Housing sector presents a smorgasbord of opportunities for the budding entrepreneur

Scotland has positioned itself as a hot house for entrepreneurs with the creation of an eco-system to back start-up and scale-up companies with a focus on economic growth. Entrepreneurialism is often seen as the domain of highly innovative individuals and the private sector and it is less often a trait nurtured within the public sector and established businesses. Yet the level of change, challenge and opportunity across the housing sector presents a smorgasbord of opportunities for the budding entrepreneur. The question is how do we foster this?   

Examples already exist and high profile and energetic individuals such as Josh Littlejohn have disrupted Scotland's approach to tackling homelessness by mobilising thousands of people to raise millions of pounds to seed the growth of Housing First. Susan Aktemel has established a social enterprise letting agency that has secured investment from social impact investors to manage and deliver homes to those on the periphery of the private rented sector, often excluded by being recipients of housing benefit.

At the other end of the scale an entrepreneurial spirit exists within Scottish Government that has led to the establishment of the LAR Housing Trust and most recently the MMR Fund with PFP Capital. Both will deliver at least 1,000 new homes each through loan funding of over £90m that will bring in an additional £150m through private investment. The MMR Fund only happened due to an entrepreneurial and disruptive mind-set within Places for People that recognised the need for the sector to invent its own future.

In 2016 we teamed up with SUNAMP, developers of the world's first heat battery, and the Scottish Government to deploy the technology as a solution to tackling fuel poverty. At the point we agreed to the joint venture fewer than 20 of the systems had been installed. At the end of the project, with over 600 installations, SUNAMP were at full commercial production and had refined the technology which has the potential to disrupt the heat and hot water market, delivering increased comfort at lower carbon and lower cost. Understanding and managing the risks enabled our tenants to benefit from lower energy bills and has enabled SUNAMP to make a major step in its development.

Future opportunities for entrepreneurial activity are vast across our sector, from solutions to compliance monitoring and asset management, to delivery of digital services, supporting vulnerable tenants and promoting inclusion to name just a few. Fostering this activity is the responsibility of our sector and this will require a commercial skill set that understands and accepts risk, reducing the time it takes to go from concept to commercial implementation.  

Working in partnership with government and the private sector is definitely key to fostering entrepreneurial talent and tackling some of housing's knotty problems. This will require financial commitment, space to fail and a willingness to try something new. The longer term benefits are that we will see solutions designed around the needs of our tenants and communities, who are often the last to benefit from innovation and economic growth.

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