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Skills for Enterprise Case Study: Streetshine

Streetshine was originally conceived by entrepreneur Nick Grant and is now run by Chief Executive Simon Fenton-Jones. Following several years running a successful agricultural business in Vietnam, Simon returned to the UK and helped set-up and raise funds for StreetLeague, a charity that inspires disadvantaged groups through sport. Hearing about the StreetShine concept, Simon joined in early 2004 and established the foundations for the organisation to help realise StreetShine as a business. With clear plans for growth and development over the coming years, Simon will focus on contact with corporate clients and promoting the StreetShine brand. Simon brings genuine passion to his role and the organisation, believing that the social enterprise model of business combines perfectly with the focus of StreetShine - helping people realise their potential and improve their personal situations.

Simon Fenton-Jones answers a few questions for us about his experience.

What was the main motivation behind starting Streetshine?

Actually the concept of StreetShine came about having seen shoe shining in other countries, including the United States, where it is very common. We were initially going to run it as a normal business. I was working with a homeless charity and realised that employment is vital to escape the vicious circle of homelessness. Our business model also allows us to tap into the rise in the corporate social responsibility programmes of companies. On a personal level, I am motivated by supporting people achieve their full potential.

Can you say a bit about what Streetshine sets out to achieve?

StreetShine is a social enterprise business that provides employment and training opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness and are in the process of rebuilding their lives. As a social enterprise, we have both commercial and social aims. Socially, we are aiming to provide full time jobs for homeless people, and the support necessary to sustain that. Ultimately we aim to give people further responsibility within the organisation, or to help them move on to careers in other organisations. There are few employment opportunities for those affected by homelessness, and those who may also have limited skills, training and employment history. Mainstream employment rarely offers the levels of support that StreetShine provides access to. This kind of support is fundamental to the process of moving into full-time work from a situation of welfare dependency, lack of confidence and financial exclusion. Even though almost half of homeless people have some form of qualification they often face discrimination when seeking work.

Commercially, we aim to provide a professional and high quality range of services, we recognise that this is key to running a social enterprise. The social angle can get our foot in the door with customers, but in order to succeed long term, we have to be able to compete commercially.

What do you think sets you apart from you friends who are doing the '9 to 5' in more regular conventional careers?

I think anyone can be a social entrepreneur. The only difference between me and someone in a conventional career is that I've chosen to do this. I'm motivated primarily by helping others but also by running a successful business and therefore the social enterprise model perfectly fits my skill and value sets.

What next? Where do you see the company going?

We will continue to expand throughout London, building up the number of employees, enabling the company to become financially sustainable. We are looking at other business options and are currently trialling a car cleaning service with Clifford Chance and its employees. We hope to then develop to other cities around the UK, and for Streetshine to become one of the UK's leading social enterprise brands.

What would you advise those who have a social entrepreneurial spirit?

Firstly, I would talk to others in the sector and learn about their experiences. What is the specific social problem you are looking to address? Does anyone else already work in that area that you could work with?

I think you need to be sure there is a real need before diving in and setting up a new organisation, rather than reinventing the wheel and becoming another beneficiary of limited funding pots. Are you doing this to truly improve the situation or to look good?

Social entrepreneurship is hard work and can be lonely. There are lots of support networks, and I would make full use of these, whilst having confidence in your own abilities and following your own vision. Finally, when you know you have a good idea and you implement it, ignore the cynics who will tell you at every step of the way why it won't work!