UK’s ethical “responsible finance” sector, which in 2019 lent £171 million to thousands of credit-worthy businesses and social enterprises rejected by or unable to access finance from mainstream lenders.

“Young entrepreneurs like Louis play a vital role in strengthening communities throughout the UK by creating jobs, unlocking opportunities, and addressing social and environmental challenges,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development.

“The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards recognise the positive impact they are having on a local and national scale, and these exceptional finalists and the responsible finance providers which supported them all contribute to the economic, social and environmental vibrancy of their communities. We are proud to support the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards and the eighth cohort of finalists in the UK.”

Theodora Hadjimichael, Chief Executive of Responsible Finance, said: “With impressive entrants from all over the UK, entrepreneurs and their businesses needed to be truly remarkable to make the shortlist. Louis and Omnis Circumvado show how business can be a force for good. A thriving social enterprise, Omnis also demonstrates the impact of responsible finance providers, embedded within the communities they serve.”

Louis must now wait until 12 May 2020 when the winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in Bristol.

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