Vodafone Techstarter Awards highlight the UK’s blossoming social innovation sector
By Helen Lamprell
General Counsel & External Affairs Director, Vodafone UK and Vodafone Foundation Trustee
As a Trustee of the Vodafone Foundation, I’ve seen first-hand the power of social innovation to transform people’s lives for the better. But I know that for many social innovators, getting the funding and support they need to take their ideas from start-up to scale-up can be a challenge. That’s why Vodafone UK and the Vodafone Foundation, our charitable arm, have joined forces with Social Tech Trust – the UK’s leading dedicated supporter of socially motivated tech ventures – to create the Vodafone Techstarter Awards.
At Vodafone, our purpose is to connect everyone to live a better future. We created Techstarter to support social innovators who are using technology and connectivity to improve health, education, environmental protection or social mobility. When we launched Techstarter five months ago, almost 300 ventures applied, and of these 12 finalists were shortlisted. Some are start-ups, some are for-profit businesses, and some are social enterprises and charities, but they all have a vision for how they can make tomorrow better.
Celebrating our 2019 Techstarter Award Winners
At our very first Techstarter Awards last night, we announced eight winners. These organisations are using technologies like mobile apps, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and blockchain to develop solutions with a social purpose. A panel of Techstarter judges recognised their skill at innovating with technology, their potential to transform lives and, crucially, their ability to scale their ideas.
The eight winning organisations will each receive £35,000 and a year of mentoring, with access to the business advice they need to turn their ideas into real solutions. Two of the organisations, voted for by Vodafone employees, will also each receive £10,000.
The winners in the not-for-profit category, supported by the Vodafone Foundation, are:
- Code4000 UK CIC (Hampshire) – Code4000’s Global Prison Curriculum provides vocational training in computer programming, with a view to enhancing the employability of ex-offenders and helping to reduce reoffending.
- Full Fact (London) – Full Fact uses automated fact-checking tools to help prevent the spread of fake news, and even identify and fact check some claims automatically in real time.
- The Children’s Society (London) – The Children’s Society Reality Check programme pioneers the use of immersive virtual reality environments to help children manage and overcome anxiety.
- Wayfindr (London) – Wayfindr uses smartphone technology to give vision-impaired people the power to navigate complex indoor environments independently.
The winners in the for-profit category, supported by Vodafone Business, are:
- Alice SI Ltd (London) – Alice is a funding platform for social and environmental projects that promotes data transparency using blockchain technology. Alice allows donors and investors to track exactly what impact their money makes, while reducing reporting costs for charities.
- BlakBear Ltd (London) – BlakBear Agri uses new sensors and software to increase the yield farmers can get from their land to feed a growing world sustainably. It combines electrochemical sensing innovations with statistical algorithms to understand soil nitrogen levels and provide optimal nitrogen fertilisation instructions.
- LettUs Grow (Bristol) – LettUs Grow designs aeroponic farming technology and farm management software for indoor and vertical farms to help deliver higher crop yields and reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.
- Walk With Path Ltd (Essex) – Path Feel is an insole that acts in real time by vibrating in response to pressure. This results in the user being able to feel the floor and stay balanced. It also tracks walking to aid diagnosis.
The £10,000 Vodafone Techstarter Champion’s award, voted for by Vodafone employees, went to The Children’s Society and LettUs Grow.
Helping the UK lead in social innovation
When we began our Techstarter journey, we knew that we would encounter inspiring stories and impressive innovations. The number and quality of the submissions has surpassed our expectations. Techstarter has proved that the UK is alive with innovation, and with creative, purposeful ventures that are determined to make a positive difference.
I would like to thank our Vodafone Techstarter judges, who chose this year’s winning projects: Amparo Moraleda Martinez, Non-Executive Director, Vodafone Group Plc; Anne Sheehan, Director, Vodafone Business UK; Bill Liao, SOSV, CoderDojo and Social Tech Trust Chair; Clare McDonald, Business Editor, Computer Weekly; James Heath, Director, Digital Infrastructure, DCMS; Jen Hyatt, Founder of Troo.ai, Eartime and Big White Wall; Nick Jeffery, Chief Executive Officer, Vodafone UK; and Patrick Knight, Chief Information Officer, Travis Perkins.
Thank you also to the Vodafone Foundation, Social Tech Trust and to everyone at Vodafone UK who worked to make Techstarter possible.
By highlighting the incredible social tech projects we have in the UK, we hope that Vodafone Techstarter will inspire future talent and attract even more support and investment from across the private and public sector. Together, we can help tech with social purpose to flourish.