Business ideas for 2015: ‘Tech for good’

With technological innovation and the expansion of social enterprise support, 2015 looks set to be the year for the entrepreneurial superhero

With the rapid development of intuitive digital and software technology, like 3D printing making it easier to create children’s orthotics and gaming technology encouraging innovative learning, more and more start-ups are launching tech businesses with a mission to make the world a better place.

An increasing number of smart and passionate entrepreneurs are honing their technology skills to create great businesses that tackle social and environmental problems, helping to revolutionise healthcare, society and our ability to live sustainably.

In addition to tech developments opening doors for socially aware entrepreneurs, support for ‘tech for good’ businesses has exploded in the UK in recent years with funds set up by the likes of Big Issue Invest, Bethnal Green Ventures, Nominet Trust, Telefonica’s Wayra alongside social enterprise support service UnLtd, and Nesta offering support and finance to aspiring social entrepreneurs.

There are also organisations such as Clearly Social Angels, which works with angel investors focused on social impact as well as commercial return, and global investment network Toniic, which is headquartered in the US but has a UK arm.

In addition to potentially building a successful technology company, the tech for good industry also offers personal fulfilment in the knowledge that you are helping others and providing social good – making it a great sector to launch your 2015 start-up in.

Starting a tech for good venture: Why it’s a good business idea

As well as the sense of virtue that comes from running a social enterprise, launching a technology start-up that benefits wider society opens you up to a large range of different support and investment opportunities – backing that would not be open to start-ups based on purely financial pursuits.

One of the leading groups in this network is Bethnal Green Ventures, launched three years ago as an accelerator to help early-stage social tech start-ups, it currently houses 52 businesses all looking to change the world using technology from ethical mobile phones to digital games for people suffering from panic attacks plans.

And the good news is there’s still time to get involved, as it plans to run at least four more programmes, investing in 10 tech for good start-ups twice a year during a six week programme from January to March and July to September. Since Bethnal Green Ventures launched there has also been an emergence of other similar groups, such as Wayra UnLtd, Solve and education tech-focused Emerge Venture Lab (Emerge will be looking to take on another eight start-ups in July, applications open in April).

Finally, tech for good captures people’s interest and makes your business stand-out. According to Sinead Mac Manus, founder of digital skills start-up Fluency, which focuses on getting young people into jobs, having a social cause makes your firm noticeable and gives it an identifiable story – something the public, press and investors will respond to.

Tech for good business opportunities

The opportunities for launching a tech for good business are vast but Jessica Stacey of Bethnal Green Ventures has highlighted three particular areas showing exciting growth and therefore offering the best potential – cleantech, healthtech and edtech.

Cleantech companies are technology firms working towards tackling the pressing issue of climate change – a promising market considering the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources recently published a report that states the renewables market currently produces 25% of the EU’s electricity and is expected to grow to 35% by 2020.

In terms of healthtech, Stacey states that technology geared towards the older population is one of the most relevant opportunities as “Britain’s rapidly ageing population will have increasing health care demands at the same time as constraints on public spending are becoming tighter”. ChangeAlert, is a start-up capitalising on this market, the innovative business has created a moisture sensor for incontinence pads to signal when they need changing and software firm Breezie, which helps to get older people online by making the internet more accessible, recently secured £600,000 investment on CrowdBnk.

For entrepreneurs considering edtech, the main opportunities lie in finding ways to organise and expand education as the needs of the world develop faster than traditional institutions. With start-ups revolutionising the education industry focusing on educating people in digital and software skills such as Technology will Save Us, which provides products that teach people how to build and interact with software; and Kano, which recently featured as one of our Young Guns to watch after developing a computer and coding kit for children so they can learn to build and code their own computer.

Another good resource to identify potential tech for good start-up ideas is the Nominet Trust 100. Launched in 2013, the initiative is a global list of 100 social enterprises that are using technology to tackle world problems, so it’s a great place to begin your market research. It’s also an achievement to aim for, as start-ups featured gain exposure to a global audience.

Who else has started a tech for good businesses?

Raspberry Pi, which aims to “put the fun back into computing” with its low-cost micro-computer designed to promote computer skills in schools, provides a shining example of an edtech success story. Since launch in 2011 it’s sold more than two million units globally and was named Startups.co.uk’s Social Impact Business of the Year in 2013. Gaming platform Playmob, which utilises people’s love of online gaming to raise money for charity, is also starting to gain traction. Last year the company raised $650,000 for charities like the WWF, WAR Child and Sport Relief through its in-game add-ons.

Start-up Andiamo, which creates orthotics for children with disabilities and long-term conditions using 3D printing, is a prime example of a healthtech business using tech developments to enhance its tech for good aim and cleantech start-up Open Utility, a peer-to-peer electricity marketplace that will enable consumers to buy directly from local renewable power generators, is currently gearing up for launch. It has just raised over $800,000 to promote clean energy in conjunction with a project with the Department of Energy and Climate Change to revolutionise the energy marketplace.

Insider opinion

Playmob’s CEO and Young Guns winner, Jude Ower, shares what it’s like to run a tech for good firm and why it’s a good business idea for 2015:

“‘Tech for good’ is a growing area to begin business for two main reasons; one is that consumers are demanding products which give back (both physical and virtual products) and two corporates can no longer have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a separate part of their business, CSR must be ingrained in the business plan. These both open up opportunities to develop B2C and B2B businesses based around doing good.

“Havas Media has mapped the world’s most meaningful brands and when comparing these to progress on the stock market, meaningful brands outdo the stock market by around 120%! Consumers are more likely to choose a brand for doing good, spend more and remain loyal if the brand is giving back in a meaningful way.

“Tech for Good businesses have the advantage to tap into grand economies of scale by being online. There are huge opportunities for start-ups in the tech for good space, and I am excited to see where the future lies – such as growth, start-ups, exits and IPOs. For example, TOMs Shoes recently sold 51% of the business for $500m, which is a clear sign that there is an appetite to acquire businesses built around doing good.

“At Playmob we are growing a ‘profit with purpose’ model, which creates a shared value model. The corporates we work with benefit from the bottom line impact of doing good as well as brand image, charities raise funds from new sources while raising awareness of their vital work, and Playmob grows as a business. The more good we do, the more we grow too! It is a hugely rewarding and valuable model as it is not just about creating shareholder value, but creating social good and leaving a positive legacy on our world to impact generations.”

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