Why having a social mission can benefit your business

Social entrepreneur Jemma Phibbs of School Space discusses how doing good and doing good business aren't mutually exclusive.

11 February 2019

Hi Jemma. Tell us a bit about School Space. How long have you been running and how do you operate?

School Space is a social business that works with schools to rent out their spaces. We do this because schools have been struggling with budget cuts for almost 10 years.

Our partner schools have to work much harder to provide the quality of teaching and learning that they used to because of the budget cuts. We hit on the idea that schools have unused site space that communities could use. It’s a great way for schools to generate revenue and become closer to their local communities.

We partner with schools and split the revenue we make from letting their space. We rent out the facilities in the evenings, on weekends and during school holidays to local groups, which tend to be things like drama classes, church groups, dance events and sporting classes.

We first started the business when we were in school ourselves. Myself and my co-founder were in our final year, aged 17. We were on the school’s leadership team, and we were organising lots of events to raise the school profile. We thought it would be a great idea to rent out some of the school’s spaces, raising its profile in the community and making the school money.

For the last three years we’ve been scaling the company. We now work with 30 schools and have 60 part time members of staff, as well as 10 full-time team members. We’ve also raised investment to improve the technology we use. So far we have made over £600k in profit for all the schools that we’ve worked with, not including our own fees.

Do you have an ultimate mission for School Space?

The difference we can make in the education sector is our ultimate social mission, and that’s what drives me. For some of our team it’s all about the fact that we are able to provide space for more kids to get into sports, or for parents to become closer to local schools.

Our business has social impact in a lot of areas. We want to roll that out to as many schools as we can in the country because we know that it works. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.

The social impact we have is a massive motivator. It’s not just about building a business, it’s about building something that’s actually changing communities for the better.

What’s the most difficult thing about running your business?

Being an entrepreneur is incredibly stressful. You have the weight of a lot of expectations on you. Whether it’s from investors, your employees or yourself. Particularly as a young entrepreneur, you are responsible to people in a way that no one else in your peer group is.

It’s very hard and it can be lonely. The rise in people talking about mental health within entrepreneur communities will hopefully help to alleviate that. So while it’s stressful, I’m positive about the future.

How do you think running a business with a social impact differs from other types of businesses?

The backing that we’ve received has been from impact investors who are mission aligned. This has meant that the investment we have secured has been with people who share our mission. It would have been harder to find investment if we had not focused on the social impact side of the business.

The second biggest thing for us is our staff. Nearly everyone in our team has joined because of the mission. There’s a lot of discussion now around bringing people into your business who share your mission.

Our business has a lot of social impact, so we attract people who want an impactful career, especially young people. It’s easy for us to show the impact we have in a tangible way because of the fact that for every £1 we make, £1 goes back into schools.

The money we make is split between ourselves and the schools we work with, so if we’re doing well from a profit perspective, we’re also doing well from an impact perspective. If we’re doing well, it means we’re being impactful.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jemma.

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