Startups addressing one or more of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations now account for over 15% of all European venture capital investment—double the global average and three times higher than a decade ago. These “impact” startups received a total of €6 billion in 2019 alone.
Impact startups in the United Kingdom—which 2019 became the first major economy to commit to a legally binding net zero emissions targets by 2050—are leading the way in investment and raised over €1.4 billion last year, with clean tech and climate tech companies raising most of the capital.
In a report entitled “Making the UK a Clean Tech Leader”, industry body TechUK and consultancy firm Deloitte suggested that digital technology already in the field can enable a reduction of 7.3 million metric tons in the UK’s carbon emissions, or 15% of the 48 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent needed by 2030.
London is recognized as the “fastest” growing global hub for impact tech. Purpose-driven tech companies based in the city received over £900 million in VC investment last year.
With the UK positioned to fare well in the green economy in a number of sectors in the coming years, 150sec takes a look at some of the most creative impact-driven startups who are based in the country, have been founded by British founders, or have online services available there.
Emilie Vanpoperinghe, Co-Founder & CEO, Oddbox
More than 50 million tons of fresh fruit and vegetables are being discarded across Europe every year for aesthetic reasons. In the UK alone, over three million tons of produce is wasted each year before even leaving the farm because it does not look “right” or too much was grown—despite being fresh and tasty.
Oddbox is determined to help address this problem and contribute to the UN’s efforts aimed at halving food waste by 2030 and is working directly with farmers to deliver thousands of boxes of fruit and vegetables every week.
Founded in 2016, it has so far rescued 15,863 tons of fruit and vegetables (equivalent to how much food 34,485 people would eat in a year), saved 1,697 million liters of water (equivalent to how much water 28,700 people would drink in their lifetime), and prevented 17,347 tons of carbon emissions.
Greg Jackson, Founder & CEO, Octopus Energy
In 2016, Octopus entered the market to disrupt the status quo with energy that’s “good for the planet, good for your wallet, and, honestly, good for your soul.”
Since then, it has been picking up 30,000 customers a month on average, and now supplies energy to 1.5 million UK homes and counting.
“We provide an easy, affordable energy option for Great Britain’s visionary businesses. Whether you’re one of the world’s biggest football clubs or selling magic wands in Brighton, we’ll supply your business with power from the sun,” says the company, which is working with brands like Arsenal FC and Marks & Spencer.
The company is backed by Octopus Investments, the UK’s largest investor in solar power, responsible for nearly 40% of the nation’s large-scale solar generation.
Morten Toft Bech, Founder, Meatless Farm
Meatless Farm has developed a plant-based mince, burger patty, and sausage “loaded with taste and texture” as part of its mission to help people reduce their meat consumption by making swapping to a meatless lifestyle easy.
Considered one of the UK’s fastest growing plant-based food companies, recently beat American rivals to seal a major U.S. distribution deal.
The meat-alternative market is set to represent around 10% of the $1.4 trillion-a-year global meat market by 2029. Meatless Farm seems all set to dig deeper into this booming market.
François Paillier, Co-Founder & CEO, CircaGene
CircaGene, a Founder Institute portfolio company, provides “the most complete genetic analysis” that supports better prognosis, treatments, genetic diagnostics, and personalized medicine.
It offers “the World’s first Patented Incognito DNA Encryption” and is a “pioneer” in facilitating genetic services with DNA privacy, using the most advanced technologies for next-generation sequencing for laboratory automation.
The platform is “saving and changing lives” with the help of experts with over 20 years of computational biology experience, who believe in the importance of knowledge as a foundational element of the human being and want to make it available to everyone.
Adam Ford, Founder & CEO, Redefine Legal
Redefine Legal calls itself “the UK’s only provider of instant, bespoke, and 100% free legal documents”. The platform connects businesses with top UK lawyers providing specialist services at transparent and competitive rates.
The company’s mission is to take the best advantage of what technology and the Internet have to offer to provide businesses with the most efficient and effective solutions for their legal needs while promoting flexible working for lawyers.
Redefine Legal believes access to legal help should be a fundamental right and wants to offer an alternative to traditional legal services, which are too complicated, expensive, and inefficient, with no price transparency.
Chantelle Bell, Co-Founder, Syrona
A spin-out from Cambridge University and a graduate of Puerto Rican accelerator parallel18, Syrona is pursuing a vision to democratize women’s health.
Over one-third of British households include somebody living with chronic pain conditions, with the majority of those suffering being women or having female reproductive organs. Syrona wants to help women, trans, and non-binary folk reclaim their bodies through science, compassion, and technology.
“We believe that it should be easier to access support and care for dealing with female reproductive issues—from endometriosis to fertility and menopause support,” says the team behind the health startup.
Gary Woodhead, Founder, CurveBlock
CurveBlock is a platform that uses the latest technology to enable people to invest in property development projects in return for a share of the profit.
It describes itself as a centralized exchange, which allows digital shareholders to stake their shares against carbon zero, energy positive real estate developments for a share of the profits once built and sold.
“With as little as £10, you can be a part of a multi-million pound construction company’s profits. You profit each time we build and sell a project. We push the boundaries in the construction of energy positive houses to give the planet a better future,” says the company, which is taking steps toward financial, social, environmental, and sustainable impact.
Russell Bright, CEO, I-Phyc
Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production on Earth comes from the ocean, with the majority of it coming from oceanic plankton—drifting plants, algae, and some bacteria that can photosynthesize. I-Phyc’s goal is to clean up the rivers and lakes of the world, using the natural power of algae.
The company utilizes a wide number of species of common, naturally occurring algae, that are found in most watercourses. The I-Phyc process industrializes the use of these same algae, developing polycultures and by maintaining this diverse range of organisms working together, the treatment system has a built-in level of robustness and resilience.
Nahuel Lavino, Co-Founder, Pycno
Pycno is a startup that aims to provide growers with tools that enable data-driven decisions. It provides professional yet cheap and easy-to-use wireless sensors targeted for agriculture that plug into the soil and provide users with critical information of its surroundings in real time from anywhere in the world.
Its plug-and-play sensor allows for seamless data collection, from the farm to the user’s smartphone. Users can use their dashboard to apply the latest phenological and disease models to monitor trends and assess risk. They can also use real-time and historical data to support decisions and cut costs by regulating resources like water and fertilizer.
A graduate of parallel18, a Puerto Rican accelerator, Pycno is currently present in more than 26 countries.
Alex Stephany, Founder & CEO, Beam
Beam crowdfunds new career opportunities for homeless men and women. It provides them with a support network, from its support specialists to the strangers who fund their campaigns.
The award-winning startup aims to “give homeless people a career, pride, and true independence” and believes in using technology to find scalable solutions to the toughest social problems—starting with homelessness.
Beam says solving a problem as big and complex as homelessness requires all members of society to work together, including government, charities, social enterprises, tech startups, and employers.
Rupert Barksfield, Co-Founder & COO, Pynk
Pynk calls itself “the game-changing, crowd wisdom investment platform that’s built for everyday people, by everyday people.” Its artificial intelligence enables users to make better investment decisions. With 51,004 users across 190 countries, Pynk is fast becoming a global movement.
“Where some A.I. companies are trying to make humans obsolete, we believe technology should be designed to serve the masses,” says the team behind the startup, which is made up of highly passionate and like-minded individuals that trust in innovation to make the world a better place.
Pynk believes decentralized finance will play a crucial role in delivering on the first promise of fin-tech, namely financial inclusion.
Paul Russell, Founder & CTO, Upside Saving
Upside Saving, which was recently selected to join the ABN AMRO + Techstars Future of Finance Accelerator program, is a free app that “automatically pays you cashback when you shop online or in-store”.
It is, in other words, an Application Programming Interface (API) for merchant-funded loyalty rewards and delivers frictionless cashback straight into a savings account. As well as national chains, Upside Saving works equally well for smaller businesses.
Upside Saving leverages the power of open banking and machine learning to eliminate the need for customers to click links or download voucher codes, while enabling merchants to hyper-personalize their cashback offers to reach relevant audiences in real time.
Gavin Neate, Founder & CEO, Neatebox
Founded by Gavin Neate who worked for 18 years as a mobility instructor with Guide Dogs UK, Neatebox is building smart solutions based on the challenges disabled people face every day.
WelcoMe, its disability aware customer service platform makes it easy to get the personalized accessible customer service at participating venues and enables staff to deliver efficient customer services every time a user visits.
With Button, its remote button push app, users can use their mobile phone to any type of button. It can be used to open doors and operate pedestrian crossings safely and confidently.
Alex Fenechiu, Co-Founder & COO, Finverity
Finverity is a cross-border supply chain finance platform for mid-market on a mission to reinvent supply chain finance.
It aims to close the $1.5 trillion funding gap in global trade finance by using technology to make financing of mid-market companies economically viable worldwide.
The platform connects companies in need of working capital optimization and institutional investors seeking access to this alternative asset class with limited correlation to markets and reliable yield.
Finverity is part of the Founder Institute’s Select Portfolio, a designation given to the top 2% of graduates from the world’s premier pre-seed startup accelerator.
Fight economic exclusion and foster social innovation in emerging markets with a payment platform that’s inclusive, intuitive and secure.
Michael Lawal, Founder, Sendit.money
Born out of the concern that 300 million people globally pay excessive fees when they send money, Sendit.money is building a cost-effective mobile wallet providing an intuitive, secure, fast, and inexpensive way to send and receive money.
According to the UN, many people—especially women—still lack access to financial services, as well as financial literacy, which is a key for social inclusion. It says financial access means “access to a full suite of financial services, provided with quality, for everyone who can use financial services, thereby leading to an increase in financial capability.”
Sendit.money wants to fight economic exclusion and foster social innovation in emerging markets with its mobile wallet.
Emmanuel Oquendo, Co-Founder & CEO, BrainHi
BrainHi harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to “give superpowers to local businesses” with a platform that serves as an extension of their front-desk staff. It streamlines their operations through rescuing their missed calls and helping them be available 24/7 to answer client’s questions, process orders, and book appointments.
In 2018, BrainHi became the first Puerto Rican company to be accepted into the prestigious YCombinator program, an American seed money startup accelerator that has invested in thousands of companies such as Stripe, Airbnb, Cruise Automation, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, Dropbox, Twitch, and Reddit.
Tom Birbeck, Co-Founder & CEO, Arc Marine
ARC Marine was founded in 2015 in the world-famous fishing town of Brixham on the South Coast of England in 2015 from the determination of concerned divers who wanted to repair fragile and damaged marine ecosystems on an unprecedented scale. It wanted to accelerate reef creation globally and realized that existing artificial reef materials were not optimized or sustainable.
ARC Marine has designed innovative “reef cubes” that can contribute greatly to large-scale coral restoration projects. Their patented solution enables the creation of reef structures anywhere in the world, allowing “anyone from scientists to remote fishers can contribute to rebuilding reef systems”.
Matt Roberts, Co-Founder, ZOKRI
ZOKRI is a comprehensive Objectives and Key Results and performance management solution that allows users to easily implement best-practice goal setting using OKRs.
The platform manages the continuous delivery of the user’s strategy and goals, with an emphasis on keeping teams goal aware, outcome focused, and agile.
A portfolio company of TheVentureCity—an operator-led venture and growth acceleration model—ZOKRI gives instant visibility on progress, problems, risk, and successes, enabling everyone to see and feel their impact.
Sandra Sassow, Co-Founder & CEO, SEaB Energy
SEaB Energy manufactures award-winning waste-to-energy technology. Its containerized anaerobic digestion units turn organic waste into energy exactly at the point where the waste is produced and the energy is required.
Designed to be a modular and scalable technology, the company says, they are ideally suited to small and medium scale sites that produce between 500kg and 2500kg of organic waste per day.
Throughout the years, SEaB Energy has received several awards for inventing a game-changing technology, for innovation, for entrepreneurship, and because it is a woman-owned company.
Alejandro Martinez Agenjo, Co-Founder & CEO, Erudit AI
Erudit AI is an artificial intelligence-driven tool that gauges the work environment in real time. It identifies employees’ burnout risk and low engagement issues and also gives tips specifically tailored to a company’s needs in order to raise employee wellbeing.
With a team of psychologists and AI experts, the company is driven to fulfill the human needs essential for optimal mental health, productivity, and performance with the main objective of delivering remarkable people and business outcomes so that companies can improve their organizational culture.
Erudit AI is invested by TheVentureCity, a group of founders and operators turned investors that invest internationally in software companies.
Disclaimer: This article mentions a client of an Espacio portfolio company.