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Student entrepreneur creates solution to homelessness

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Slattery, a final year student at King’s College London, came up with the idea for SleepCoat, a sleeping bag that transforms into a coat for homeless people, while travelling through Alaska.

Slattery said: “I was staying in a hostel and I got talking to a man in the living room. It turned out he was homeless – he was staying in the hostel for a period of about three months that had been granted to him by local government. It was a Friday and he was due to be evicted in two days.”

After their conversation Slattery spent the day with the man. They went to the local soup kitchen for food and visited other homeless people. Slattery described the experience as: “A moment where you realise: ‘I have so much privilege compared to you.’”

It’s easy to be skeptical of students who want to change the world, but since Slattery’s return Enactus have worked to improve the fortunes of homeless people. Slattery, alongside colleagues Nina Weber, current project leader of SleepCoat and Markus Heckhausen, vice project leader, as well as the eight other team members, are committed to doing this through creating a sustainable business.

Slattery said: “We are passionate about being able to use business for society. Using the real efficiency of business, as opposed to charity, for a social purpose that provides employment for people who desperately need it.”

During his research, Slattery found a Detroit-based venture called The Empower Plan and decided to set up a similar company to serve the homeless people of London.

The benefits of SleepCoat are two-fold: sleeping bags are created for homeless people, by homeless people. Slattery is quick to point out that SleepCoat is not just a business – it will employ people who desperately need work.

Students in Enactus worked with Slattery to see his idea through to fruition. Along with his colleague Tanya Dimitrova, Slattery got in touch with local design and sewing agencies to find a place that could bring his idea to reality.

“We found one company that was interested in helping us, Angelina’s Studio, and they gave us funding for a two-week training programme,” said Slattery. “By the end of this we had a better understanding of the process and a working prototype of the product.”

From there Enactus were approached by UnLtd, a funding company for social enterprise businesses, with an offer to invest £100,000. The SleepCoat team have also been working with Growth, a local partner who helped set up their first training session with two homeless people, which began recently at King’s College London.

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