March 10th, 2020

Startup Connect

Starting a conversation about how charities and startups can work better together.

Last week at Good Innovation HQ we brought together leaders in the charity sector with impact startups and social enterprises. We had a hunch that startups want to work much more with charities - but they don’t know how to go about it. That charities also want to work with startups and have a huge amount to offer, but don’t always know what’s the most helpful or relevant. 

We don’t see why startups and charities working together to deliver mission should be any more difficult than startups working with corporates to drive new business areas or acquisitions. Of course there are (and should be) some differences in how we do that as an impact and mission first community - but it seems like a no brainer that this should happen more. 

We brought together teams who are working on this problem and winning! By listening to them and sharing their stories we hope to inspire greater partnership between charities (with their huge history of delivering social good), and impact startups (who are experimenting with the business models, technology and governance models to scale up impact). 

Our fantastic panel was made up of; 

Tracey Griffin from Scope and Julie Nicholson from Unltd who have partnered to invest into enterprises that can close the employment gap for disabled people who are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. Scope, who has transitioned from service provider to social change organisation, recognised that working with many social enterprises brings new solutions to light, faster. Their portfolio of ambitious mission-driven teams - all working on the same need but in many different ways - gives Scope evidence for their policy and advocacy work. Julie also shared case studies of the types of social enterprises the programme has supported - everything from product innovation to recruitment platforms, many of which have also been founded by someone with disabilities. 

Anna Hughes and Charlotte Milham from onHand an impact startup that is working to address the social care crisis by mobilising thousands (at least) of volunteers to provide on-demand support to older adults. This is a huge opportunity to rethink the role of volunteering for the on-demand, smartphone generation. Looking after this community makes safeguarding and security of paramount importance. Anna took us through the features she is building into the app to make this possible - from ID verification, to alerts when volunteers arrive and leave peoples homes, to giving relatives access to the tool to help manage volunteers. Charlotte spoke to us about how she works with volunteers and older adults to make sure both sides feel safe and secure, and know how to escalate any concerns when they happen. onHand is currently receiving referrals from several charities including British Red Cross, Independent Age as well as local authorities. 

Natasha Howard and Tom Casson from Alzheimer’s Society Accelerator Programme. Natasha works with startups in the accelerator and Tom is the founder of HowDoI that joined it last year. HowDoI helps people with dementia complete a task or capture memories of activities they don’t want to forget. It connects personalized videos to objects in the home. Tom told us about the great experience of being in the Accelerator - everything from support testing with the people who would ultimately use his tech, to the credibility offered by the Alzheimer’s brand and of course the money itself. Natasha talked about the value back to the Society everything from learning new approaches to seeing the ambition of the scale and speed of how startups work. 

Our big takeaways from the discussion are:

For startups working with charities – there is hope! An increasing number of charities are looking to engage with startups from formal processes to informal opportunistic moments.
It’s worth it – there's value for both the startup (referrals, access to the brand, funding) and the charity (new innovation methods, insight and portfolio approach to delivery).
Mission alignment - first and foremost charities exist to serve the beneficiaries of their charitable objectives. For startups it’s important to show a shared commitment to them and act in service to them first. 
Both cultures have much to offer - we all need to be flexible and empathetic to each other's point of view and ways of working. It’s important to figure out how to fit processes and systems together to work against real needs. 

After the event (in-between beers) we asked everyone to scribble on post-it notes what they feel is stopping charities and startups partnering better. We had some amazing suggestions which really uncovered the need - everything from transparency about which charities are working in the space, to myth-busting about how they work. 

Every second Thursday at Good Innovation we get together as a team to work on ideas or activities that can help drive the growth of the sector (outside of our core consulting projects, Labs and Venture Studio). On Thursday we focused on Startup Connect and came up with a long list of ideas to test and iterate. We’ll be reaching out to as many of you as possible with a survey - asking you to prioritise these and tell us which and why are the most important. 

If you missed the event, are interested in being notified about the next one, or you’d like to take part in the survey please email, and put Startup Connect in the header so we can add you to the mailing list.