How a country kid became a social enterprise accelerator

Geoff Gourley, Founder of One10, shares the story of his journey to launching the company.

How it all started

Growing up at the back of the coal mines in La Trobe Valley, Geoff saw first hand the impact of the mining industry on the environment and people around him. He recalls a school excursion where he and his friends were shown 3D models to the power station. On the model, one image haunted him:  all the towns had been dug up for coal. It wasn’t long afterwards he and his parents were uprooted from their home in the La Trobe Valley to make way for open cut mines.

It was something Geoff never forgot and, later in life, it drove his desire to ensure a sustainable future. In particular, these early experiences made Geoff realise the importance of a societal shift away from fossil fuels toward clean energy and sustainability. His career in sustainability put him on a social justice pathway, intersecting with many business ventures and investments. The seeds for One10 had been planted.

The right time to launch

Geoff’s idea for an impact or social enterprise incubator came to him in 2008, as part of a project he undertook as part of a fellowship for the Centre for Sustainability Leadership.

Back then people didn’t even know what a social enterprise was. Even though there was a great deal going on with the focus on environmental movement and Al Gore’s push for climate change training, this idea was probably ahead of it’s time.

As the space evolved, Geoff watched for the right time then launched One10 at end of 2015. In a world where the global consumer trends are showing a shift toward conscious purchasing, and social media is exposing brands who are harming the planet, Geoff’s instincts to launch an accelerator to enable businesses with a purpose or impact goal are spot on.

For Geoff, One10 is a framework for people with passion and ideas to get them up and running, to improve their opportunities for success and to make a difference. He has developed and tweaked the model continuously to reach One10’s end to end solution for social enterprise. There is great care in what he does. This is evident in how he spends his time in nurturing people who come through the doors. It doesn’t matter that the social entrepreneur is an experienced player or a beginner with a great idea, for him and the team at One10 it’s about getting that person on their right pathway, whatever that may be.

Enabling People with Purpose & Passion

There’s purpose behind everything I do.

Even the office space and environment of where One10 is located important. One10’s Melbourne residence is in the stylish set up at Space&Co, in Melbourne’s fashionable Collins Street, with a new facility opening up in central Sydney. The way One10 comes across in a professional environment is a key step to having the investment community take social enterprise seriously.

I want them to feel this is a sector that can make a lot of money as well as create impact

So Impact Investment?

Like social enterprise, “impact investing” is a relatively new term in the mainstream investment community. It operates as an alternative investment in that it assesses an additional criteria: social or environmental impact of an entity, in addition to its profitability. These are not entirely strange bedfellows, Geoff insists, but they do require a great deal of patience.

The making of a business with purpose

Setting out to create a social enterprise and make it investible is not always easy Geoff reminds us:

There is a huge amount of due diligence that founder of a profit for purpose business or social enterprise must go through before it becomes investor-ready, if at all.” Some are high in impact, but not necessarily scaleable. Others are highly scalable, but the problem they seek to solve may be localised, not global in nature.

For Geoff, it’s about meeting the needs of the founders in front of him, and being a conduit for whatever the business requires at that particular stage. It’s also about opening up traditional investors to a new opportunities, and taking them on a satisfying journey, which in some cases can return better than traditional investment portfolios.

Imagine knowing that your investment has not only delivered returns but has also saved the lives of millions of people. That’s a legacy you want to have as an investor

Geoff also sees an urgent need for government to kickstart this space. He feels that the more the industry gets support, the larger the profile the industry will have and ultimately the larger the impact, which in turn, in theory means less money the government needs to spend on fixing social or environmental problems down the track.

Geoff is hoping to open more dialogue amongst these groups, as the incubator grows. For now it’s about rolling the sleeves up and getting out there to find the best of the best social entrepreneurs.

When asked if there is a typical founder he sees in this space, he says there isn’t one. Brilliant ideas come from everywhere – from personal experience, to responding to a pressing need. That said, he does see more female founders coming through the doors – about a 60/40 split, which is different from many other traditional tech incubators or single sex style accelerators.

He does see a gap in the ideation and pre-seed phase of many social enterprise startups. In fact, he says, it can be quite difficult for early stage social enterprises to have any support at all. They are either seen as too focused on solving a social or environmental problem over the business model, or not impactful enough to really fix a social or environmental problem.

That’s why he says, the One10 approach is needed.

The One10 way

One10 understands the very specific needs of those rare individuals who have the passion to drive change and do it through a profitable business. We know how to match them with the right team, the right talent, the right investors to achieve the right outcomes, and more importantly at the right time.  For investors, the program is a model of de-risking the investment and a 90 % success rate.

The key for Geoff is transparency and flexibility. Being able to be completely open with people, and see deeply into them as to what drives them is critical. He also says you also have to be incredibly astute to analyse the impact. If it really isn’t doing a long term job, then you have to question its effectiveness and why developing an entire business model around it is worth it.

It’s this responsive, needs based approach which marks One10 as an incubator which has potential to make a huge impact itself. Building teams, advisory boards, specific impact strategy and business strategy in addition to raising capital in a market that is yet to be fully educated on the value of impact investment, takes a certain kind of stamina to develop and sustain.

Geoff and his team are energetic, compassionate and determined, which makes them a great match for their clients.  They also surround themselves with a huge network of mentors and advisors, including EY, Bank Australia, Clearpoint Counsel,  Start Some Good and Common Code – all of whom share the mission, around conscious business principles. Partnerships with research organisations like CSIRO and Swinburne University are also important for One10, as student driven ideations need activations outside of the university system.

For now, it’s all about building for Geoff. He is out and about most days, powered by a million coffees. As for the future, he’d like to enable 1000 social enterprises, and his true passion is for helping people to realise the changes we all would like to see in the world.

About One10

One10 exists to create a more inclusive and sustainable world. We believe that the power of business can be harnessed for good. One10 enable change makers and innovators to create meaningful social and environmental impact through mentorship, social impact consultancy, and social enterprise acceleration.