Firstport welcomes £500,000 boost for social enterprise in Scotland

January 15, 2015

Scotland’s social enterprise development agency Firstport has welcomed a £500,000 investment by the Scottish Government into its programme to find and support social entrepreneurs.

Fiona MacNeil, Bruce Gunn, Alex Neil MSP & Josh Littlejohn at Social Bite Fiona MacNeil, Bruce Gunn, Alex Neil MSP & Josh Littlejohn at Social Bite

Alex Neil, Minister for Social Justice, announced the boost for the Social Entrepeneurs Fund, which is delivered by Firstport, after meeting three award-winning Scottish social entrepreneurs in Edinburgh today. (Thursday 15 January)

The enterprising trio are Bruce Gunn, owner of socially-driven courier company Delivered Next Day Personally; Fiona MacNeil, owner of Gilded Lily which runs programmes to support women from disadvantaged backgrounds into social enterprise; and Josh Littlejohn, co-founder of cafe chain Social Bite, which gives all its profits to charity, provides pre-paid meals to the homeless and employs people who were formerly homeless.

Mr Neil said: “Social enterprises do tremendous work to help the most vulnerable people by improving their confidence and boosting skills, while tackling inequalities in society and growing the economy. The Social Entrepreneurs Fund has already made a huge difference to many lives and our sustained investment will help ensure that social entrepreneurs get the support they need to get their businesses off the ground.”

Firstport chief executive Karen McGregor said: “Recent economic challenges means that social problems in Scotland are more pressing than ever. This has driven an even stronger interest in the concept of social entrepeneurship and its ability to transform lives and communities.

“We are delighted that the Scottish Government recognises this potential by further investment in the Social Entrepeneurs Fund, which combined with Firstport’s free business advice and resources, really strengthens the support available to budding social entrepreneurs throughout Scotland.”

Firstport has made 340 awards to 285 individuals totalling  £2.5 million from the Social Entrepreneurs Fund since it was set up in 2009. The development agency has supported around 3,400 social entrepreneurs over the past five years, including Bruce Gunn, Josh Littlejohn and Fiona MacNeil who met Mr Neil along with staff and customers at Social Bite’s branch in Shandwick Place, Edinburgh.

Josh Littlejohn of Social Bite said: “Social Bite has greatly benefited from the funding and advice provided by Firstport and the Social Entrepreneurs Fund. We now employ 45 people, including 14 from homeless backgrounds and importantly our customers have the benefit of knowing that they are supporting a good cause when they purchase food from our shops.

“I believe that social enterprise will become a bigger part of the economy and will be able to take on the big profit maximising chains.”

Fiona MacNeil said: "The Social Entrepeneurs Fund was crucial in giving me the start-up funds and support I needed to get my social enterprise up and running. It helped me with branding, packaging, marketing, website and premises costs - all of which were vital in creating the professional image I required to make the right impact. 

“Ten months on, I have exceeded my goals; both by meeting my social aims in supporting women to become more confident, connected and enterprising and financially by generating a healthy income providing affordable third sector services and selling our range of ethically produced soaps and bath bombs. I'm looking forward to working with Firstport as my social enterprise develops and grows."

The awardees

Josh Littlejohn received £10,000 from the Social Entrepreneurs Fund (SEF) to start up a sandwich shop chain. He now employs  45 people, including 14 from homeless backgrounds. Social Bite has sold almost 44,000 meals for the homeless and given away about 9000. They have two stores in Edinburgh, two in Glasgow and a production kitchen in Livingston with new branches planned for Aberdeen, Dundee and Newcastle. At Christmas, Social Bite teamed up with the Itison.com deal site to ask people to make a £5 donation to buy a homeless person a meal at Christmas. They massively surpassed their target of 800 meals, raising over £180,000 - enough for more than 36,000 meals.

Bruce Gunn received £25,000 from SEF.  A successful IT consultant, his life changed overnight when an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite led to long-term illness and left him housebound for three years. A parcel delivery led to a “lightbulb moment” and with support from Firstport, Bruce set up East Kilbride-based socially driven courier company Delivered Next Day Personally CIC in July 2013, employing disabled people on a flexible basis as lifestyle couriers. DNDP now has 19 staff  and 18 self-employed couriers and plans to double this number this year. Bruce’s ambitions include partnerships with housing associations and replicating the business model nationwide through social franchising and extending it to other groups who face barriers to employment. 

Fiona MacNeil received £5,000 to start Gilded Lily in February 2014 to support marginalised women to start up creative micro-enterprises. Fiona runs a six-week 'Soar to Success' programme, which aims to support women to develop their own projects through exploring social and environmental aims, conducting research, identifying solutions and setting targets. Participants are assisted to develop funding plans and business models which will generate income, and are taught how to market and promote their ideas and apply for appropriate start-up funding. In November 2014, Fiona’s consistently high level of support for female social entrepreneurs was recognised when she was awarded ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2014’ at the Herald Society Awards in Glasgow. Bruce Gunn was runner-up.