In a brand new ‘Business of Science’ podcast interview with podcast host and serial entrepreneur Louise Grubb, Michael Kelly, the founder of GIY, shares his insights on growing a successful social enterprise.
GIY aims to support 100 million people to grow, cook and eat some of their own food for a healthier, more sustainable world by 2030. Michael is a social entrepreneur, author, TV presenter and hacker grower.
Michael shares the story of his career starting with how he left a life in IT consultancy, moved onto journalism and then successfully established the fast-growing social enterprise that is GIY.
He discusses his ability to adapt and apply his IT sales skills towards building a social enterprise and partnering with corporates to help to achieve GIY goals.
Michael also shares insights on the key decisions that were required for the social enterprise growth journey, where a crossroads was met and a pivotal moment meant that in order to grow the movement in a sustainable fashion he made the decision to solidify the movement with a business structure.
Speaking of establishing GIY back in 2008 when the global and Irish economic bubble had just burst, Louise asks Michael what advice he might offer to others thinking of beginning a social enterprise when the current economic climate looks uncertain?
“A recession forces us to adapt, for example, we have had to change the business of GIY within the last three months and that certainly wasn’t in our plan for 2020,” he said.
“But I think it is in the nature of entrepreneurs whether they are social or otherwise to adapt and this means that there are also opportunities when things like this happen. You have to embrace uncertainty to a degree as an entrepreneur.”
Michael also details the move from a service and knowledge provider to building GrowHQ, the home of GIY and a national food education centre and café.
“I realised that we were a movement without a physical hub and we never had a place that we could bring people and show them our view of the world,” he said.
Michael details how GIY accessed the funding for the building of GrowHQ and how within the social enterprise category founders are often stuck between the pillar banks and the social banks (who focus on lending to charities) and how it is frequent that a social enterprise is stuck somewhere in the middle of both; which throws up unexpected challenges.
Sharing his experience on creating a sustainable business model for a social enterprise, Michael says: “I think Covid has accelerated our planned business model.
“We knew two to three years ago that consumer retail was the big proposition for us. We realise that in reaching 100 million people over the next 10 years and convincing them to grow their own food, that they are going to have to buy the things that they need in order to do that.
“The flip side of that type of impact is can we generate some income. Our retail business is now up 300 to 400 per cent compared to last year just because of Covid.
“People were crying out for seeds and growing materials and we were able to respond very effectively to that, I think this will be a large part of our model into the future.”
Considering if people will ‘revert to their previous form’ and hark back to being ‘too busy’ to grow their own food in the future, Michael says: “I think if people can make a success of growing food then they will continue to do so.
“Looking at the bigger picture, I think people have taken a very deep look at their lives over the last number of months and many have realised their commutes are not necessary, they are valuing more time at home with family and cooking and growing food.
“There is definitely a recalibration happening for people and hopefully, this will continue.”
Speaking of the success of GIY, Michael says: “GIY is bigger than I expected, to be honest, we did have a business plan, it was very focussed on our original GIY groups and communities and what has shifted in that plan is that we are now focussed far more on one-to-one interactions and teaching people how to grow food wherever they can.
“Our 100 million GIY’ers goal, (which I have to admit I was almost embarrassed to say out loud for the first while) is taking it to a level that we had never envisaged at the beginning.
“We reach six to seven hundred thousand people a year at the moment and work with them to grow food for the first time.
“We felt with the UN calling the ‘Decade of Action’ as our last chance to fix the planet effectively that we had to up our game and make a commitment and set a really ambitious goal for ourselves and we know that we can do it.”
Michael’s final piece of advice to potential entrepreneurs, social or otherwise, is ‘just do it’.
He says: “That leap at the time is very scary and it’s a little like the heroes journey, but it is the most exciting thing and now I just can’t imagine working in a normal job.
“The Japanese concept of ikigai: ‘why purpose might be a better goal than happiness’ definitely applies.
“At the end of the day, it is something that makes a difference, it is something that the world needs and if you can combine all of those things you really will never work a day in your life.”
The Business of Science podcast series is hosted by the multi-award-winning serial entrepreneur and founder of Q1 Scientific Louise Grubb.
The series features interviews with some of the key people behind Ireland’s global success in pharma, life sciences, health and biomedical sectors.
Louise brings her 20 years of experience within the sector to the table and her own knowledge of what is required to establish a pharma success story.
To listen to the full interview this latest episode of ‘The Business of Science’ is now available to listen to on all podcast platforms and at Q1Scientific.com