You could be forgiven for thinking that there was a movie premiere in Edinburgh on 12 November. In scenes more akin to Leicester Square than Edinburgh’s narrow Rose Street, a media frenzy greeted actor, director and humanitarian George Clooney while fans jostled to take selfies with the Hollywood star. However, Clooney wasn’t in the capital to promote a movie; he was here to visit social enterprise business, Social Bite, as well as to make a special appearance at the Scottish Business Awards at the EICC.
Clooney was invited to Edinburgh by Josh Littlejohn, founder of both the high-street sandwich chain and the Awards. So what was it like to meet a bona fide Hollywood movie star? “He was spectacularly entertaining and every bit the movie star,” says Josh. “He made time for all of the hundreds of people standing outside Social Bite waiting to see him.”
Josh initially founded the Awards after graduating from university. “I had recently set up my own events company and I was very passionate about entrepreneurship,” he explains, “so I decided to set up an awards ceremony around business and use it as a fundraiser to support the different charities I was also passionate about.”
After reading a book on the concept of social business by Nobel Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Josh was then inspired to establish his own social enterprise. He travelled to Bangladesh to meet with Professor Yunus and visit the country’s diverse social businesses. “It uses the business format to tackle social challenges. At Social Bite, a quarter of the workforce are people who have been homeless; there is a pay-it-forward service where people can buy food for the homeless; and any profits we do make are given to good causes,” he says. “There was no grand intention but Social Bite has gone hand-in-hand with the Awards. It’s been a great platform.”
“I decided to set up an awards ceremony around business and use it as a fundraiser to support the different charities I was also passionate about.”
Each year, the Awards celebrate dynamic businesses from across Scotland and encourage entrepreneurs to share their success stories with the wider business community. Josh believes that it’s Scotland’s small community that makes it such a great place for businesses to flourish: “Take companies like Skyscanner and FanDuel – they are big billion dollar businesses now but they use Social Bite for their catering. If you want to get something done people can make it happen and I think that’s quite rare. The UK as a whole – it’s a much vaster landscape. With the Business Awards, to get it off the ground, people needed to buy into it. The second year we asked former US-President Bill Clinton to speak. We took a big risk as we had to make a big upfront investment to the Clinton Foundation. To pay that donation, we had to sell a lot of tables very quickly and people said yes.”
As well as Bill Clinton, the event has attracted Sir Richard Branson and Sir Bob Geldof as keynote speakers. This year was just as star-studded as guests were captivated for an hour whilst listening to George Clooney, who was interviewed on stage by TV and radio personality, Chris Evans. Comedian Rob Brydon hosted the awards while other notable guests included Britain’s greatest ever Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy, and tennis coach, Judy Murray. “Clooney was incredibly funny – everyone hung on his every word,” says Josh. “Rob Brydon was hilarious and Chris Evans gave us an amazing auction prize, which he came up with on the spot – a visit to the first episode of the new series of Top Gear and a lap with the Stig. It raised £100,000.
Other prizes in the charity auction included lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger (who will be visiting the EICC in January) and golf with Bill Clinton. All proceeds from the evening were donated to the Social Bite Fund, Scottish Edge and human rights organisation, Not On Our Watch, which Clooney set up with fellow actors Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.
“Clooney was incredibly funny – everyone hung on his every word”
With more than 2,000 attendees, the event was reported to be the biggest business dinner gathering to take place in the UK, and one of the biggest formal dinner gatherings in Scottish history. “The EICC is world class to be honest. It’s the only place in Scotland with the space, and the caterers are brilliant – feeding over 2,000 people is impressive,” says Josh. “The evening couldn’t have gone better – I think it’s one of the best business events that’s ever taken place. Everyone really enjoyed it, plus we raised a lot of money for many good causes.
A few of the award winners
- Scottish Company of the Year: Skyscanner
- Tech Company of the Year: FanDuel
- Emerging Business of the Year: Celtic Renewables
- Investor in Scotland of the Year: JP Morgan
- CEO of the Year: Gordon Dewar, Edinburgh Airport
- Financial Services Company of the Year: Green Investment Bank