UnLtd has invested in pioneering company Sofab Sports, making it the first business backed by the organisation’s new Impact Fund. SoFab Sports will receive investment of £98,500 and specialist support from the UnLtd team to enable them to scale their social impact; helping more young adults with physical and learning difficulties to access meaningful employment opportunities.

Sofab Sports is a Community Interest Company based in Gloucestershire who sell big brand sportwear, will be using the injection of funds to grow the retail side of its business, through the purchase of new stock and opening additional premises. Sofab specifically work with young adults with learning difficulties; helping to develop skills, confidence and self-esteem through meaningful employment opportunities.

Founded in 2012, the venture aims to transform society’s attitude to young people with learning difficulties and to shape the business leaders of tomorrow. All profit generated from trading is retained within the company and ringfenced for pursuing social change. It also runs the UK’s largest inclusive football team, the community sports team competing in all regional competitions.

Dale Rawlins, founder of Sofab Sports, said: “Just 46% of working-age disabled people are in work, compared to 76% of non-disabled people. There’s been no shift in this ratio since 2008, so we think the system needs to change. The UnLtd Impact Fund investment will allow us to make this change happen and further advocate for wage incentives and the removal of the barriers stopping disabled people finding employment.

“This investment will also provide short-term working capital to increase stock and help us grow, because with only one shop we aren’t a big enough brand for our voice to be heard. We are using this investment to open new retail units, because the more shops we can open the bigger the exemplar becomes.”

The UnLtd Impact Fund was launched to help overcome one of the sector’s biggest barriers – addressing the ‘missing middle’ of social finance. The fund aims to bridge this gap which often prevents social ventures from accessing investment which is used to grow social impact. This is done through the provision of capital and post-investment support. UnLtd’s extensive work in the sector found that social entrepreneurs urgently need access to finance and intensive support to truly thrive.

The UnLtd Impact Fund has been designed to address this, with a specific initial focus on helping social ventures whose primary purpose is increasing access to employment. We will invest in around 35 social ventures over the next three years. The UnLtd Impact Fund is funded through the Growth Fund. The Growth Fund is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment with funding from the Big Lottery Fund and Big Society Capital. Expert partners for the UnLtd Impact fund include the City & Guilds Group, a leader in global skills development.

Social ventures will be offered access to between £50,000 and £150,000 of unsecured debt investment, which will include an element of grant funding.

Offering specialist support is at the heart of the UnLtd Impact Fund. Alongside finance, the fund will aim to develop a portfolio of successful scaling ventures tackling the challenges of training and employment. Each package of support is tailored to the requirement of the social venture. Among the help on offer is one-to-one support with a dedicated Venture Support Manager, peer-to-peer learning through sector events, and pro bono legal support.

David Bartram, Director of Ventures at UnLtd, said: “We’ve been hugely impressed by the innovation and social change delivered by SoFab Sports in and around Gloucestershire. We’re thrilled to be supporting the team through their next stage of growth. Although access to capital is by no means the only challenge when we refer to the missing middle for social ventures, it is a significant one. This so-called ‘missing middle’ is often the most challenging in a venture’s development. That’s why we set-up the UnLtd Impact Fund, to directly address this challenge. This will be through a mix of the capital we provide, business planning, developing routes to market, assistance in measuring impact, and tailored support to scale impact. Our support of Sofab Sports means the venture can continue to grow, help more people with disabilities into employment and deliver further sustainable social change.”

Seb Elsworth, Chief Executive of Access, said: “The Growth Fund aims to make social investment more accessible to charities and social enterprises in England. We are delighted to be helping UnLtd to provide small-scale, unsecured, blended loan and grant finance to enable social ventures such as Sofab Sports to increase their impact and improve people’s access to employment.”

Mark Norbury, UnLtd CEO, said: “The Impact Fund is at the very heart of what we do here at UnLtd – helping social entrepreneurs overcome barriers to deliver lasting social impact. Investing in Sofab Sports made absolute sense on so many levels because they are doing such incredible, pioneering work to transform the job market for disabled people. The support from our partners, Access and City & Guilds Group, has been invaluable. Both of these organisations both share our determination to unlock people’s potential and support social entrepreneurs to build their growth and impact. Together, we look forward to further UnLtd Impact Fund investments.”

About Access – The Foundation for Social Investment

Access – The Foundation for Social Investment exists to bridge the gap between charities and social enterprises and social investors. Access does this through two main programmes: the Growth Fund which blends grant from Big Lottery Fund and loan from Big Society Capital and is focused on enabling the provision of the simple and affordable investment products that charities and social enterprises tell us they need; and the capacity building programme, which provides charities and social enterprises with the support they need to get ready to take on investment.