5 minutes with: Alex Stephany, Founder & CEO of Beam
Beam was founded just over two years ago, but in that time they’ve already transformed the lives of 159 homeless people. The social enterprise has crowdfunded over £600,000 to give those sleeping rough – and without permanent accommodation – the opportunity to achieve their potential.
We caught up with founder, Alex Stephany, to get a more in-depth look at what motivates him and the Beam team.
In one sentence, what does Beam do?
Beam crowdfunds employment training for homeless people and supports them into stable, paid work.
What inspired you to set-up Beam?
Three years ago, I got to know a homeless man at my local Tube station. I’d buy him cups of coffee and pairs of thermal socks when it was getting cold. At one point, he disappeared for weeks on end. When he reappeared, he looked years older: he told me he’d had a heart attack and had just come out of hospital. Despite the well-meaning gestures from myself and no doubt others, he was in a worse position than ever.
So I began to ask myself what it would take to make a lasting difference to this man’s life. He had never had a job, and was illiterate. For me, the answer lay in empowering him with the skills and training to sustainably support himself. Of course, that would cost far more than coffees or socks – but what if everyone chipped in?
The idea of crowdfunding employment training for homeless people was born. Over the following nine months, I developed the model working with homeless people and charities. Beam launched in October 2017, and since then the team has grown to 12 people as of December 2019.
What was your first ‘win’ that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
The first person Beam ever supported was Tony. When I first approached him, back in September 2017, he was sceptical. “I wasn’t too sure why people would want to donate to me,” he said. “I was unemployed at the time, been on benefits for years. No one’s got a lot of faith in people that are on benefits and don’t work.”
Tony went on to raise £4,378 from 135 supporters, which allowed him to get a Level 3 diploma in Electrical Installations. He has a stable job and was able to move out of temporary accommodation. He just spent his first Christmas in his own home – the whole Beam Team was really excited for him!
It has been amazing to see him grow in confidence and improve his relationships with family members. Working with him has been one of the best and most inspiring experiences of my life. To be honest, creating Beam would have been worth it even if we’d just helped Tony! But fortunately, we’re building scalable tech and services that will be able to help millions of people just like him.
Have your ambitions changed since you founded the company? Are you still trying to solve the same problem?
We’ve always had huge ambitions. From the very beginning, the Beam model was designed to be scalable and help as many people as possible. Over the next few months, we’re investing more into our tech and hope to work more closely with government so we can support more homeless people to get into stable work.
We’re currently in talks with several cities outside of London, and even the UK. It’s our hope that we’ll be able to replicate our model in cities all over the world and use it to help millions of people in the future.
But, at the heart of it, we are still trying to solve the same problem by helping one person at a time. There are currently about 320,000 people who are homeless in the UK, with 290,000 of them living in temporary accommodation.
We believe at Beam that these huge and hard problems can be solved and that they will be when charities, tech startups, government and the public all work together.
How do you define success at Beam?
Our purpose at Beam is to create a society where anyone can achieve their potential. We work towards that goal by connecting people with the resources they need to achieve true independence.
As a Tech for Good company, we’re very data-driven and closely monitor our social metrics. Our supporters can access our live data anytime, just by visiting our transparency dashboard.
…and what’s the biggest challenge to achieving that success?
We know the model works and is sustainable and scalable. The challenge is the same challenge every startup has: finding the most talented people in the world to come work for them!
I’m proud to say that we have built one of the best startup teams in London and have an amazing workplace culture. Everyone works really hard, but we make sure to have some fun while we’re at it and to support one another.
Beam is growing really fast, so our main task now is finding more like-minded individuals to join our team! You can find our current openings here – we’re constantly on the lookout for new Support Specialists, but we’re also looking for a Partnerships Manager, Insights Manager and Growth Marketer at the moment.
What does being a ‘progressive company’ mean to you?
Beam was set up with transparency at its core. As I mentioned before, we’re very passionate about collecting – and sharing! – detailed data and using tech to become more efficient.
But transparency permeates everything we do, from the way we communicate with our supporters to the lack of hierarchy within our team. We support each other, organise annual retreats and focus on creating an environment where everyone can have their voice heard.
This includes the homeless people we work with, too – we value their opinion and always aim to create a service that is built for as well as alongside them.
Based on your experience, what’s the one thing people looking to found a company should bear in mind?
Any problem worth solving will be truly hard to solve. And any truly hard problem could easily take a decade to crack, if not more. So make sure you’re passionate about the issue you’re targeting with your company.
What impresses you the most when you are considering hiring someone?
Passion that leads to action. We’re always looking for people who are just itching to “make it happen” (one of our Core Values!). We want people who just love fixing broken things, rather than blindly going about their lives not noticing or complaining.
That passion also comes through from prep work – these are the people who read everything about you and Beam, use the product, gather feedback to share, evangelise you to their friends and family, and are super responsive and organised in their approach. Doing those things isn’t that hard, but it’ll immediately put you towards the top of the pile.
What are Beam’s ambitions for 2020?
One of our main aims for 2020 is to make it easier for companies to hire from our talent pool. Beam has helped people experiencing homelessness train in diverse fields, from construction and accounting to beauty therapy and medicine.
We’re currently on the lookout for employers who would be interested in hiring our graduates. If you or someone you know are currently hiring, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Tell us one little-known fact about Beam.
Our name! It brings together ideas of positivity, support and light. But I actually got the brain wave when I was walking around my flat, struggling to come up with the perfect name for my new company. I got so frustrated that I banged my head against a… beam. The rest is history!