Client profile: Appa Me Ltdby Steve Pope
A Government initiative to shake-up financing for SMEs has just given a boost to a wider community with the potential to improve the lives, and job prospects, of disabled people.
Appa Me Ltd is in the business of supporting people who are deaf and disabled but go further - a whole lot further.
Free drop-in sessions for those in need and sign language interpreters to help deaf people search for a job is only part of the story.
“In-work support is a key aspect of the business for us. We work with people with any kind of deafness or disability. We provide support personnel to go to the job with them. This could be to help teach them how to do the job or give them a helping hand to carry out their job or as in the case of our deaf clients provide sign language communication support,” said founder Imran Umar, 42.
Appa Me also focus on those supporting disabled and deaf people. “The teaching side is for anyone, we provide disability awareness and deaf awareness training to a whole host of clients from NHS Trusts to individuals. But we also provide accredited British Sign Language tuition from Level 1 up to and including BSL Level 6 Interpreter Training.”
But the growth of Appa Me from a “back bedroom business” to employing 30 people to gaining a national reach, may have been stopped in its tracks if it wasn’t for the bank referral legislation.
Setting up a company independently, with no borrowing or credit cards added up to no history of repayments which equalled a low credit rating and a “No” to a loan request from their bank NatWest\RBS.
All that changed with a referral to the Alternative Business Funding portal.
Imran said: “I spoke to the consultant John on the ABF portal about what we needed and emailed a few things over. I was sat waiting, wondering when the process was going to start and the next thing I knew I had three emails offering us a loan.
“The conversation was casual and simple – that was the process. The consultant had already started our search, which was fab. The whole process was pretty slick and easy going for us.”
The referral ended with a £25,000 loan from Fleximize to finance Appa Me’s move to larger premises as the business expanded, paying for moving out costs from their old premises to a building with dedicated training spaces and a new open-plan wing.
“For a company working in a charity sector, that’s a huge outlay in short three-month period – without the money it would have been impossible for us to move to a larger office,” Imran said.
“All of our support workers, sign language team and teachers are staff not freelancers, so controlling cashflow is so important for us.”
“The expansion idea was because we wanted to offer more teaching opportunities and free drop-in sessions for those with needs, where funding doesn’t reach. Our new office gives us three training spaces, a section with five computers set up and ready to help deaf or disabled people search for jobs. We also now have a separate private room for remote Video Sign Language Interpretation.”
“I’m also hoping now that we’ve had one loan the company can start building up a credit rating profile.”
Imran, who previously worked as a manager for Disney TV Europe, set up Appa Me in South London, eight years ago.
“I used to run channels across Europe and did a lot of charity work in my time off. Seeing how charities differed from the corporate environment I thought a corporate mentally would benefit the charity sector.”
Through its growth, Appa Me is currently talking to a number of London councils about supplying support workers and various banks about providing tailored disability support for their staff. Around 80% of their reach is within the M25 but also extends to Canterbury, Cambridge, Portsmouth and Bristol.
“I literally quit my job one day and started this up. Everyone thought I had been poached by another company, no one believed me that I was off to do something so different until I didn’t come back!”
Now, thanks to the bank referral scheme, that decision is proving inspired to a whole community and will allow Appa Me to reach the lives of so many more people.
Adam Tavener, Chairman of the Alternative Business Funding portal, said: “This is just one example of the effectiveness of the bank referral scheme and we at Alternative Business Funding are delighted to be able to help such a great and socially important business find finance to grow.
“The scheme gives thousands of businesses a second chance at securing the funding they need, quickly and without fuss, and is playing a significant part in delivering real change to the SME finance journey.”
Peter Tuvey, co-founder and Managing Partner at Fleximize, said: “We’ve always supported and recognised the importance of the bank referral scheme and Appa Me is a great example of the type of company that an alternative lender is able to fund when the traditional route fails them.
“Research shows that most business owners still go to their bank as their first port of call and many stop the search once rejected from their bank. The bank referral scheme helps businesses by offering them an immediate alternative and helps them find the most appropriate funding option, quickly.
“The referral scheme slots neatly into the process we already have with designated platforms like Alternative Business Funding, and so we’ve found the process simple and the profile of the businesses we’ve seen is better than anticipated, many of which we’ve been able to fund.”