What 10 years of impact investment looks like

Mar 15, 2024 | News

With millions of pounds raised over the last decade, we take a look at the impact that investors on the not-for-profit investment platform Ethex have made, from putting solar panels on schools to helping pave the way for an electric vehicle revolution

There’s a lot you could buy with £115m: more than 35m lattes, 2m West End theatre tickets,
or a gym pass to keep you going for 213,000 years. Alternatively, you could invest it in pioneering organisations pushing for social and environmental transformation – which is exactly what not-for-profit investment platform Ethex has done. But not on its own.

Since launching in 2013, it’s sent upwards of £115m to change-making ethical businesses across the UK – raised from around 25,000 everyday investors, contributing as little as £100 each. As well as making a lasting impact on planet-friendly projects, funders target returns of up to 6.5%.

Ethex CEO and founder Lisa Ashford says: “Our 10-year celebrations are actually a rallying cry from Ethex to encourage thousands of like-minded people who may not be aware of us to join us in creating an even bigger decade of impact. We believe in making direct impact investing accessible to all, whether you have £100 or £10,000 to invest.“

As Ethex marks its first decade – peruse its 10-year anniversary impact report here – we take a look at five organisations its investors have supported.

Bright minds – Solar for Schools

According to Robert Schrimpff, founder of Solar for Schools, schools are the perfect places for solar panels. “They’re usually standard buildings, with relatively large roofs, their bills are always paid, they have predictable energy consumption,” he says. They’re so ideal, Schrimpff wants to put panels on every single one.

He’s made a good start. So far, installations have been added to 258 schools. Solar for Schools has also taught the basics of energy and carbon to more than 115,000 students, and encourages them to influence their parents to make green decisions.

Installations can be costly though, which is where Ethex comes in. The Solar for Schools Community Benefit Society lists investment bond offers via Ethex to fund new projects. Schools can decarbonise for free, get a discount on their bills and inspire students – all while offering investors a target financial return.

Not your average bank statement: what 10 years of impact investing looks like

Students are offered the chance to learn about energy and carbon through Solar for Schools. Image: Spinfield School/Solar for Schools

Putting Devon ‘in charge’ – Wenea

“We need to move beyond the first adopters of electric vehicles,” says Jose Contreras, head of UK at EV charging company, Wenea. “For a host of different reasons, about half of UK residents cannot charge at home.”

So, Wenea is building a public charging system that’s as plentiful as public street lamps. Thanks in part to £656,700 from Ethex investors, it’s made an impressive start – with plans for at least 100 rapid EV chargers across 44 locations in Devon.

While Contreras says Wenea has managed to turn charging from a “problem to not a concern” in Exeter, he stresses we’re “still at the infancy of this transition”. The company has big plans to expand across England.

Not your average bank statement: what 10 years of impact investing looks like

Wenea plans to build at least 100 rapid EV chargers across 44 locations in Devon. Image: Steve Haywood

Something borrowed – Library of Things

The most borrowed items at the Library of Things aren’t books. They aren’t even DVDs. In fact, last winter thermal imaging cameras topped the charts, so people could detect heat loss in their homes. “We’re empowering people to take energy efficiency into their own hands,” says co-founder Rebecca Trevalyan.

The libraries, stocked with everything from projector screens to drills, can be found across London and Brighton. Borrowers pay a small rental fee, rather than stumping up large amounts for items that will only be used occasionally.

Trevalyan says that the £370,000 Library of Things raised through Ethex was crucial to the project’s expansion. “We needed to invest in a really good user experience. There was no fit-for-purpose technology and it was really hard to run the retail version as volunteers. So, we designed this version with other libraries and community hubs, so that it could live in self-serve lockers anywhere.”

‘We’re empowering people to take energy efficiency into their own hands,’ Library of Things co-founder Rebecca Trevalyan told Positive News. Image: London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham;

Waste not, wonky yes – Scrapples

When Ben Whitehead’s children have friends over, they’re always raiding the cupboards for snacks. “I literally have to batten down the hatches, they’ve devoured whole multi-boxes before,” the founder of snacks company Scrapples says. But the kids aren’t searching for sugary, processed snacks. Instead, they’re looking for healthy crisps made from rescued apples.

Scrapples has so far saved more than 260 tonnes of apples from going to waste – by selling 1.8m bags of apple crisps. By paying farmers a fair price for their rejects, it’s directly eating away at the 40% of fruit wasted in the UK every year.

Six years on from the Ethex raise, some of our founding investors are still involved. It’s about more than money

But none of it would have been possible without the funds that were raised – a cool £211,000 – in 2017, via Ethex. Whitehead says the share offer was something of a springboard for Scrapples: “Six years on from the Ethex raise, some of our founding investors are still involved. One of them is on the board – he’s ridden the rollercoaster from the very start and I think that speaks volumes about the quality of investors. It’s more than money, it’s about actually believing.”

Ben Whitehead, founder of snacks company Scrapples. Image: Annie Morris

A long-term home – Common Ground Against Homelessness

“If this model were followed, you could eradicate street homelessness within five years.” It might sound like a bold claim from Helen Carlin, the founder of Common Ground Against Homelessness, but her organisation’s track record is impressive.

After 30 years of work across housing policy and homelessness, Carlin had become frustrated at the lack of affordable, long-term accommodation.

So, the Edinburgh-based charity is building homes. Following a £684,000 raise launched on Ethex in 2020, they’ve just opened the doors to their first project. A former Victorian townhouse has now been transformed into a lifelong home for nine former street homeless men.

This year, they’ll launch a second raise, which will go towards converting a 12-bed hotel into flats for homeless women. The key, says Carlin, is not to treat street homelessness as something inevitable: “We’ve created nine homes for life. That number is small, but if you replicated that across the UK, you could realistically end street homelessness.”

Main image: London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham;

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