Harry Specters Chocolate
According to research conducted by London School of Economics, Autism is the most costly medical condition in the UK. It is estimated at least £32 billion per year is spent on treatment, care and support for both children and adults along with the impact on the economy of lost earnings. Autism costs more than heart disease, cancer and stroke combined,” states Harry Specters Chocolates founder Mona Shah.
Mona Shah is an experienced NHS corporate governance advisor with a love of chocolate, an autistic son and the mindset to make a difference. Whilst undertaking a chocolate making course, Mona had an epiphany: making and packaging chocolate involves a series of very routine tasks; perfect for individuals on the autistic spectrum. Having become increasingly aware of the lack of employment opportunities for people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, like her son, Mona spotted an opportunity to make a difference. The social enterprise that was to become Harry Specters Chocolates began its evolution.
“Most people want to lead meaningful lives. They want to be contributing members of society. People with autism are no exception. It is estimated that out of 350,000 people with autism of working age in the UK; only 15% are in full-time employment; 61% of those not employed are desperate to work and 79% of those on Incapacity Benefit want to work. There is no doubt that for people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, finding paid employment is a major challenge. This affects them mentally, physically and financially,” advises Mona.
Mona and her partner Shaz set up Harry Specters in the kitchen of their home in Cambridgeshire and as well as producing delicious award winning chocolates provide free training, work experience and employment opportunities to people with Autism. Two years on, and 100 people helped, the time had come to expand. They sought help through the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, with whom Foundation East is a founding partner. Finance from this scheme is only available to social enterprises and comes with a full business support package.
“I had no doubt about recommending Harry Specters to our loans assessment panel,” advises Valerie Jarrett, Business Loans Manager. “They had a good business, both financially and socially and it needed to move to the next stage. They had the proven ability to sell the product to high-end businesses, such as Nadler Hotels, The Cairn Group and Adnams. They had a fantastic support network, including Cambridge Social Ventures and Unlimited, and a proven business model.”
Since launching in December 2012 Mona has been successful in winning support from Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Social Impact scheme, a startup grant from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, a grant from UnLtd’s Big Venture Challenge Programme and investment from Clearly So as well as finance from Foundation East. She has also gained media coverage from The Economist, Times, FT, Guardian, Daily Mail and BBC Look East, raising awareness about the positive contributions people with autism are able to make to society, if only given the chance.