Five ways purpose-led startups are helping to tackle the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus crisis is causing hardship for people across the globe. However, there are bright spots in the fantastic work people are doing to meet new challenges. Adversity can fuel innovation, and in times like these, purpose-led innovators have a key role.


Written by

Douglas Sloan, Managing Director

Encouragingly, the Government has announced plans to commit £1 billion in funding to support startups during the crisis. In these challenging times, it’s crucial this will reach startups that can have a positive social impact.

One of our three priorities in response to coronavirus is sharing information across our portfolio to help support our partners, investees and fund managers. From gathering insight over the last month, we have seen so many inspiring stories of innovative actions and adaptations to not only survive but also provide support during the crisis. We have seen the role of purpose in tech startups amplified as ventures look to find rapid solutions to pressing social issues.

Some startups are changing what they do to meet emerging need. For example Open Bionics, who ordinarily produce bionic limbs for limb-different children, are looking to repurpose their 3D printing farm to produce medical supplies. Others are expanding or adapting existing activities for the new environment.

We’ve written before about the value of purpose-led startups in tackling hard problems. This ‘startup way of making change’ involves innovating around user needs, bringing the potential to scale, and drawing on fast feedback and data to better create impact. It can be transformative in the right context, with the right intent, and with a business model aligned to impact.

This approach is especially relevant in areas like health, education, and financial inclusion. These sectors, and tech-enabled service delivery within them, are becoming even more important in light of the coronavirus.

Five areas where purpose-led startups are making a difference now

Startups supported by Big Society Capital and VCs, including Bethnal Green Ventures, Ananda, Nesta, IVUK, Fair By Design and Connect Ventures, are contributing to tackling the coronavirus crisis in five areas:

  1. Health services

    The crisis is presenting operational challenges for health services, and there is an increasing role for tech-enabled solutions. For example Dr Doctor, a patient platform for effective care operating in more than 30 NHS hospitals, rapidly built digital broadcasting tools for hospitals needing to communicate about changes to appointments that reached 150,000 people in 3 days. Hospify, the first secure messaging app on the NHS app library, has seen thousands of users join each day during the crisis.

  2. Digital health

    In this environment, there is a critical role for digital services and remote delivery across both physical and mental health. Ieso Digital Health, for example, has seen demand for their online therapy services surge in recent weeks. Other digital health startups are helping people stay well during lockdown, such as Second Nature through their programme to build healthy habits.

  3. Mental health support

    At a time when emotional trauma and anxiety are on the rise, purpose-led startups with a focus on supporting wellbeing are stepping up. Togetherall, an online peer-to-peer community for mental health support, is responding to rapidly growing demand and has trained staff in coronavirus response. Talklife, a global peer support network for young people, has been expanding its work with universities on student mental health during lockdown.

  4. Financial tools

    As people face financial challenges associated with the crisis, purpose-led fintech startups are helping to build a financial system that works for everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Credit Kudos, whose core service is to provide fairer ways of assessing credit scores, collaborated with two other startups to develop a way for self-employed people to self-certify lost income due to coronavirus using open banking protocols. Wagestream has waived fees on its income-streaming service for care agency employees and NHS trust employees, giving on-demand access to earned wages during the crisis.

  5. Education

    As education services are disrupted during the crisis, purpose-led startups are helping fill these gaps. For students, Stairway Learning’s website and newly launched app provide online content helping students master Maths, Biology, and Physics. For schools, Arbor’s cloud-based management information system is helping address administrative complexity during lockdown.

A greater role for purpose-led startups in future

Startups with purpose at their core are making a difference, and we believe there is a greater role for them to play in the recovery phase of this crisis.

Systems are shifting faster than usual, such as the digitisation of primary care. Tech-enabled delivery models may be well-positioned to develop affordable and accessible solutions at scale in key sectors.

To do this well, we think purpose and impact need to be at the core. Founders will need to consider the human consequences of their choices – both reaching and listening to the people most in need.

Impact intent in venture has been rising up the agenda in recent years. We hope to see that trend continue and accelerate as we recover from this crisis.

Get in touch

If you are a manager or investor who shares our goals or would like to be part of the journey, please get in touch with Dougie and Katie.

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