The sustainable tech sector is a wellspring of human ingenuity. From Palo Alto to Pakistan, smart minds are using the power of code to find inventive solutions to problems many of us didn’t even realise we had (tweet for a pizza anyone?). Building digital hubs has become a popular tool in the regeneration strategies of many cities and regions – not least in the South West, which boasts one of the UK’s most thriving tech and start-up cultures.

But what’s it all for? Is tech just about creating a world of increased consumer convenience, or can it deliver real value to society?

At The House, we believe that the future belongs to enterprises with purpose: a purpose that creates real value for society as well as for shareholders. We celebrate human ingenuity applied to real problems – that’s why we find inspiration in “tech for good” services, such as:

  • Denmark’s BeMyEyes, an app that connects blind users with volunteer helpers from around the world via video-chat
  • Brazil’s CNA Speaking Exchange, which connects students with senior citizens in American retirement communities for English language practice, thus reducing social isolation (Video warning – high risk of moist eyes)
  • Bristol’s Crocodile, a “walking bus” app that helps children walk or bike to school safely, winner of Bristol’s £50,000 Green Capital Digital Challenge
  • Bristol’s Deki, an online microfinance platform that allows users to make individual loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world

As a brand agency dedicated to building business on purpose, these examples of ‘tech for good’ stir something in us. Perhaps they will inspire tech workers in the South West and beyond to think differently about their next career step.

But what is it like to actually work in a “tech for good” enterprise? How does it change the way you compete and attract talent? To find out, we spoke to four tech startups whose services provide a social benefit.

Attracting and retaining talent

Neighbourly is an online platform that connects community projects with businesses that want to help. Since launching in 2014, Neighbourly has helped 213 projects and there’s now a total of almost £1.8m pledged in the site.

nick-davies-neighbourlyBased in Bristol, Neighbourly currently has 14 employees. According to founder Nick Davies (pictured right), the startup’s social purpose has been a major factor in attracting talent:

“So many people have approached us and asked to join. They want to feel a purpose in life – they’ve built up expertise elsewhere and now want to leverage their skills for good. There’s a sense of relief to be working on something like this.”

Does having a social purpose mean that staff will stay on board for longer? Nick Allen, founder and CEO of Shuddle, a San Francisco-based firm that allows parents to schedule safe car rides for their children, is hopeful, even if Shuddle is still too young to judge:

“The people I work with share a common view that Shuddle should exist because it’s a genuinely useful service and I hope I’m right in believing that they—as I do—want to stick around to improve on what we’ve built and make it a world-class service.”

dave-kelly-stormHowever, David Kelly of Storm Consultancy (pictured left), a Bath-based digital design agency that partnered with the University of Bath to create CiteAb, the world’s largest citation-ranked antibody search engine, is cautious about giving too much weight to social purpose as a driver of talent attraction and retention.

“In the tech sector, it’s the work challenge that motivates people,” says Kelly. “Remember that tech people tend to be young and focused on building careers and experience – they haven’t got to that ‘what am I doing with my life’ stage.”

Purpose is important, says Kelly, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a clearly social purpose.

“This isn’t quick-hit work to turn a fast profit: doing things right takes a lot of time and effort”


Shuddle’s Allen agrees that age and experience can be a factor in employee motivations:

“This isn’t quick-hit work to turn a fast profit: doing things right takes a lot of time and effort which I think attracts a more seasoned crowd in all roles – from engineering, product and design, to operations.”

Marcelle-Speller-OBE-LocalgivingOn the other hand, Marcelle Speller OBE, founder and chairman of London-based Localgiving (pictured left), found the organisation’s biggest hiring challenge to be recruiting senior management who were equally excited by the tech and by the social mission.

Localgiving is a not-for-profit online platform that empowers charitable organisations to connect with supporters, fundraise online and take control of their future. The platform has just hit the £10m mark in terms of funds delivered.

“When you hire a ‘pure’ tech or marketing role, they are usually younger and more specialized – and younger people tend to be more socially aware on the whole. It took longer to find the right senior leadership, but we now have a fantastic chief executive in Stephen Mallinson.”

A new kind of work challenge

Speller also argues that “tech for good” provides unique challenges for talented tech workers. For example, she sees great potential for tech to transform how charity works in the UK.

“The power equation is against the charities,” she says. “Take grant applications: small charities can make up to 70 applications for every grant received. In theory, we have the technology to build a centralised database where donors can set out their needs, and charities can make one application. This could also be accessed by the public and the charity’s beneficiaries.”

Localgiving is currently working on building up a network of all information needed to start and run a charity or community group, providing a convenient online hub to share best practices. Speller also sees potential to take the highly granular social measurement data compiled by organisations such as Local Futures and map it against local charity outcomes and performance.

These horizons mean that there is plenty of scope for innovation to give tech workers exciting new challenges, says Speller: “We are drawing on more sources of inspiration and innovation – we are not just drawing on the tech sector and the business sector, our people have to learn different skills and draw upon frontline experiences of social engagement.”


By seeking to balance profit and social good, “tech for good” firms are trying to achieve more than their competitors. This requires understanding from investors, customers, suppliers and employees.

“Our investors understand we have a duty to the community and to ourselves to reach our own goals”


The keyword is balance, says Neighbourly’s Nick Davies: “As a Limited Company we have a legal responsibility to deliver growth.  However, it’s now proven that companies who pursue a ‘triple bottom line’ are ultimately more successful. Our investors understand we have a duty to the community and to ourselves to reach our own goals.”

With this in mind, Neighbourly has now applied for B Corporation status – a scheme under which companies sign up to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

“Applying for B Corporation status reflects our commitment and intent,” says Nick.

Engendering trust

While CiteAb is “absolutely a commercial business”, the underlying social benefit generates trust among users and has implications for how CiteAb conducts its business.


CiteABPaul Leader (Developer), Andrew Chalmers (CSO),
Dave Kelly (CEO), Matt Helsby (Development Manager), Adam Pope (CTO)

CiteAb ranks antibody effectiveness according to the number of citations in scientific studies – this means that nobody can pay to be ranked higher. This disrupts what Storm’s Kelly sees as a “broken, not user-focused” traditional marketing model and helps healthcare professionals find the best antibodies without wasting time or money.

“There are lots of requests to advertise which we have to turn down, as our core purpose is to be unbiased”, Kelly says.

“People who recognise the social purpose of our work are less on guard, more willing to engage”


While CiteAb must pass up these revenue opportunities, its commitment to unbiased user focus has opened other doors.

“We find we get a lot of allowances from the companies that buy from us,” says Kelly. “They recognise the social purpose of our work and are less on guard, more willing to engage.”

As well as investors and customers, Localgiving’s Speller underlines how important it is for staff to ‘get it’ when it comes to running a socially-minded enterprise.

Localgiving has 16 employees, fulfilling a mix of tech, marketing and charity engagement roles. Some come from charity backgrounds and some from the private sector, but all understand that Localgiving is a social enterprise that must operate sustainably as a business if it is to deliver on its social objectives.

“All of our team totally understand what we do and why we do it,” says Speller.