UK is ‘global centre’ of tech for good with companies worth £2.3bn

The sector is being driven by under-25s with a desire to 'make a meaningful impact on society'

Disruptive technology with social impact is on track to become a key player in the UK economy, with tech for good companies found to be worth £2.3bn.

In a first of its kind report, entrepreneurs’ network Tech Nation said that the combined turnover of UK companies was £723m in 2018 – more than the amount generated by consumer electronics (£634 million).

Analysts reported that tech for social good companies use technology to “tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges”. The Depop app, for example, reduces disposable fast fashion by making upcycling more accessible. It has 11 million users, three quarters of which are under 25.

Nearly half of the 490 companies have just launched, demonstrating the crucial role startups and “young, dynamic businesses” play in tech for good’s growth.

But experts say this highlights the need for policymakers to support tech for good companies as they grow, particularly because most new companies cannot offer the same high salaries as already established tech giants.

More than 10 per cent of companies are using innovative tech to improve education. Another nine per cent are in finance, plus eight per cent in artificial intelligence.

Tech Nation CEO Gerard Grech said: “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.”

The report pointed to tech for good companies like CareRooms which matches patients recovering from a hospital stay with hosts and spare rooms, and TechPixies which trains women in digital media to redress the gender gap in entrepreneurship, as leading the charge as sustainable social good tech businesses.

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Since 1991 The Big Issue has sold more than 200,000,000 copies – helping the most vulnerable in society earn more than £115 million.

Jeremy Wright, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, said: “I am fortunate to have responsibility for both digital policy and for civil society.

“This is no coincidence. There are so many opportunities where these two areas intersect and we must use the power of technology to help us solve the world’s major social issues.

“’We are working hard to support those in the field by improving charities’ digital skills, boosting access to finance for social tech ventures and backing an awards scheme to celebrate up-and-coming entrepreneurs.”

But Tech Nation has called for greater diversity within tech for good across all sectors. It said gender and ethnicity inclusion in particular must be improved to ensure that everyone can be part of the movement.

While 49 per cent of UK workers are women, they make up only 19 per cent of those working in tech.

And last year it was found that just 15 per cent of people in the industry are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Alex Stephany is the founder of Beam, a Big Issue-partnered tech for good online platform which allows  the public to fundraise for homeless people’s employment training.

He said: “Tech alone is never the answer. But tech is a necessary part of solving every big and complex problem.

“The problem we’re focused on solving at Beam is homelessness. That means building beautiful, functional technology for everyone, including the 320,000 homeless people in the UK – a growing and significant majority of whom have smartphones.”

Browse the Big Issue Changemakers to discover more tech for good pioneers.