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Ethical business on the bill at City’s Social Enterprise Festival

Students learned how to set up and grow a social enterprise at the week-long event


City has hosted a Social Enterprise Festival, in partnership with Queen Mary University of London. The week-long festival was filled with seminars, workshops and debates exploring social enterprise – businesses that trade for the benefit of society and to tackle social problems. More than 1,000 people attended 20 events across the two central London campuses.

The festival was open to the public and aimed to engage and inspire communities, young people and students to progress their social enterprise ideas. It gave social enterprises and entrepreneurs the chance to showcase their products and services and to debate current issues. It also highlighted some creative ways to tackle social problems.

Social enterprise marketplace

A Buy Social Marketplace held at CityBar, saw 16 social enterprises hosting stalls to showcase their products and services. It gave them a chance to network, and for students and guests a chance to ask questions about setting up an ethical business.

Exhibitors included Toast Ale, a craft ale company tackling food waste by making beer from bread and Restoration Station, a vintage furniture workshop that provides work and training for people recovering from addiction.

City Food Co-op

Student social entrepreneurs Neha Visavadia and Marta Carrasco Mateu set up a not-for-profit enterprise last year and had a stall at the marketplace.

City Food Co-op is a shop offering City students accessible and sustainable food at a cheap price. The idea was borne out of the students’ frustration that healthy and organic food was so expensive.

The Co-op source healthy, organic and sustainable food directly from Fairtrade producers, cutting out intermediaries that increase costs. They then sell this straight to students on campus.

Marta says the main motivation to create the social enterprise was to make sure all people have access to healthy food options, regardless of their wealth. She said:

We love eating healthily and it should be something that everyone can afford.

Students can place orders via email, or attend a campus event to buy the products on offer that day. Keep updated on their progress via their Facebook page.

Pitch for Good

The Pitch for Good final saw early-stage social enterprises competing for the chance to win £1000 to put towards their business. The judging panel comprised of Mike Cowell from ClearlySo, Jessica Stacey from Bethnal Green Ventures and Alex Elkins, from City. Each business was given a chance to pitch their idea to the judges.  

Tryatec, a try-before-you-buy gadget technology service took the first prize, for their creative idea to tackle electrical waste. The City Launch Lab residents and Cass alumni pitched their innovative new platform that reduces the growing problem of electronic waste by providing a peer to peer lending and renting platform for underused drones, cameras and gadgets.

Student social enterprise and Launch Lab residents Twipes came second with their eco-friendly wet wipes. Third place went to LSE student-led Flo, an environmentally friendly feminine hygiene product.

Big social debate

The festival closed with a debate that saw experts on social enterprise discussing issues, and how to make a social enterprise a success.

The Big Social Debate featured speakers included Vanessa Sanyauke, Founder of Girls Talk London; Lee Mannion, Editor of the Pioneers Post; Rob Wolfe, Senior Executive Construction & Housing Yorkshire; Guy Battle, Founder of the Sustainable Business Partnership and June O’Sullivan, MBE, Chief Executive of London Early Year’s Foundation.

During the debate, the experts discussed the definition of a social enterprise, agreeing that social enterprise is “doing business by doing good.”

They debated how to have success as a social enterprise, with the panel agreeing that regardless of the business registration, the most important thing is having a quality product or service. An ethical brand image isn’t enough to persuade the public, they also need to be “the best in class”.

Guy Battle from the Founder of the Sustainable Business Partnership said social entrepreneurs can be capitalists, “they just aren’t as greedy. Money should be used for good not greed.”

The festival was sponsored by Santander.

Social enterprise

A social enterprise is an business that trades to tackle social problems, improve communities, or the environment.

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