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Big Venture Challenge Winners Announced



The winners of this year’s Big Venture Challenge have been revealed today. Big Venture Challenge (BVC) recognises those who are tackling the problems we face as a nation through social projects and schemes. Each winner will receive a year of business support, connections to help them grow, and access to a £20,000 non-repayable grant to help them raise investment.

Winners include the chefs behind Papi’s Pickles, a catering service helping Sri Lankan women into employment, Cycle Systems, a cycle shop offering training for ex-military service men and women and Canvas Coffee Shop, who employ people in recovery from addiction.

Mark Norbury, Chief Executive of UnLtd of the Foundation of Social Entrepreneurs, said: “I’m delighted to introduce this year’s Big Venture Challenge winners – a set of incredibly passionate and talented people who are enabling some of the most vulnerable people in our society to find work. These social entrepreneurs are doing more than providing jobs – they are developing these individuals’ life chances. We believe that given the right support and access to funding, they have the potential to dramatically improve the employment landscape.”

The programme is run by UnLtd and funded by the Big Lottery Fund England. This year’s cohort has a special focus on social ventures providing access to education, training and skills, and contains many social entrepreneurs broadening access to the job market – categorised by UnLtd as Impact Employers.

The 20 winners of this year’s challenge will be publicly announced today, at a drinks reception at Hogan Lovells law firm in London. Other winners include Nottinghamshire based Textocracy, enabling public services to more effectively canvas citizen’s opinions and Year Here, which offers postgraduate courses in social innovation, working to build smart responses to poverty and inequality.

Since 2013, the Big Venture Challenge has supported entrepreneurs to raise over £8.2m of investment and scale their social impact, with ventures on average reaching 42% more beneficiaries each year. The programme has attracted over 40 new angel investors to social investing and many of the graduates of the previous years are now going on to raise Series A investments of over £1m.

Previous winners of Big Venture Challenge who raised investment through the programme include London’s first full time outdoor nursery that offers place to vulnerable children, Little Forest Folk, Goodwill Solutions, a logistics company employing people from disadvantaged backgrounds and Oomph! a provider of fun, inclusive and effective exercise classes for older adults.

About the BVC 2016 Winners

The full list of BVC 2016 Winners are as follows:

  • Abi Ramanan, Papi’s Pickles, London; Restaurateurs working with unemployed women to provide South Indian and Sri Lankan food.
  • Beverley Dean, Special iApps, Durham: building educational apps for children with Special Education Needs.
  • Cemal Ezel, Change Please, London: employing people with a history of homelessness to work on mobile coffee vans.
  • Cherie White, Think For the Future Ltd, Nottingham: offering Personal, Social, Health and Citizenship (PSHCE) education and mentoring to young people.
  • Damian Payton, Hive Manchester, Manchester: creating young digital talent and linking to employers.
  • Elizabeth Shassere, Textocracy Ltd, Worksop: enabling public services to more effectively canvas citizens.
  • Jack Graham, Year Here, London: offering postgraduate courses in social innovation, working to build smart responses to poverty and inequality.
  • Jemma Phibbs, 2JEvents, Oxfordshire: a venue management service letting service for schools, enabling them to rent out unused spaces and bring in income.
  • Julia Lally, Cycle Systems, Devon: providing high quality training for ex-military service men and women in bicycle maintenance.
  • Louise Allen, Essential Safeguarding: training for children and teachers on abuse in intimate teenage relationships.
  • Pravin Isram, Canvas Coffee Shop, Hampshire: a speciality coffee shop supporting those in early recovery from addiction to develop skills and confidence.
  • Ruth Anslow, hiSbe Food CIC, Brighton:  an independent supermarket focusing on stimulating the local economy:
  • Sandra Green, Green Revolutions CIC: enabling people to have access to transport.
  • Sarah Wallbank, Yes Futures London: running extra-curricular personal development programmes to improving young people’s confidence, resilience and access to successful futures.
  • Sarah Marie Taylor, Green Scene Education, Nottingham: offering horticultural classes which align to the primary school national curriculum, delivered on school grounds.
  • Shaun Fox, Legacy Sport, Huddersfield: offering sport and health programmes to schools.
  • Stacey Jade Mason, Creative Optimistic Visions, Coventry: supporting young people to be safer and better equipped around safeguarding.
  • Steve Hodgkins, Jobs Friends & Houses CIC, Blackpool: job creation and training to prevent re-offending based around building trades and letting.
  • Tara Ashkham, Infused Learning, Nottingham: providing post 19 qualifications through blended learning.
  • Will Jackson, Zephx Ltd, Cambridge: app helping people suffering from chronic lung diseases to do their physiotherapy.


7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption



Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions |

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living



Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions |

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.


Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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