Interview: Social enterprises are helping start-ups find success (Part 2) » SMEInsider

Interview: Social enterprises are helping start-ups find success (Part 2)

In this final installment of a two part-series, we continue our discussion with Allen Pluck, CEO of social enterprise Portobello Business Centre (PBC).

PBC is a business development agency that is working hard to improving the quality of life for small and micro businesses throughout the UK.

The social enterprise has helped a number of small businesses find international success, including Innocent Smoothies and Organic Pizza Company, making Pluck is the man to go to if you’re thinking of starting your own business.

In this interview, we discuss whether banks are doing enough to help small businesses, the appeal of non-profit organisations and Pluck explains what he’s been doing to increase the amount of women in UK business.

Do you think traditional lenders are doing enough to help SMEs and microbussinesses?

By traditional lenders, let’s be honest we’re talking about the banks.

Bank bashing seems to have become a national sport in recent years and I think a lot of that criticism has been deserved.

When its boiled down to small and micro business engagement most of the banking folk I talk to tell me there is and always has been money to lend but a lack of clients looking to borrow.

If that’s the case and yet at the same time business owners are saying that finding finance is tough going then something isn’t right. There is certainly a deeper mistrust between banks and small business than at any other time in my memory.

What I would like to see is the traditional lenders doing more to support new young and micro businesses to become more financially aware.

At Portobello, we’ve put out a call to work with the banking community to achieve some of these things by working together. We have an open door and are actively looking for Banks to come and talk to us, work with us in supporting business – but other than a couple of notable exceptions were not seeing to many of them beating a path to our door.

You have been involved in many social enterprises down the years. Tell me, what’s so appealing about social enterprises and do you think they get enough credit for the good they bring to SMEs?

I believe people who are prepared to go self-employed are the pioneers for a better future.

Those already running a small business are certainly the unsung heroes of the British Economy often earning a great deal less that their employed counterparts.

One in seven of the UK working age workforce are self-employed and if the growth trend continues there will soon be more people self-employed than work in the public sector – politicians take note!!

Just imagine then that not only do you have the responsibility for running a business, earning an income, paying the bills, working longer hours for typically less money but that you’re doing this so that you can make a difference and help others in your community!

Do they get enough credit – No. Most social enterprises are not taken seriously as businesses. They for me are the real ‘‘wow factor’’ entrepreneurs in our society.












Getting more women into business is a subject that you’ve been supporting throughout your career.

What made you so interested in helping women become entrepreneurs, and what has to happen before there is more of a gender-balanced playing field in UK business?

My passion for women’s entrepreneurship comes from understanding how difficult it must have been for my Mum to go back to work having spent 20 years bringing up her children.

I never realised the full difficulty of the task she took on until much later in life but she managed to juggle a number of responsibilities both at home and in the workplace.

While she was looking after our family, my Mum learnt a variety of business skills and held down a full time job and run a home while suffering family difficulties (Allen’s father sadly died of leukaemia).

I use this personal example because that was 20+ years ago – the gender balance in caring responsibilities hasn’t shifted much, if at all since then.

Be it aging parents, a partner or children the vast onus of the caring responsibility still falls on women and that drastically affects the number of women in business.

Until we become a society that evens out that balance of caring responsibility you’ll not see vast changes in the numbers of women entrepreneurs.