Recently The Oxford Trust went head-to-head with Jessica Dillon, Marketing and Communications Manager at the Social Tech Trust, one of our newest residents at our central Oxford innovation centre, OCFI.
Social Tech Trust’s purpose is “to transform lives with tech”, says Jess. “We do this by supporting early stage tech start-ups that have a social mission to make the world a better place.” Examples include a company that has invented 3D printed prosthetics for children to a venture using aeroponics to build the farms of the future. Alongside key partners, like Microsoft, Vodafone and the Mayor of London, they have directly supported more than 300 social tech ventures in the last 12 years.
Their most recent programme is AI for Good– a four-month accelerator that they’ve launched in partnership with Microsoft. They are supporting 12 tech start-ups to help develop their business with technical support, transformational leadership training, business development advice and seminars on how to measure social impact.
One of the companies they supported through the programme last year was UK-based start-up WeWalk that develops products for the visually impaired to help them lead more independent lives. WeWalk’s smart cane is a device that attaches to the top of any white cane but has an amazing ultrasonic sensor for upper body obstacle detection, plus a touchpad, microphone and speaker. The cane pairs with a mobile phone app allowing for indoor and outdoor navigation and also links with Amazon’s Alexa, enabling hands-free control. The company is now working with Microsoft to provide additional features and improve functionality. It has been so successful that it was listed in Forbes’s top innovative technology start-ups of our time and Timemagazine named them as one of the best inventions of 2019.
“This year”, says Jess, “one of the companies in the programme that I’m most excited by is Recylceye. They are looking to disrupt the waste industry by using artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a low-cost, decentralised, fully-automated sorting solution for waste. Wouldn’t that be amazing?” Watch this space….
Social Tech Trust also runs grant programmes to nurture early stage innovation, most recently focused on ”Tech to Unite Us”, which supports start-ups to demonstrate how tech can transform our society when driven by equality. Last year they grant funded nine companies – one of which was Feebris, that has developed AI tools that improve early diagnosis for vulnerable patients. Healthcare is a human right, yet with populations growing and ageing, health systems are quickly becoming overburdened, under-resourced and not equipped for the challenges they face in today’s fast-paced world. Diagnosing treatable diseases like pneumonia early, means that timely diagnosis and treatment can help patients avoid complications and hospitalisation. The product is now being tested by community healthcare workers in India.
Another of the nine companies funded by Tech to Unite Us is Beam – a charity that crowd funds support for homeless people to get them back into training and support them into a career. Founder Alex Stephany was inspired to start the company after getting to know a homeless man at his local tube station and wanted to do something to help, which actually got to the root cause of his homelessness.
Social Tech Trust is now looking to address the major barriers stopping purpose-led ventures to grow and increase their social impact. They’re establishing a pioneering investment fund to help scale and grow these social tech businesses to create sustainable impact. “The fund will help address the gap in the availability of equity investment required to scale transformative purpose-driven tech ventures. It is our biggest priority for 2020,” says Jess.
The Social Tech Trust was originally set up by Nominet in 2008 but is now an independent charity. They are a small and mighty team of eleven based in London and Oxford, with their HQ at the Oxford Centre for Innovation. Their focus is threefold – to back purpose-led ventures creating more inclusive communities, improving healthcare and enabling more equitable access to wealth. They work with others to test their approach and support the tech innovation that is going to create a better future. We wish Jess and the team every success and we are pleased to have such a dynamic and forward-thinking business under our roof.
For more information about the Social Tech Trust, see: https://socialtechtrust.org
For more information about OCFI, see: https://www.ocfi.co.uk