We’ve had a torrid few years for society and the environment, which have materially and negatively impacted so much of the world’s population. From covid-19 to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and from the increasing frequency of climate-change induced natural disasters to skyrocketing inflation, it’s easy to believe that we’re in a never-ending polycrisis.
There is, however, a lot to be optimistic about. Entrepreneurs and innovators across the globe are continuing to tackle huge problems head on. This movement is often referred to as Tech for Good - but what is it, and what do they do, and who are some of the key players? Read on.
What is Tech for Good?
It’s hard to nail down who first coined the term, given its now wide adoption. However, Paul Miller and Bethnal Green Venues (BGV) are often credited with being forerunners of the movement in the UK. In 2008, they put on their first Social Innovation Camps. These were essentially mixed-discipline hackathons with the purpose of using technology to solve a specific social problem.
At these Social Innovation Camp, techies and non-techies would volunteer their time to form small teams that would brainstorm, prototype and present their tech-powered solutions (the early stages of an app, for example) to address a specific social issue. This would often be done in partnership with a public sector organisation working to tackle the said issue, who would judge the presentations at the end of the hackathon.
This grew and BVG now has the resource to take ideas forward. They run a programme for early-stage tech for good founders, supporting successful applicants with business advice and investment - with over 100 impactful projects to their name so far.
But Tech for Good players can no longer be counted on one hand. The movement is global - it’s even seen as a key actor in helping achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - and it’d be impossible to list all the different accelerators, impact VCs and pro-bono movements. So now that we’ve briefly touched on the movement's formative years, let’s call out some current major players.
10 major Tech for Good initiatives in 2023
- Bethnal Green Ventures have two funds that solely invest in Tech for Good; one institutional, with backers including Big Society Capital and Nesta, and a SEIS/EIS fund for individual investors. The latter is the first of its kind. BVG have invested in over 100 tech for good businesses, and have been (and continue to be) hugely impactful in bringing much needed capital and expertise to inspiring social and environmental projects.
- What3Words is a UK startup which changes the way we identify locations. What3Words has mapped out the entire world in 3m x 3m squares, and allows precise location services. There are so many examples (and TV adverts) where What3Words has been used to help emergency services locate injured or pregnant people. They also are now the de-facto location tool in Mongolia (where there are no postcodes) which is helping develop local, rural economies.
- Helping Hand is a joint venture between Dr Solfrid Rankes (a clinical psychologist) and Norwegian edtech, Attensi. The app helps children deal with a range of issues; from anxiety and depression, to suicidal thoughts. The app has been launched in major conflict areas, from Syria to Ukraine, where millions of children have been displaced and subject to various traumatic and horrific situations.
- Umgraumeio is a Brazilian startup that uses AI to prevent, detect and stop the spread of wildfires, which are responsible for over 50% of the country’s CO2 emissions. According to the company, it has achieved an 85% reduction of burned areas for bioenergy company BP Bunge, a 100% reduction in environmental fines for Ester Agroindustrial, and a 70% reduction in monitoring towers infrastructure for Brazilian sugar company Petribu.
- TrashCon is an Indian startup that has produced a system which segregates different (wet and dry) rubbish. The wet waste can be converted into compost, biogas or fuel. Trashcon has also developed a machine which creates plywood-like sheets out of plastic waste, which can be used for sustainable building materials.
- PayU is a Dutch financial inclusion organisation which enables merchants to offer a range of alternative payment methods to customers in emerging territories. The business has some amazing statistics already; over 10m transactions, in >50 emerging territories, utilised by over 450,000 merchants. PayU is also an active investor in other financial inclusion fintech and payment businesses.
- LettUs Grow is a UK agritech, vertical farming business which allows for efficient food production in urban spaces. The patented aeroponic farming technology uses up to 95% less water than conventional farming, which is helping to address global food sustainability and security.
- MediSieve is a UK based biotech startup which is developing a treatment to filter and remove harmful toxins, pathogens and bacteria from human blood using magnetic blood filtration. The system can be used as a diagnostic tool, direct treatment and enables personalised medicine, which many commentators in the medtech space see as the future of healthcare.
- Citibeats. This Spanish scaleup is helping bridge the gap between governments, companies and their communities. The business is an augmented text analytics platform which is seeking to understand societal changes in real time, utilising public data sources and social media. This raises the volume of previously under-represented and unheard communities and citizens.
- Curveblock. This UK based fintech is pioneering tokenisation to allow individual investors to become involved in real estate deals; an investment space traditionally dominated by large corporations and funds. The property development is also all energy positive and carbon neutral.
This content has been created for general information purposes and should not be taken as formal advice. Read our full disclaimer.
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