The UK is a global centre for socially responsible technology innovation, according to new quantitative and qualitative analysis prepared by Tech Nation, the UK network for ambitious digital tech entrepreneurs.
‘Tech for social good’ companies were worth £2.3 billion in 2018, with a turnover of £732 million – larger than the amount generated by the manufacture of consumer electronics in the UK (£634 million).
Nearly half (45%) of the 490 companies identified are at an early stage in their journey and have raised only seed funding. These young young, dynamic businesses are making contributions in areas including edtech (10.3%of total companies), fintech (9.2%) and artificial intelligence (8%).
These companies have significant knock-on effects for the wider economy. Many for-profit businesses are successfully pursuing both financial and social returns, using sustainable models that create employment and economic growth, as well as an array of positive societal impacts.
An example is DeepMind, the London-based artificial intelligence company bought by Google in 2014. Since the acquisition, founders Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman have been forthright about their ambitions to tackle some of the world’s thorniest social and political problems, from healthcare to climate change.
Other successful for-profit tech for good businesses include Bulb, a green, renewable electricity supplier; Sweatcoin, which encourages exercise by paying users according to the number of steps they take; and Elder, a service that helps people find and manage live-in care.
Tech Nation’s research arrives as the global spotlight is intensifying on the social impact of disruptive technologies, and as consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ethical credentials of digital products and services.
In the UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has partnered with the Social Tech Trust to kickstart a fund of up to £30 million to provide access to finance and position the UK as a global leader in socially transformative tech. A further £1 million will be available to incentivise organisations to use tech to help tackle loneliness and bring communities together.
Gerard Grech, CEO at Tech Nation, said: “This study provides a fascinating analysis of a fast-emerging sector within ‘tech’. These purpose and profit startups range from platforms such as fashion recycling platform Depop to surplus food distribution platform, Olio. We are witnessing a new driver in tech startups.
“While the profit motive remains high, millennials are increasingly driven by the desire to make a meaningful impact on society. Harnessing the huge potential of tech allows us to really think big. We can have both economic growth as well as positively impacting society and the environment.”