This month we are highlighting one of the case studies from our report “A practical guide to planning and executing and impactful exit”. This article focuses on the exit of EVPA Member Ferd Social Entrepreneurs from the investment they made in consulting company Unicus SA. Both organisations are located in Norway.
For Venture Philanthropy Organisations (VPOs) exiting is a complex process, as the preservation of social impact is a crucial element to choose a follow-on investor.
Unicus AS is a consultancy company located in Norway. What’s special about Unicus is that it only hires people who are affected by the Asperger syndrome. By focussing on the qualities of people affected by this form of autism Unicus offers to its clients high-quality specialised support in testing and quality assurance of IT systems (team picture below from their website).
For Ferd, the investment goal was making the core business sustainable and increasing the total number of employees, creating job opportunities for people with Asperger’s currently outside the labour market and giving this people job security.
To this end, Ferd invested seed money for a three-year period along with non-financial support. Both parties agreed at the beginning of the investment that Unicus was to be self-sustaining by the time of exit. In order to achieve this result, Ferd remained involved with capacity building, strategy consulting, coaching and operational management as well as monitoring the development of Unicus
Two years in, both organisations began to discuss the exit process considering if it would be feasible for Ferd to exit by the end of the following year or if the VPO would need to extend the support. For Ferd, what really mattered was to make sure that the impact was maintained after exit, so as to guarantee that the employees of Unicus would be given job security, since stability is extremely important for people with the Asperger syndrome.
In the end, Ferd realised that the scaling and growth potential of Unicus needed a different kind of partner, as Ferd couldn’t provide the resources to promote scaling-up. Thus both organisations decided to search for an industrial partner that could take the SPO to the next level. The search was not easy, as the follow-on investor had to be committed to support the SPO pursuing its social impact goals – on the side of the financial return.
Finally, a follow-on investor was found and Ferd could execute the exit according to the original timeline. Even though not all the social impact goals were reached fully, Unicus had become financially sustainable, thus the exit was considered a success. Unicus had originally planned to hire a larger number of consultants, but had then to revise its plan and grow more prudently than planned to avoid risking putting pressure on the employment contracts of its beneficiaries.
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