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Jenny Chapman Visits the Future Business Centre in Cambridge - and finds it thriving

Future Business Center

Published: 27th May 2014.

One of the first tenants to move into FBC, which opened at the end of last year, is Arcus Global, a cloud computing company serving the public sector. They are doing so well that having moved in with just a handful of people, they are taking a larger unit to accommodate the 42 staff they have today and more to come.

The Government is doing all it can to encourage this sort of business, not least with the new social enterprise investment tax relief which can give angels up to 30 per cent or £290k over three years.

“There is a change in the way investors see social enterprises,” says Caroline Hyde, centre director. “It’s not just philanthropic now.”

FBC already has 19 tenants and they are involved in a range of enterprises, such as DNA Digest, which is creating a drug discovery database to allow big pharma companies and small ones to share information in the hope of shortening the time to market for new treatments in areas such as dementia.

Another example is Sir Craig Dearden-Philips’ Stepping Out, a consultancy which helps public sector projects to spin-out and become social ventures. An example of this is Sustainability East, which was public and is now a social enterprise championing work on climate and energy.

“The idea was to make significant changes in communities through social investment bonds,” Caroline says. “It started on a very small scale, with community investments averaging between £1,000 and £5,000. Those who could afford it would invest the money and take no interest payments.”

This approach raised £900k in Sheffield, and the organisation then began to look around at other parts of the country where it might work. I seem to remember that coming to Cambridge was largely because chief executive, Tim Jones lived here. He was soon joined by deputy, Martin Clarke.

There is also something very new happening, with the unit Arcus had outgrown becoming an incubator for social ventures. FBC has won a Cabinet Office contract for this, and it is to be launched this month.

Cambridge University’s Judge Business School and its entrepreneurs’ club, CUTEC are involved in this, and an open invitation is going out to anyone with a business less than two years old, based in the East of England, and with an owner who is prepared to commit to 12 months of business training to get them “investment ready”.

Caroline says there has already been a fair amount of interest: “More and more young people are looking to set up businesses with a social remit at the heart.”

Cambridge’s Future Business Centre has already attracted national and international interest and looks like being the blueprint for similar centres.

“It’s such a legacy,” Caroline says. “What we need to do now is make sure it really delivers on its mission, locally and globally.”

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