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Purpose beyond profit bears fruit

6 Oct 2021

Success is often about taking a chance. The co-founder of Oddbox saw a market for ‘imperfect fruit’. She was right.

For these companies and entrepreneurs, the key to success is not just a focus on the bottom line, but also on the good they can do in wider society.

It was the big, ugly tomatoes she found in a Portuguese food market that inspired Oddbox co-founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe to start a business with her husband Deepak Ravindran. “They were delicious but we realised they would never have made it onto supermarket shelves at home,” she explains.

Making use of some of the three million tonnes of surplus fruit and veg at risk of going to waste each year in the UK, Oddbox has delivered over two million boxes of imperfect farm produce across the UK since 2016.

The company has experienced 500 per cent growth during the pandemic and has grown 40-fold since 2018. Its drive to address the issue of food waste is resonating with customers nationwide and there are waiting lists of eager people in parts of the country to which Oddbox has yet to expand.

Oddbox is one of a growing number of companies that have found commercial success with a clear purpose beyond profit. In fact, it is something that customers are increasingly coming to expect from the brands they love.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 brand-trust report, 80 per cent of people want brands that “solve society’s problems”. They’re putting their money where their mouths are, too – consumer goods giant Unilever has reported that its purpose-led “sustainable living brands” are growing 69 per cent faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75 per cent of the company’s growth.

Purpose-led leaders in our Top 50 are proving that having a business designed to tackle society’s ills doesn’t make you any less ambitious, as the desire to make a difference is powerful fuel – especially when the cause is one that’s close to someone’s heart.

eQuality Solutions Group (eQS) supports students with disabilities in higher education with technology, training and software. Chief executive Andy Gough, both of whose children have physical and hidden disabilities, joined the business in 2018.

“I am passionate about driving the business forward because of my personal experience,” he says. “We were at £4 million revenue when I joined and in our latest financial year it was £9 million. We want to get to £30 million turnover by 2023.”

It’s an ambitious target, but Gough has a plan – he has been pursuing the acquisition of several complementary specialist and technology-leveraged brands, which will allow diversification into new markets and the launch of new products and services, as well as staff training and job creation.

orange quote mark
We knew we could buy other businesses to broaden the family. Our purpose is unlocking true potential and removing barriers to education, but with funding behind us we can also be more ambitious and remove barriers to employment and life.”
Andy Gough
eQuality Solutions Group

Personal experience is also a driving factor for the husband-and-wife team behind Yorkshire-headquartered transport solutions company 365 Response. Sarah Fatchett had a heart condition as a child and, as a result, spent a lot of time in ambulances. Her husband, Brendan, lost his father to a heart attack that could have been avoided if the ambulance had not been late to the scene.

With 365 Response, the Fatchetts are trying to transform the way patient transport is organised – from ambulances to school transport for people with disabilities. In their words, they want to “make difficult transport easy”. “With patient transport, people often don’t know who is coming for them and when,” says Brendan. “Systems aren’t integrated. We took all that complexity and put it in one system, making it easy and clear on the patient or parent end.”

The couple say they spent the first three years focusing on getting the business model right, and only then thinking about growth. They engaged councils, the NHS, parents and service users to ensure their proposals were sensible and achievable. With the right foundations in place, the business is now flourishing. “We have been growing 35 per cent a year and this year we’ll double in size,” adds Brendan.

Putting purpose at the heart of what you do may feel like it’s part of the zeitgeist, but entrepreneurs have been drawn to mission-driven businesses for a long time. Morningside Pharmaceuticals was started in the 1990s from a garage. “I was working for a big pharmaceutical company and felt there was a need for quality medication for the developing world,” explains founder Dr Nik Kotecha OBE.

Morningside develops, manufactures and supplies generic medicines to the UK and international export markets. “We have developed new ways for patients to take their medicines, designed to make their lives easier. And our branded medicine ranges save the NHS millions of pounds.”

The business exported 100 per cent of its products in the early years, winning The Queen’s Award for International Trade in 2012. However, with a burgeoning UK market, exports now
account for just 15-17 per cent of the business.

Kotecha puts much of the company’s success down to its core purpose. “People come to us because of our values, which we demonstrate through our support for community causes. I do a lot of talks to students and I tell them, ‘First, find your passion; once you do that, you will find your purpose, and once you have that, you can build a successful career.”

Find your material worth

Not all businesses start with the goal to solve huge societal challenges. But that doesn’t mean they can’t embrace the purpose economy and find their own ways to make a difference in the world. Many businesses in the Top 50 have looked hard at their company and found a way to drive positive change.

One example is jewellery business Astrid & Miyu, which was founded in 2012.

“We have always been committed to being sustainable in terms of how we run the business, but until two years ago, we hadn’t thought about product and supply chains,” says its founder, Connie Nam. “Now we have a collection made from fully recycled silver.”

By the end of 2022, Nam hopes 50 per cent of her entire inventory will come from recycled materials.

Trade supplies business TIMCO also uses its products for a good cause. Thanks to its ties with Bees in Our Community, TIMCO’s screws and fixings are used to create beehives. “The initiative was started by a local beekeeper who was trying to bring back a native species – the Cheshire bee,” says managing director, Simon Midwood. “We provide screws and fixings, and help him to get the hives out to the local area.” Beyond bees, Midwood also personally ensures his supply chain is ethical. We buy from 160 factories around the world and I’ve been to every single one. The product has to be right and so does the factory.”