Accelerating Tech for Good

Laura Bunt, Lead Public & Social Innovation Advisor, Nesta

Last night at Nesta’s Tech for Good event we heard from a brilliant and inspiring group of entrepreneurs using technology to change the world. Patients Know Best gives patients much more control of their health information by redesigning systems around them. Patchwork helps frontline staff work together in child protection to spend more time with clients and less on paper work. Young Rewired State finds kids keen on coding and gets them making things with Government data.

But as many people illustrated last night, getting an impactful venture off the ground is about far more than great software. It can be an uphill struggle accessing the right markets and customers, cross sector partnerships are powerful but tricky to navigate, and there are genuine cultural and structural barriers to change. How can we identify more of these promising ideas and connect them to the right markets and customers? What helps teams grow from early stage idea to sustainable venture? Where do investors go to find the ideas with the most potential?

One of the models we’re interested in is accelerators, which support early stage ventures to quickly become investment ready and start demonstrating their potential. As Nesta charted in the Start-Up Factories, this way of boosting the development of ventures by proving time-bound, intensive support to a cohort of teams has caught the attention of entrepreneurs and investors all over the world, with programmes such as Y-Combinator and Techstars generating now famous alumni.

So we’re really excited that one of the winners of the Cabinet Office Social Incubator Fund announced last night is Bethnal Green Ventures – an accelerator programme that applies this model to help people use technology for social good. Bethnal Green Ventures has already supported 12 start-ups since it launched in 2011, including Good Gym, DrDoctor, Flip and Mastodon C.  Now, in partnership with Nesta and Nominet Trust, and with support from Google and Keystone Law, Bethnal Green Ventures will work with over 80 start-ups in eight cohorts over the next four years to help early-stage social technology ventures achieve their impact fast. We’re looking for ventures seeking to tackle problems in health and ageing, education and employment, and sustainability.

Over the next few months, we will transform the first floor of Nesta’s offices in Chancery Lane into a vibrant co-working space for start-ups, which during BGV will be home for the 10 teams selected.Google Campus are also providing access to their space in Tech City in East London where we will host events, socials and co-working space for the teams during the programme.

Being part of an accelerator programme can be a shot in the arm for aspiring teams with an ambition to change the world with technology: the access to mentorship from those who have been there before and to peers facing similar hurdles provide challenge and support; alumni and other networks create links to new fields and potential customers; office hours and events throughout the programme keep teams focused and practice makes perfect when it comes to honing your pitch. For investors and funders in the tech for good market, accelerators can boost the pipeline of promising innovations and help to identify key trends and opportunities for funders to collaborate to achieve more systematic change.

Bethnal Green Ventures will launch its call for applications in March. But tech is really just a tool, this is ultimately about people with a passion to change things. So if there’s a problem you’re itching to solve or a solution you think should exist then get in touch: hello@bethnalgreenventures.com