Balancing technology transfer
The We in Social Tech business accelerator, which was co-founded by Deutsche Bank’s corporate social responsibility Made for Good programme, has powered a range of fledgling businesses headed by female tech founders. Neil Jensen reports on their journey
Technology as a global industry appears to grow broader and deeper by the year, as all kinds of ‘tech’ become part of the business lexicon; we have fintech, regtech, sportstech, femtech and social tech to name a few.
Social tech is a tool for using human, intellectual and digital resources to influence and improve social processes. It covers a variety of functions and disciplines, from easily recognisable elements such as apps to help autistic people self-manage anxiety, to innovations that address social challenges such as healthcare.
According to McKinsey research, corporates were early identifiers of the benefits of social tech and have refined their approach over time.1 Governments were slower to recognise it as a cause for good, but are now launching funds and initiatives to raise awareness and facilitate investment; something that points to the growth of this sector. For example, in January 2019 the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport set up a Social Tech Venture Fund, administered by the Social Tech Trust, to establish a fund of up to £30m.2
A dearth of female talent
One feature of social tech, which it shares with both the technology and financial service industries generally, is an acute shortage of women working in the sector and a lack of female role models. Pay inequality is a further hurdle.
The imbalance is also evident in a lack of female investors – possibly as a result of the gender pay gap – and also where investments are generally made. “People tend to invest in a reflection of themselves, invariably men investing in men,” notes Ghislaine Boddington, Co-founder of Women Shift Digital and Spokesperson for the We in Social Tech (WiST) business accelerator programme for women. “The numbers are way too low and very worrying given that, in today’s digital world, most businesses and aspects of daily life are technology-orientated. The future has to be very different,” she adds.
“The challenges they are trying to overcome require innovation and great problem-solving ability”
Made for Good and WiST
Back in 2016, as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) enterprise programme, Deutsche Bank launched Made for Good, an initiative to support pioneering ideas and business models with potential for driving positive social change.
WiST followed in November 2018 when Deutsche Bank partnered with Nwes, one of the UK’s largest not-for-profit enterprise agencies, to introduce an accelerator programme specifically for female tech founders with a social mission. “We recognise the greater obstacles to success women entrepreneurs are facing, as well as the potential that technology and innovative business models have to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental and societal problems,” says Amy Harris, CSR Manager at Deutsche Bank.
The initiative aims to reduce the gender imbalance in London’s technology sector, and to date it has supported 60 ambitious female tech founders to start, grow or scale their businesses while bringing together innovative IT solutions, social projects and female empowerment. Furthermore, adds Boddington, it brings together a diverse range of people and organisations, including entrepreneurs, investors, tech companies, charities and social business. “The challenges they are trying to overcome are many and varied, requiring innovation and great problem-solving ability,” she explains.
WiST was originally designed to run for two years with three six-month programme cycles, with continued demand for the programme leading to more funding confirmed from Deutsche Bank for two further cohorts. Each cohort supports 20 businesses from the Greater London area.3 To qualify, a business had to be at least 50%-owned by women and demonstrate a clear aim or purpose, using technology to address social challenges.
Each WiST participant has access to the skills and experience of two mentors; a volunteer from Deutsche Bank and a paid representative from the industry related to their company needs. “The bank’s employee mentors offer a rich diversity of skills and experience and play an important role in helping the businesses achieve their ambitions,” says Harris. Participants have also accessed support, investment and consultancy services via workshops, business modelling, product analysis and advice on leadership.
The third cycle call for the latest tranche of 20 participants was issued in October 2019. All three cohorts have drawn businesses from diverse demographic groups, and founders come with backgrounds in social, mental and elderly care; health and wellness; occupational therapy; education and skills training; sustainable fashion; recycling; micro-financing; travel; arts and crafts; artificial intelligence bias; and special needs.
Cohorts one and two of the accelerator saw 2,600 hours of support provided and five ventures move from ideas to businesses. Over £750,000 of financing was raised by the businesses, including over £600,000 of equity investment.
Generation Medics4 – a non-profit organisation that seeks to widen access to medical and healthcare careers – was among the 20 ventures selected for the first cohort. Founder Dr Hinnah Rafique comments: “We generated new employment opportunities, grew our programmes and impact, expanded our tech platform and – best of all – we have a realistic sustainability plan for our future.”
Social tech still holds various challenges for entrepreneurs, not least with regards to building sustainable businesses that deliver user, social and financial value at scale. Like all sectors, gender equality is vital in building finely balanced, forward-looking businesses. The principles and sentiment of WiST can help to meet these challenges, and can be easily applied to any industry at any time.
For more details on the WiST initiative, contact email@example.com
Neil Jensen is a freelance financial journalist and the former co-editor of flow
Examples of the social tech ventures supported by WiST
Curo: a digital employee benefit product that has ambitions to support the five million people in the UK who struggle to juggle caring responsibilities alongside their paid job
Etiq: a software solution to help companies identify and mitigate bias in their automated decisions, from policing and sentencing to recruitment and financial product selection
Fledglink: a service that bridges the gap between young people looking for work and organisations seeking diverse talent by proactively supporting socially disadvantaged and minority individuals
InChorus: a third-party platform to anonymously tag, measure and resolve incidents of bias and harassment within an organisation
Market without Borders: described as the world’s first peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace and fintech solution for the two billion people without bank accounts, it enables them to sell their products direct to the international marketplace
Money Pot: a micro-financing platform that supports individuals by offering access to a P2P short-term saving and lending instrument
Pamoja Care: a tech-based domiciliary care agency focused on reducing language and cultural barriers in the adult care sector, it connects elderly dependents to carefully matched caregivers
Quarter-Life: set up as a response to the rise of the ‘quarter-life crisis’ and the lack of personal and professional support that exists for young adults in their 20s
Turn: the company seeks to create a world where managing menstruation is sustainable, convenient and cheap
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