Steve Bond wants to break down barriers that make it harder for people who have difficulties learning in mainstream education to find work. In 2017 he launched PALS (People with Alternate Learning Styles), a social venture that promotes, supports and provides employment for young people with learning difficulties in the IT sector. 

PALS consists of a charity, PALS Society, and a business, PALS Computing.

The charitable arm, PALS Society, provides services to any organisation that already employs or is looking to employ PALS.  The plan is to deliver placements that provide work-ready skills, a portfolio of achievements, and events that facilitate PALS to reconnect with their communities.

The enterprise arm, PALS Computing, will be a UK wide employer of PALS. Services will be initially delivered in the Solent in south England before expanding with branches around the country.  The business will provide IT services and will devote a proportion of its time to developing and marketing our own products.  

In 2017 UnLtd connected Steve with a mentor from Deutsche Bank, Pinkie Shah. The experience has proved invaluable.

Why mentoring?

Steve: “ At the time  we had just registered as a charity and whilst I had a great board of trustees in place I felt lacked someone who could give me constructive one to one feedback and who would challenge me regarding the business. I really wanted to work with someone who knew about the finance industry and had strong skills in strategic planning, Pinkie ticked all these boxes”

Pinkie: “I had done some internal mentoring within Deutsche Bank, but this time I really wanted to do something outside the bank. To me the most important thing was to be able to apply my skills to a good cause, something I really believed in.”

What did you get from it?

Steve: “ My original goal was to get PALS ready to pitch to clients, however we quickly realised there were other areas we needed to tackle first . We’ve focused on understanding market needs, what our customers want and more broadly how to build & grow this kind of business. Putting the pieces in place that will help us grow our impact and support more young people in the future” 

Pinkie:  “Our focus was getting Steve ready to approach clients for the commercial arm of his business. A lot of our conversations have focused on helping Steve get really clear about his business model and the added value he’s providing to potential clients (employers) both through placing young people within their business but also importantly through the support & facilitation he can provide for the employers as they embark on working with their new employees.” 

Steve: “Work is still ongoing, but already I feel we are a lot more professional as an organisation, Pinkie has helped us review our strategy documents and has helped us think more holistically about the pathway we offer to the young people we work with.  With her help with we are now preparing to get ready to pitch to larger funders which in turn will hopefully increase our capacity to support more people into employment and to grow the business.”

What did you learn from the experience?

Pinkie: “Working with Steve has been great, I’m learning a lot from Steve about setting up & running a business and at the same time I can see the value I’m able to add.  The best thing about mentoring is being able to help someone, being able to relate what I know to someone else’s industry and that way enable them to move forward. ” 

Steve: “The best thing about having a mentor was the clarity she provided. I’d often arrive with a lot of confusing thoughts and always end up with clarity. It was great to be able to talk with someone knowledgeable and supportive, to have someone to listen, to ask good questions and share examples from their business context without telling me what to do”

What advice would you give to other mentors / mentees?

Steve: “Be open and honest about what’s going on for you both personally and for your business. Just go with it and be open minded about where the mentoring meetings might take you, try not to go in with too strictly predefined expectations. Allow a few meetings for a focus of your mentoring meetings to emerge. Mentoring for me has been a combination of personal and professional , support for me as a leader as well as support with the building blocks and strategic direction of my social venture.”

Pinkie: “Don’t be afraid! I was nervous at first about my ability to contribute as I hadn’t started a business of my own before. Just go in and take your time to really understand the social entrepreneur and their business. What is the change they are wanting to create, what is it they are ultimately trying to achieve and how you can add value to this. Remember you don’t have to know everything and don’t forget the networks you will have access to who can also support the entrepreneur you are mentoring”

If you would like to be connected with a volunteer business mentor to support the growth of your social venture, please get in touch with your UnLtd award manager for an informal discussion about next steps. If on the hand you are an experienced business professional or entrepreneur interested in sharing your skills with social entrepreneurs, please contact the mentors team. 

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