Joel Davis became an entrepreneur to help fund his first love, acting. But it is a role he quickly embraced, thanks in large part to support from his main backers, east London’s Bromley-by-Bow Centre and Investec, the banking group.
“I wish the skills I had learnt as a child actor could have helped a bit with running a business,” he says. “I find this a lot scarier than performing in front of a couple of hundred people.”
Mr Davis started Tutors United because he had run out of options to fund a place at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada). The company pays university students to coach 9-11-year-olds preparing for their pre-secondary school SATs assessment tests.
He found that he got more satisfaction from building a social enterprise than from minor roles in television and stage productions while at school. Mr Davis dropped his place at Rada and now works full time developing Tutors United to reach families in some of London’s most deprived communities.
Seed funding came from Beyond Business, a start-up programme run by the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, based in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, and funded by Investec. Since 1984, the centre has run programmes to improve health, employment and welfare.
Beyond Business started in 2005 with funding from Tower Hamlets council, while Investec provided some financial backing as a junior partner. In 2011 Investec became the sole funder for the scheme, which then expanded to cover the neighbouring boroughs of Newham and Hackney after council budget cuts. The bank is the winner of the Experian Building Stronger Communities Award in recognition of Sir John Peace in the 2016 Responsible Business Awards.
Susie Steyn, Investec’s corporate sustainability manager, insists that it is “very much not” about bankrolling the programme. As important is the support Investec provides to the founders of the ventures the scheme backs, including training sessions in funding and legal issues run from its offices in the City of London.
“We are all about empowering people,” she says, adding that education and entrepreneurship are the means to this end. Investec’s senior staff sit on the panel that decides which founders get backing, as well as coaching those who are successful. “We try to operate as entrepreneurs within Investec, so it is a good reminder for us about what this involves,” she adds.
Since Investec became the sole funder, Beyond Business has helped 146 entrepreneurs, who have created 330 jobs with their social enterprises.
Alan Woolston, who manages the Beyond Business programme at the Bromley-by-Bow Centre, praises the “very noticeable” commitment of Investec to his team’s work.
“They are great funders but they are also great partners,” he says. “With them, it is not just about the money.”