A ground-breaking new initiative set up just two weeks ago through the Joint Venture Social Enterprise, the Diocese of Portsmouth and the University of Portsmouth Business School is making waves nationally.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre was mentioned in the House of Lords two weeks ago and within days other UK churches, (including Anglican and Muslim), and local authorities have telephoned and emailed to find out more and see if they can replicate the idea in their own parishes.
The initiative will help Portsmouth entrepreneurs launch small businesses, including offering them financial support (via Parity Trust) and mentoring support via the management skills and expertise from within church congregations and the academic and student communities at Portsmouth Business School. The initiative aims to provide a positive response to the tough challenges of the current economic climate.
The project could soon be expanded to other cathedrals and large churches across the country to create a network of innovation centres. A building has already been offered in Southampton, with the possibility of further space being made available in Rowner and Havant.
Local businesses are also being encouraged to come forward and help get the fledgling plan off to a flying start by offering to act as mentors, or by the way of investment to help launch new businesses.
Richard Tonge, of the Portsmouth Business School, said the initiative is based on helping regenerate local communities by making existing physical space available for people to start a businesses, a social enterprise or community enterprise to develop their ideas. Those who take advantage of the programme will gain a supportive network of people with knowledge, skills and creativity who through mentoring and supporting the ‘start-ups’ are giving something back to the community.
Portsmouth Business School was keen to be involved from the outset, because as teachers of future business leaders Richard said it was vital students understand the variety of ways that businesses can support regeneration of an area through sharing their expertise and skills.
He said: “We call it knowledge philanthropy – our students can get involved through workplace learning, supporting fledgling projects and volunteering. The idea is that they can see the benefits of such an approach and take it with them into the workplace when they become managers.
“It’s nice to know the University was in at the beginning of an innovative plan. It’s practical, useful and may well go national.”
Richard, Associate Dean for students at the Business School, said the innovation centre could also give graduate business start-ups space to develop and grow. The mentoring approach might also be further supplemented by shared seminars and ‘Hot Topic’ sessions.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre initiative was discussed by Baroness Berridge in a House of Lords debate led by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks about the role of faith communities in society – and the idea was welcomed by a government minister. The Centre will use spare office space to create an environment where fledgling businesses can develop. New businesses will be offered a package including desk space, a start-up loan, administrative support and the chance to meet business leaders.
Business people from across the diocese and beyond will also be invited to act as mentors for new entrepreneurs. The centre will be based in Cathedral House, the offices on St Thomas’s Street behind the cathedral.