After seven years and three businesses, Lily Cole still doesn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur. Aged 28, the model turned actor turned businesswoman has already spent half her life working and the last four years focused on Impossible, a social network that enables people to help out others for free. Users can offer or request almost anything in its gift economy, from piano lessons to restaurant recommendations to a chat about shared interests. Cole has never taken a salary for Impossible and recently returned to work after having a baby with Kwame Ferreira, the founder of venture fund Kwamecorp, who helped her develop the site.“It’s been a rollercoaster,” she says of her journey starting the business, which she says “happened by accident”. The business evolved from an idea she had during her time at Cambridge university – she wanted to find out if technolog安装新疆时时彩好助手 y could replace money.“The idea was: can technology play the same role in life that money plays so that we’re not so dependent on money as a society? It felt like a really simple idea. I became quite obsessed with it.”Social enterprises on a mission to make money – and change lives Read moreStarting a business has been full of highs and lows. “There have been amazing moments and difficult moments and it’s still a total learning process,” she says. “You’re not just turning up at your job and doing your small part. You’re taking responsibility for a whole thing to move or not move. It’s all encompassing. You really have to believe in what you’re doing.”Clothed head to toe in a black and white outfit that brings out her dramatic auburn hair, Cole is in Kensington to support Chivas the Venture, a global competition in which social entrepreneurs from Israel to Guatemala compete for mentoring and $1m (￡690,000) in funding. She is taking part in a panel discussion on the role of social enterprise.After years spent supporting social and environmental causes through charities – she is a patron of the Environmental Justice Foundation and used to be an ambassador for international development charity Global Angels – Cole has come to the conclusion that supporting social enterprise is a more effective way to change the world.“Businesses are running the world,” she says. “I used to work with a lot of amazing charities who I still support and who play an important role. But charities are separated off in a really unsustainable way to almost band aid a lot of the problems that are being created in the first place through how we operate and do business.”But social enterprise needs more support to make a difference, she says. “Financial support [for social entrepreneurs] is massive. Funding is potentially the biggest barrier for social enterprises.”Although social enterprises in the UK are outperforming mainstream SMEs in terms of turnover, the sector is being held back by lack of access to capital, according to 2013 research by Social Enterprise (SEUK).Cole cites the social investment tax relief introduced in 2014 as progress but says more needs to be done.“We need to go a bit further so [social enterprise] can become more competitive with normal business and charity. It’s something I’ve struggled with in this space. You’re not getting the tax benefits of a charity but you’re also not giving investors the upside that they get with normal business. So how do you persuade people to operate in that space?”I launched a social enterprise after becoming a mother, widow and HIV positive Read moreIs Cole worried, then, that despite operating in 120 countries, Impossible is yet to make a profit?“We’re only at the beginning of trying to monetise the platform. I think it will take a while – I don’t know how soon we will make a profit, but most businesses take a while. We’re doing what I think most businesses do: be lean and trust that in a few years time that it will get to financial sustainability.”Last year the company launched its own marketplace for sustainable fashion and started a membership scheme with rewards including a free magazine. But is it possible for the company, which has received help from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, to find a financial solution when the core principle of its product is that it operates without money?It’s a paradox Cole still struggles with. “We’re trying to encourage free transactions – there’s no inbuilt business model for that. The way I’ve squared that circle in my own head is to make it a social business. It may be one day we open source the platform and everybody becomes a volunteer and we have no running costs. Then it won’t be a business, it will be a free thing to connect people. Of course there is something very attractive about that but the reality is making it operational to this point in time has taken resource.”It was an easier task to monetise her first business, The North Circular, she says. Co-founded with fellow model Katherine Poulton, the company sells sustainable knitwear created by a network of “grannies” knitting from home.“It was a simple idea,” says Cole. “We had grandmas who knit, and this feeling that older generations are often quite disenfranchised from society. I was really interested in transparency on products – can we get grandmas to knit goods and put names on the labels and try make people think about the people behind products.”Would Cole start a business without a social aim, I ask?“Never say never, but I don’t think so.” She pauses and laughs. “I wouldn’t see the point really.”Sign up to become a member of the Guardian Small Business Network here for more advice, insight and best practice direct to your inbox.