Making procurement a force for good

21 Mar 2019

Procurement may not sound sexy, but it can help add value to society. Meet the women who are helping organisations improve their social impact by connecting them with social enterprises. 

‘Social enterprises struggle to get access to work that’s out there to apply to. They often fall at the first hurdle.’

Two of the founders of Supply Change talk about what made them create a new procurement platform, connecting social enterprises with organisations that need their services.
If you cannot play the podcast above, you can listen to or download it from Iono. Read on for the transcript, recorded in September 2018 straight after Beth and Aoise’s pitch to join Investec’s social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business.
Social entrepreneurs who joined Investec's Beyond Business programme in 2018
Supply Change is one of the six social enterprises that joined Investec's social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business, in 2018. L-R, back: Jay, Dave (Investec Bank plc's CEO), Daniel, Webby; front: Johnny, Beth, Aoise, Charlotte and Laura.

Read the transcript

Introduction

 
Starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of time, it can take a lot of money, and often, you don’t know what you don’t know.
 
Today you will hear from Beth and Aoise from Supply Change, a company that interconnects social enterprises with public sector organisations, to help them have a better impact in their communities.
 
We spoke to Beth and Aoise after they pitched to join Investec’s social enterprise incubator, Beyond Business. They talked about their journey, lessons learnt and their goal to make social procurement the new normal.
 
Ana Jenkins (AJ) – Hello guys, how are you today?
 
Beth Pilgrim (BP) and Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi (AKN) – Hello. Good thank you.
 
AJ – Great. So you’re just out of the pitch. How did it go?
 
AKN – It went well, we hope. They asked some tough questions at the end but I think we presented well and we responded to the questions really well. So, just waiting to find out. I think they call us tonight, so keeping fingers and toes crossed. 
 

Solving the procurement puzzle 

 

AJ – Could you tell us a bit about Supply Change, where the idea came from and what inspired you to start this new business?
 
BP – Sure. Well, the idea for Supply Change was actually born on the postgraduate program that myself and Aoise and our other co-founder, Verena (Wimmer), have all completed for Year Here, which is a postgraduate program in social innovation.
 
While we were completing that program, we worked on a consulting project for Orbit Housing Association, who asked us to research why there weren’t enough social enterprises in their supply chain.
 
We did a lot of research with different stakeholders from the social enterprise sector and from procurement teams. One of the key themes that came out of this research was that current procurement processes and platforms make the process of applying for work within the public sector very difficult for social enterprises, and they struggle to get access to work that’s out there to apply to. So, they often fall at the first hurdle.
 
So we started to explore what possible solutions there would be to this problem and one of those was building a new kind of procurement platform, one that would be social enterprise-specific and make the process of applying to tenders with housing associations and with local councils much easier and smoother for social enterprises.
 
And, at the same time, also helping housing associations and other organisations to improve their social impact by having more social value in their supply chains. 
 
‘Social enterprises struggle to get access to work that’s out there to apply to. So, they often fall at the first hurdle’
AJ – Are you focusing particularly on public sector organisations, not corporates?
 
BP – At the moment, yes*. That’s because we feel that there’s a very strong alignment with the missions of public organisations and our social mission. Ultimately, local councils and housing associations, they exist to help communities and social enterprises work directly with people in the community. So, there’s a real strong alignment between the two.
 
 
AJ – So, that’s a great opportunity. How did you transform that idea into a business plan? I imagine it didn’t happen overnight. How was the process?
 
AKN – Well, after we finished the consultancy project, on the program with Year Here we directly go into venture phase, where we are tasked to come up with our own business. So, we very much had the framework to work within. It was just a matter of getting the team together and all agreeing that we wanted to work on it.
 
 
But we’ve had a lot of non-financial support from many organisations, including Investec, who have helped us refine our business plan, make sure we’ve got all our financials in check, and also other organisations that have helped us explore different revenue streams and different strategy models. So, it definitely wasn’t done with just us, we had a lot of help to get there. 
 
‘We’ve had a lot of support from many organisations, including Investec, who have helped us refine our business plan, make sure we’ve got all our financials in check.’
AJ – And where would you like Supply Change to be in a few years’ time?
 
BP – I guess our short-term vision is that we want to be able to be working with at least ten public sector organisations in our first two years and have over a hundred social enterprises on the platform.
 
But, longer term, we want to really change the landscape of public sector procurement and make social procurement the new normal, and for including social impact into these large tenders to be an everyday occurrence, and to kind of help public sector organisations to continue to benefit people and communities that need it most.
 
AJ – Are you starting with East London?
 
AKN – Yes, there’s a lot of social enterprise activity happening in East London, so it’s definitely somewhere we can tap into. But also, East London is one of the hardest hit by social inequality across the capital. So yes, they definitely need the work of social enterprises. 
 
‘We want to make social procurement the new normal. For social impact to be included into these  large tenders as an everyday occurrence.’
AJ – What advice would you give, maybe to yourselves a few years ago or anybody with a great idea, great drive for a business that will have a great social impact, to get started to kick it off?
 
BP – I guess my first piece of advice would be to not give up and to believe in yourself.
 
I think when you are first starting out and you have an idea, self-doubt can definitely be your own biggest barrier. So really standing for what you believe in and believing in your idea is already a good place to start.
 
But also, there is so much help and support out there for social businesses and often for free. If you look for it, there are so many useful organisations offering incubator programs and pro-bono support, that you can achieve a lot on a small budget.
 
So, it’s just about doing your research, going to the right events and speaking to the right people really.
 
AJ – Great advice. You mentioned earlier that Investec people have helped you with your business plan. In what other ways can big businesses, like Investec, help other social start-ups to be successful and contribute to society?
 
AKN – I guess there are bread-and-butter things that are really important, that a lot of social enterprises need help with and that, if they don’t have them right now, might cause bigger problems down the line.
 
Financials is one of them. Definitely some sort of legal work. But then also more creatively thinking about strategy, different revenue streams, things like that can be really useful. Just to get any sort of experience into the mix is really great. So yes, we’re welcome to anything. 
 
‘When you are first starting out and you have an idea, self-doubt can definitely be your own biggest barrier.’
BP – Also particularly for Investec, obviously there’ll be future investment pitches that we might be doing, so it’s really useful to get their perspective on what investors are looking for and what information we should be including in our pitches to them and how to make us seem like an attractive proposition for them.
 
AJ – Brilliant. Thank you so much for talking to us.
 
BP and AKN – Thanks for having us. Thank you. 
 

After the interview

 
Supply Change is one of the six social enterprises that joined Beyond Business in 2018. They received up to £17,000 each in funding and were invited to the Beyond Business College, where they received one-to-one specialist advice and inspiration from experts from all around Investec.
They will also receive continuous support to help their business grow. Please subscribe if you want to hear more stories of entrepreneurs who, like Beth and Aoise, are Out of the Ordinary.
 
* Note: Since the interview, Supply Change has expanded to also connect for-profit businesses with social enterprises.
This podcast is for information purposes only. It doesn’t constitute a personal recommendation and is not investment advice. The views expressed here don’t necessarily reflect those of Investec.