Raising Finance

The two crowdfunded UK startups backed by Ben & Jerry's desire to drive social change

5 min read

26 May 2015

Ben & Jerry's Join Our Core campaign, which it hopes will create more businesses with ethical values, has looked to the crowd for its latest round of winners. UK startups We Walk the Line and GravityLight came out on top.

During a lecture at an AT&T conference centre, Ben & Jerry co-founder Jerry Greenfield said there was a “spiritual” aspect of business ethics that is undervalued in the corporate world. 

“What we started to realise at Ben & Jerry’s is that there is a spiritual part of business – as you give, you receive,” Greenfield said. “We’re never going to actualise the things we believe in unless we bring them into the realm that we’re the most powerful in. For us, that was the world of business.”

Greenfield said the company fulfilled its spiritual duties by purchasing goods from bakeries that give jobs to the homeless and by making a commitment to use only fair trade products – some 77 per cent of its flavours were converted to include Fairtrade-certified ingredients in January 2015.

Ben & Jerry’s, owned by Unilever, became the first wholly-owned subsidiary to gain a B Corporation certification. According to Greenfield, another way it strives to drive social change is through its Join Our Core campaign. It is an annual initiative which aims to promote entrepreneurs who share the ice cream company founders’ vision.

Ben & Jerry’s asked businesses across the globe with “strong financial sustainability, a positive social impact, environmental awareness, and an innovative idea” to apply for the cash prize. However, this year applicants had to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise at least £20,000.

Crowdfunding platforms such as Symbid, Crowdfunder, Crowdcube, and Seedrs, partnered with Ben & Jerry’s for the competition.

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The company has selected two UK startups as its winners. The brand will invest 20 per cent of the cash each of the startups need to hit crowdfunding targets and will provide PR and mentoring to help each grow.

It isn’t the first time that Ben & Jerry’s has turned to the crowd. In 2013, the company asked consumers to vote for flavours as part of a marketing campaign.

We Walk The Line, which chose to pitch its endeavours on KickStarter, comprises of bicycle coffee stands across London. The founders only hire individuals struggling to get back into employment.

Co-founder Kieron Tilley suggested that the company was a front for teaching people the skills and attributes they need to run their own business.

He said: “It seemed to us that there weren’t many mechanisms out there to support those young and disadvantaged people into self employment status. So we came up with this idea, to offer an apprenticeship in business and barista skills, with the end goal of using these skills to set up on your own, running a micro coffee business.”

Tilley explained that they wanted to help Brits attain an accreditation in enterprise. “It just so happens that our pilot phase is looking at developing skills in business and barista,” he said. 

GravityLight, the second startup to be selected, can be found through crowdfunding platform Indiegogo.

The company was started on the premise that over 1.5bn people have no reliable access to mains electricity. These people rely, instead, on biomass fuels (mostly kerosene) for lighting once the sun goes down.

Developed by Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves, the GravityLight is charged by a bag that is filled with 9kg worth of material and hung from a cord below the light. As the bag descends, gears inside the device translates this weight into energy, providing 30 minutes of light. 

“The villagers’ investment is returned within three months of being freed from the cost of kerosene,” said Reeves. “From then on, it saves them money. With hand-cranked devices, it might require three minutes of turning a handle for half-an-hour’s return. With this amount of effort required from the consumer, it’s often not seen as a particularly attractive trade-off. “

The GravityLight just needs three seconds of lifting for 30 minutes’ return.