A Valentine’s special: Harry Specters – A Chocolate and Social Finance Love Story

A story of love, autism, chocolate, and innovative social finance... Suzanne Biegel looks at Harry Specters - the chocolatier giving hope and confidence to young people with autism.

By Suzanne Biegel · February 2, 2016

This is a story of love, autism, chocolate, and innovative social finance.  Full disclosure – I’m an investor in this company and this is my first “chocolate bond” which I’m deliciously excited about. Harry Specters make handcrafted chocolates, while giving hope and confidence to young people with autism through employment and free work experience placements. Mona Shah, the founder, loves and has been working with chocolate for the past 15 years following a successful first career in the NHS mental health arena. (Personally, I think that there’s an obvious link between chocolate and mental health but she doesn’t lead with that.) She and Shaz, her co-founder and husband, have a son with autism who is the inspiration for the company. As parents, they understand the fears and anxieties that most parents and carers of people on the autism spectrum face on a daily basis. The worst fears are related to the future prospects of their loved ones, their independence and ability to lead a meaningful life.  So this is a chocolate story, an autism story, a love story (this wonderful couple and their love, and the love of their son.) Lets talk about WHY they started this as a business rather than purely as a side passion. 85% of the working age people with autism in the UK are unemployed and 61% of them are desperate to work.  Mona wanted to create a business directly to tackle the challenge of employability of people with autism.  And since chocolate was her passion, and a category with real market demand and financial viability, she dove in to see what was possible to combine the two.  (Great ingredients – passion, commitment, real market demand, and a real social need with a real solution.) Harry Specters started with a small grant in November 2012. To date, they have generated £210k revenue and have demonstrated that there is a real business here with solid cash flow.  They had on average 150% year-to-year growth in the past 2 years, and the main reason is that people love their chocolate, not only because they taste delicious (these are seriously some of the best chocolates in Britain—in my humble opinion) but also every bite  contributes to their mission. Harry Specters have won top awards for their chocolate, for their social cause and for their business concept. During the first two years, Harry Specters created 12 paid employment opportunities and provided relief to 22 carers. 144 young people with learning difficulties contributed to the business.  Their team has recorded an increase in confidence and hope for their young people with autism. Currently, they also have 3 part-time employees and a waiting list of people looking for paid work. Mona recently met with one mother of a young boy with autism who worked at Harry Specters. This mother had tears in her eyes when she said that Seb, her son, was so happy to receive the first paycheck of his life. Seb was excited about the money because he could then buy a gift for his brother’s 22nd birthday. Collaborating with UnLtd, ClearlySo, and the other partners of the Big Venture Challenge programme, Harry Specters have just completed a successful capital raise, including 7 of our angels from Clearly Social Angels. They will use this capital to buy equipment, to support working capital, to move to a bigger facility, and to build a sales team. ClearlySo worked with Harry Specters to develop an innovative investment instrument: Harry Specters Chocolate Bond. Investors invested in a note with a coupon of 8%. For the first 12 months, investors will receive a return in the form of chocolate, Harry Specters’ Chocolate Club. For the following 24 months, investors, in addition to principal repayments, can select whether they wish to receive their interest in cash or in chocolate, or a mix of both. In the next 3 years, Harry Specters will have 13 young people with autism working full time. In five years, they have an ambition to take this number to 20. Additionally, they will improve confidence and hope of 128 young people with autism through free work experience. Finally, this will save the UK Government £40k/year/individual by transitioning these very differently able and committed workers away from public support and into viable employment. I’m an investor with a strong gender lens. I invested, in part, because Mona is the type of woman entrepreneur that I want to support. I also have a number of very special young people in my life who are on the autism spectrum, and I believe that employment that values their different abilities is absolutely critical, and this is a model for many businesses.  Finally, I do love chocolate. And I love doing investments like this in community with other values aligned investors – like my fellow angels in Clearly Social Angels here in the UK. With Valentine’s Day coming up, think of this story of love, chocolate, autism, and using your capital for positive change. Harry Specters will ship anywhere in the UK.   This blog was written with the help of Matias Wibowo (ClearlySo) Images: Harry Specters