Starting and scaling a social enterprise is no walk in the park—but reading U.K. entrepreneur Iman Fadaei’s story, you could be fooled.
Aha Design offers professional Web services to the likes of the Government Cabinet Office, Lisa King London, and United Nations Women — but it’s also engaged in invaluable projects to train and engage vulnerable youths, helping them secure future employment opportunities.
I caught up with self-confessed Dell fan, Fadaei, to learn more about how networking, tech investment and lessons learned have been key to growing the business.
What is Aha Design, and how is the business aiming to tackle U.K. youth unemployment?
Aha Design offers advanced Web development services to a range of clients, and we’re passionate about engaging disadvantaged youths as part of that — empowering them to learn valuable skills for finding or creating decent jobs.
We work with local charities like ELATT and Cardinal Hume Centre to connect with disadvantaged young people who may be suitable for our program. After getting in touch with these candidates, we’ll check out their existing coding skills and, if they have potential, we’ll meet up and see if they’re friendly and can work in a professional environment.
Once we decide to move forward, we provide as many paid opportunities as possible for them. Many of our projects are highly complex and require expert attention, but others are simpler and are valuable opportunities for them to showcase their talents within a supportive environment (and get paid for it!).
Do you think there’s enough support for young enterprise?
It’s exciting to see support for young enterprise growing, especially within the philanthropic sector, which lends itself to the more hands-on projects that are so much more valuable to disadvantaged youth than simply providing finance and occasional mentoring.
Technology is key in tackling youth unemployment since it’s something our youth are already familiar with, often having skills in areas such as social media and WordPress that are of tangible benefit to businesses.
The challenge and opportunity is offering training and work experience that helps young people to understand, and focus their efforts on, the real needs of organisations.
You’ve attracted some high-profile clients, from charities to government and United Nations bodies. What’s been key to your success?
I think it’s a combination of networking effectively with potential clients who we can genuinely help, maintaining strong relationships and striving for excellence in every project.
We’re delighted that Rami Abdelal, one of the young freelancers we’re supporting, has retained UN Women as a client as a result of his excellent work creating a new website for them.
How do you plan to capitalize on the growth potential for which you’re gaining recognition?
We’re delighted that people support our vision—and we’re keen to continue growing! Our immediate goals are to continue securing advanced development work (we love interesting coding projects!) and also to partner with suitable charities to expand our program and benefit more young people.
How has technology supported the business’ ability to scale?
Investing in high-quality IT hardware is essential in our business. One of the difficulties we’re currently facing is that we have talented but disadvantaged youth beginning to provide quality services to clients, but they’re still stuck on an old PC they’re borrowing!
I haven’t stopped preaching the virtues of Windows and Android to my co-founders (I’m on a custom Dell Precision)!
How can a social enterprise achieve scale while staying true to its mission?
I think we’re learning this as we go. I guess we’re lucky in that scaling our business relies heavily on how successful we are in empowering our youth participants, who can then join our platform as freelancers or trainers.
In other words, our profits are directly linked to our social impact, so both will grow together.
What’s your top goal for 2014 and how do you plan to achieve it?
This year’s goal is to further develop our online platform and to partner with additional organizations to prove that our program is scalable.
We’ll continue to hunt for exciting development work, engage with interesting people and work with new talented youth. If you’re interested in working with us, get in touch.