Social entrepreneur: Tim Campbell

Apprentice winner Tim Campbell explains why his social enterprise, the Bright Ideas Trust, doesn't 'give money away'.

What is the Bright Ideas Trust?

Bright Ideas Trust is a registered charity which is a social enterprise focusing on young people aged 16 to 30 who want to start their own businesses. But our main focus is working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds, those classed as NEETs – not in employment, education or training – or from socially excluded groups because we want to work with those young people who may not get access to the advice, the networks but who have the inspiration but most importantly the passion to want to start their own business.

Why did you start the Bright Ideas Trust?

I got involved the Bright Ideas Trust because I was working for Sir Alan Sugar who was my first mentor who was the catalyst for me thinking about business and being an entrepreneur – well I prefer small business owner as opposed to entrepreneur because whenever anyone says entrepreneur it’s this mad sexy title but when you ask them what they do they go err I don’t know actually I want to make a lot of money.

So I’m a small business owner and Sir Alan was the catalyst for that. But I was getting approached by lots of young people who were asking me for advice and guidance about how to set up their own business. And I thought, hold on a minute I’ve just applied for a job and I’m learning myself so isn’t there other organisations set up to do this. And we started analysing the space and found that there were a lot of organisations, big organisations helping young people from this target group starting their own business. But what I found that was lacking was that actually there was a lack of engagement with these young people directly in their own communities so I wanted to create something that was really revolutionary, innovative and met a market need but didn’t have an ivory tower and it was more about getting into the communities and telling people about how business was really simple and that they could do it too.

And that encouragement of being a role model in the community showing people how it was done, showing them how they did it with the information was really why I wanted to make a difference.

Was it easy to set up the Bright Ideas Trust?

I have been really fortunate with the Bright Ideas Trust that the perception is that over a short period of time we’ve come to prominence and we’re doing a good job working with young people. However the reality is that for the past two and a half to nearly three years we’ve been plugging away at honing the concept, so from the initial idea to where we are now has been a whole different journey and you’ll find this with most successful companies that what the image is it’s completely different to the swan-like activity that happens under the water that gets them to that particular position.

So we initially had the idea three years ago almost now where we are, once I had finished with The Apprentice, we then had to go and do the research of all the current places in the market, raise funds, get trustees, get a board because the important thing about a business is finding the good management team to take forward the skills to do so, getting the first people to invest into what we were doing to prove the concept.

Then once we had the launch back in November 2008 with Boris Johnson, that’s when we were able to say to everybody, hey look what we’ve got, but they didn’t need to see all the other stuff, the other mistakes we had made, the long way round we had gone to get to some of the points we had. But that’s all the experience of being a business owner, of setting up something is that you go along that course and then sometimes things don’t work but you adapt very quickly to make sure one you don’t repeat it and that you learn from the lesson and take it differently.

Is Bright Ideas Trust run on business principles?

Immediately when people hear charity they think I wear white socks and I hug trees etc. But the reality is that we run a very commercially based business.

The Bright Ideas Trust is all around a venture capital model. We make investments of… we don’t give out grants, we don’t give any money away we make investments into the businesses, I take an equity stake, I make the individual go though a whole due diligence process, they get an investment documentation… board resolutions, heads of terms, you name it – we take them through the whole VC cycle. But in a slightly softer way, so I cap my investment I can take in terms of the amount of equity I take from the individuals but I educate them about how the real world works about that stuff. So even if they fail at the end of it they get the education about exactly how it works so that they have the confidence to go and do it again.

So my business… my charity, social enterprise doesn’t ever do stuff for not for profit, if it’s not going to make any money I don’t support it because I make it very clear to every one of our beneficiaries that I want my money back. That’s it, I make it clear and it’s like… you’re a charity and I say I know but I still want my money back because the way that I see it is that if every charity, grant-giving charity, ensured that the individuals they supported gave money back they’d raise money in a completely different way.

If Bob Geldof can struggle to get money I’m going to struggle at some point. Corporate social responsibility might not be a buzz word of the future so therefore I need to think very clearly that I’ve got a responsibility to my beneficiaries and investees that I support, I have to find a way that I’m going to have a way of a long-term sustainable business model that’s going to take me forward and something that’s scalable that can function outside of just London and be taken across the UK. That’s my responsibility as a business starter, as a business founder, you have to be thinking about that long term. I’m not in this for a short buck, a quick buck and then some short term success. So therefore my businesses over here are purely commercial and the way that I run my commercial business is very similar.

We assess things on the viability of the businesses, are they going to make money? Are they going to generate a profit? Can we get a return on our investment? And if we can’t we don’t do it and we pass them on to other organisations.

So I think whether you are a social enterprise or a commercial business the link between the two is the sustainability of those they have to be that. Social enterprise has enterprise in it. It’s about doing good but it has to have enterprise and enterprise is about making profit and if you cannot make profit you are going to struggle.

See also: Tim Campbell Podcast – “Only two of us knew what The Apprentice was!”

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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