Jamie Hartzell is one of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs, and an investor in a wide range of social businesses. He began his career as a documentary film-maker, but left television to found the Ethical Property Company in 1998. He led the company for 13 years, taking it from one employee to some 70 staff working in the UK, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.
What was your initial idea when you founded Ethical Property? Why did you launch this project?
My father died when I was only 20 and as a result I inherited when young. This inheritance was not a huge amount of money but was sufficient to present a challenge to my socialist beliefs! So I became actively engaged in the field of philanthropy as I wanted to see more money used for social good.
After several years I began to feel that more money would be put to good use if it could be invested for social benefit rather than given away and I began to explore social investment models. So I decided to develop a social investment opportunity suitable for the mass market.
I was struck by the work of Andy King in Bristol. Andy had bought a property near his house and let it out to cooperatives. Like Ethical Property today, his goal was to offer his tenants reasonable rents, a supportive landlord, a secure and welcoming place from which to work and the chance to share premises and resources with a range of like-minded organisations.
I had previously bought a small property near my house for a film company that I ran. The building was bigger than we needed so I decided to let space to some refugee groups and the Green Party. This worked well as my capital was secure in property, it produced a small income and the tenants really appreciated the affordable space. It felt like something that might have wider investment appeal.
I approached Andy to see if he would be willing to transfer his properties into a company. He agreed, and we used our combined asset base to launch our first public share issue in 1999. We raised £1.75 million. With more than £20 million now raised, the rest is history!
What motivates you day after day in your tasks as the founder of a new social enterprise (Ethex)? What do you like about being a social entrepreneur?
I have chosen to step down from running the Ethical Property Company to start something new as I see a huge need that no one else was going to try to meet. The demand from individuals to make ethical investments similar to Ethical Property is clear. But it is not well provided for. So I am now looking to start Ethex, to make ethical investment easy to understand and easy to do. By bringing the main social businesses together onto one web platform, we will create a one stop shop for ethical investments.
It is hard to resist the excitement of starting something new, even at 54 years of age!