Allia makes serious London impact

A year ago in east London, not-for-profit Allia quietly opened up a side-street workspace to house social ventures from the local startup economy. Incubator and accelerator programmes have followed and now offer real promise – and real jobs – from over 100 ventures on a mission. Julian Blake reports.

Allia_SI-logo_RGBDetroit may not quite be the first place that comes to mind when you think of London Fields, east London’s vibrant and at times painfully hip urban district.

Yet it is the mid-west metropolis that has informed an economic approach quietly under way here, in a Hackney side street.

A few years ago, the philanthropic arm of the JPMorgan Chase investment bank started to address the challenges faced by post-industrial Detroit. It took the view that by creating jobs through small business, the city could start to be transformed.

It committed $100m to economic recovery in the city in five years, including through support for small business innovation to create new jobs. The impact to date has been remarkable.

Here in the UK, JPMorgan Chase Foundation has added its weight to a programme helping UK ventures off the ground, supporting projects that promote local enterprise, social housing and jobs.

It is a backer of non-profit Allia, which over 20 years of work has helped hundreds into jobs, including through its Future Business Centres in Cambridge and Peterborough. In London it has made an impact, including through bonds for affordable housing, helping 264 people into jobs.

Last June Allia opened up its first Future Business Centre in the capital, putting a stake in the ground at an east London FBC at London Fields in Hackney (pictured).

Speaking at the east London venue’s anniversary celebrations this month, JPMorgan Chase Foundation president Janis Bowdler said: “No business can outgrow the economy of its communities. Companies can and should draw on their full range of resources and apply them in ways that support and accelerate cities’ efforts to catalyse mobility for their residents.”

As well as offering incubator space for dozens of local ventures, the east London FBC houses tenants like Year Here, the excellent graduate social innovation venture, alongside social startups like Diversity Hut and BuddyHub. (DigitalAgenda has also called the space home this year).

Future Business CentreFuture Business Centre adds to a fast-growing London Fields co-working economy, with Work.Life, creative industries-focussed Netil House and now-ubiquitous WeWork already in situ. Higher-end scale-up space Second Home opens a family-friendly space here soon.

All have established themselves in the area as nearby Silicon Roundabout has moved out of reach to most startups on a budget, and ventures look further afield. The problem for the local economy is that people who live in the area are not always the beneficiaries of its economic growth. That’s where Serious comes in.

Allia’s Serious Impact programme runs on the back of the new east London space, helping impact entrepreneurs to startup, innovate, grow and scale – and create jobs. After starting work in Cambridge, Serious Impact London keeps up the economic focus.

Serious Impact offers both an accelerator and an incubator model. The incubator offers nine months of free workspace at London Fields and other sites, complete with workshops, panels and mentor sessions.

The Serious Impact ‘Grow Your Business’ accelerator offers three months of free workshops, support and mentorship for hyper-local businesses, with a strong emphasis on local job creation.

After its first programme in Hackney, a second is about to finish in Tower Hamlets, before new accelerator programmes start up in neighbouring Newham and Waltham Forest, as well as back in Hackney.

Allia puts a strong emphasis on the free-to-access nature of its services, to ensure maximum impact to ventures themselves trying to make an impact and jobs.

“Everything is zero fee and zero equity,” stresses Serious Impact accelerator manager Alex Potter (pictured below). “We’re a charity and non-profit organisation, also bringing in revenue from our workspaces, impact finance activities and bonds. This helps maintain the free nature of all of our enterprise support.”

serious4500Serious has located its second east London accelerator in Tower Hamlets – just south of the Canary Wharf that plays home to JPMorgan’s UK offices. Craft Central at The Forge has a strong heritage of local industry and local jobs too.

“It’s a fantastic organisation that supports craftspeople and makers in the Isle of Dogs,” says Potter. “We went there very specifically to capitalise on, and bring support back to, the bustling entrepreneurial history of the Isle of Dogs.”

With a CV including The Bakery, Capital Enterprise and Mass Challenge, Potter has plenty of strong connections into the London and UK tech economy. That helps Serious Impact tap in to the enterprise economy rising in Canary Wharf, through partnerships with the likes of Level39, its fintech accelerator and workspace. That in turn, hopes Allia, brings benefits back to the local economy.

On July 4, Serious Impact brings its Grow Your Business programme to Newham ventures. Applications are still open.