The firm that's gone from spin off to blast off
It is the by-product of charity Cunamh. But now the innovative SIT tracking system has a life, and a company, of its own and is one of the UK's fastest growing social enterprises
IT is not only businesses established for personal profit that are highly innovative. The Social Impact Tracker (SIT), developed by social enterprise Cúnamh ICT, was shortlisted in the DigiBIC awards for collaborative innovation at the European Business Congress, which was open to businesses across Europe.
The Derry-based business emerged from a mental health charity, Cúnamh, and profits from the business go into the organisation. Founder and managing director Peter McCafferty explains: "I was working with the charity for many years. We had introduced a management information system for our own purposes.
"From that we were invited to a conference to present our system to about 40 other community groups as best practice. It captured information on clients they worked with and programmes they were involved in. There was enough interest at the conference for us to think about setting up a social enterprise."
The group worked with the business development agency, Noribic, to produce a business plan, which was supported by Invest NI and became the basis for active trading. "We won a tender in 2006 to deliver the service to 12 groups," recalls Peter. "Then we formally registered as a social enterprise in 2007."
Cúnamh ICT's product addresses one of the main challenges of the funded voluntary and community sector of how to prove to funders what is being achieved with their money. The SIT (www.socialimpacttracker.org) is a database that provides the evidence of what has been done and what the outcomes have been.
As the Tracker is a very sophisticated system, it is customised to report according to the specific needs of funders, including European Union programmes, the UK national government, or devolved administrations and local authorities. "There are about a hundred customised fields they [clients] can use," says Peter. As well as being a quantitative database, it also provides information on qualitative outcomes – measuring the changes in the lives of the people being supported by groups.
The turning point for Cúnamh ICT was winning an 'innovation voucher' from Invest NI. This opened up a collaboration opportunity with the University of Ulster's Magee campus in Derry and specifically with its Intelligent Systems Research Centre.
Working with Magee, Cúnamh ICT was able to re-engineer its product to make it accessible online – greatly expanding its potential client base. "We had the knowledge of what the product had to do and they brought the technology to do it," says Peter. "It's a mixture of social and digital innovation."
The product was relaunched in 2010, not just in Northern Ireland, but across the UK. Since then, the product and support service has been developing. It has around 700 users in the community and voluntary sector, with many new clients in Great Britain having been secured through local agents – who are themselves also social enterprises. "They have social objectives, so they are reinvesting back into their causes," explains Peter. "That was a model that we wanted to use."
The agency arrangement has been very successful. "As a result our product sales went up about 600%," reports Peter. Following that, Cúnamh ICT was recognised in the SE 100 Index as one of the UK's fastest growing social enterprises. "That opened up new markets in the UK, including Scotland and Wales," continues McCafferty.
"Invest NI then came back on board and invested in us...we then became more established and the product became more functional through user feedback. It is probably now in the top five online products of its type in the UK."
Last year, turnover had grown to over £150,000 and the social enterprise had three staff. Turnover is expected to be substantially higher this year. Cúnamh ICT has proved itself to be a social enterprise that is innovative, collaborative and, of course, enterprising.