In the latest issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, Jonathan Davies spoke to Dave Linton, founder of Madlug, about his journey from social worker and foster parent to social entrepreneur. It is part of the issue’s Social Series, which looks at the stories of entrepreneurs who put people and the planet before profits.

Admitting he always had a thirst for helping people as he grew up in Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland, Dave became a youth worker at 18. He dedicated his career to helping young people until he was 42. He never considered the prospect of a different career, let alone starting a business.

Dave’s initial idea was to collect second-hand bags and donate them to the local authority. But further research made him realise that wouldn’t be enough. There are nearly 90,000 children in care in the UK and Republic of Ireland. His next thought came to setting up a charity to do it on a bigger scale, but thought the environment wasn’t right for it. Then he remembered reading about the ‘buy one give one’ business model.

“I thought it would be difficult for me to set up a traditional business. If I started a coffee shop, I’d always be giving away too many free drinks and be broke. I wondered if I could apply the ‘buy one give one’ model to this problem of children in care using bin bags.”

Cutting through the noise

Tough and lonely at first, he just needed to get the first order in and use the money to buy more products. Any sales were reinvested in new stock. It really was a traditional bootstrapped business at the start. With bags such a significant aspect of the fashion industry now, Dave was entering a very crowded market with next to no budget.

He explains: “We have quality bags and an identifiable brand, but the story is key and actually quite innovative in the marketing of this type of product. There are so many bag companies out there, they just don’t have those engaging stories.

“For our customers, homelessness is a physical problem – they can see it walking down the high street. Children in care are invisible, it’s not something you see in your day-to-day. We need to introduce the problem to people before we can fix the problem.”

Taking advantage

Shortly after launching in 2016, Dave was listed on The Observer’s New Radicals list, a collection of the top 50 individuals who are actively changing their communities for the better. It took Madlug from a few hundred pounds worth of bags a month to passing £1,000 for the first time, and led to greater support from accelerator programmes.

While that was influential, it can’t compare to the second major milestone. Despite failing to make it to the final of Virgin’s Voom competition, Dave was determined to create his own opportunities and take full advantage.

You can read the full feature in the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine.