Outstanding chocolate firm working with autistic people recognised for incredible impact | Blog | Foundation East

Outstanding chocolate firm working with autistic people recognised for incredible impact

22nd March 2018 By Katy Ford in Big breaks

(L-R) Amal Gomersall of Citi, Mona Shah and Shaz Shah, founders of Harry Specters, and broadcaster Kaye Adams at the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards in Glasgow on 20 March.

Foundation East client, Ely-based Harry Specters, has won multiple awards for its delicious, high-quality chocolate confections. Now after it was named the UK's 'social enterprise of the year' by an international foundation in recognition of its impact through employing, training and supporting autistic people, the firm has another trophy for its cabinet and £7,500 award money.

The Social Enterprise of the Year award in this year's Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards recognises the success of an outstanding social entrepreneur with a clear social or environmental mission, taking an entrepreneurial approach to creating social change. 

Impact is at the heart of what Foundation East stands for and we’re thrilled that Harry Specters' positive social impact and business success has been recognised by this award. We’ve supported Mona and Shaz during their journey from a start-up, conservatory-based operation to producing world-class quality chocolates while employing, supporting and training autistic people. They create important opportunities and give vitally important training and support to help people stay with Harry Specters or go on to other employment. 

How did it all start?

During a chocolate making course co-founder Mona Shah realised that the precision and step-by-step process to create and package bespoke quality chocolate makes it ideal for some autistic people. Shah and her husband set up the firm having been concerned about career opportunities for their son Ash who is autistic.

Harry Specters has now grown to employ 4 full-time and 5 part-time employees (6 of whom are autistic). It has already provided training and work experience to over 180 autistic people and plans to double revenues in the next 2 years in order to create more employment for people with autism. Our loan helped Harry Specters’ team to develop its business plan. Cambridge Social Ventures also provided support to the firm along with incubator space.

 The business now sells its products to chocolate-loving individuals and corporate customers. They appreciate its luxury products – and the business’ ability to turn around bespoke orders reliably and rapidly.

Speaking at the awards ceremony in Glasgow on 20th March Mona Shah commented:

"We’re absolutely over the moon to have won and that the judges understood the underlying ethos of the business and what we are trying to achieve. And of course I have to say that we couldn’t have done this without the support of Foundation East. Thank you so much to Citi and I really hope you’ll be buying chocolates from us for all of your events."

Delivered in partnership by Responsible Finance and the Citi Foundation, the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards recognise best-in-class microentrepreneurs and celebrate the responsible finance sector and their contribution to national economies.

Awards for other microenterprises

Three other micro-enterprises supported by responsible finance took prizes too. Like Harry Specters, all received support from responsible finance providers at a time when traditional high street lenders could not give them access to the finance they needed to develop their businesses.

Nottingham-based business Alpkit took home the Citi Microentrepreneurship Award for Growth. Alpkit designs, manufactures and sells outdoor gear and equipment.

The Argyll Smokery, an independent traditional artisan fish smoke house which carries out all of its processes by hand, was named winner of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Award for Sustainability.

“Young Microentrepreneur of the Year” award winner Stephen Henderson founded Ruach Music which produces and sells handmade Cajons, equipment for guitarists and electric guitars.

Awards for Responsible Finance providers too

Launched in 2005, (and in 2013 in the UK), the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards were established by the Citi Foundation to recognise best-in-class microentrepreneurs and celebrate the responsible finance sector and their contribution to national economies.

Two Responsible Finance received awards recognising their impact and their resilience:

Wales’ Robert Owen Community Banking took home the Impact award, and Lancashire Community Finance the Resilience Award.

And two individuals working for responsible finance providers were given special awards. This year’s Responsible Finance Leader Award went to Steve Walker, Chief Executive, ART Business Loans, West Midlands. The Outstanding Loan Officer Award was made to Xiao Liu of Business Finance Solutions.

What do Responsible Finance Providers do?

Responsible Finance providers are a crucial part of the UK’s financial sector and the leading financial institutions offering affordable finance to many small and micro enterprises.There are 27 responsible finance providers in the UK that lend to business that struggle to get finance from the mainstream banking industry. The businesses they lend to are often deemed too risky or unprofitable by mainstream banks due to a lack of trading history or small scale: 93% of business customers lent to by the responsible finance industry in 2017 were declined by other lenders.

“These awards celebrate today’s microentrepreneurs, like Mona Shah, sharing the stories of their journeys so that they can inspire the next generation of British entrepreneurs. The Award also recognises the important role responsible finance providers play in supporting the entrepreneurship ecosystem, which enables many microenterprises, including this year’s winners, to grow and scale their businesses.”

“Harry Specters and the other three winning micro-enterprises in this year’s Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards represent a diverse range of innovative microenterprises, which are creating jobs, building livelihoods, and offering vital products and services to their local communities,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development. 

About the Citi Foundation

The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress in communities around the world and focuses on initiatives that expand financial inclusion. We collaborate with best-in-class partners to create measurable economic improvements that strengthen low-income families and communities. Through a "More than Philanthropy" approach, Citi's business resources and human capital enhance our philanthropic investments and impact.


About Responsible Finance

We are the voice of the responsible finance industry working to increase access to fair finance. We support a strong and growing network of finance providers who are building resilient economies throughout the UK.

Our network is locally responsive, tailoring services to the needs of the areas within which we operate. We offer a personal service, a supportive approach and a real alternative to traditional bank lenders and finance providers. At our heart is the idea of bringing social and economic benefits to people, places and businesses.

Our network provides access to finance for people and businesses that are often excluded; we aim to build hope, create opportunity and change lives – for us that’s responsible finance.

  • About the Author
    Katy Ford

    Katy Ford

    Katy’s knowledge of community finance is extensive, having worked for Foundation East since its inception in 2004. She is recognised locally as an influential business leader by the Suffolk 100 and nationally, as a founding member of AskIf, an online network of community-based lenders. Previous to moving across to community finance, Katy was the treasury manager for a large insurance company. She also has experience as a SME owner, having run a small hotel.

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