Nesta backs gig economy startups with a social conscience

A platform for donating breast milk to premature babies, a rideshare pilot tackling rural isolation and a service for refugees to become language teachers are all among the winning projects chosen for the new ShareLab fund – set up to support collaborative economy platforms with a clear social impact.

Nesta backs gig economy startups with a social conscience

Run by innovation charity Nesta, the fund was first launched last November with a callout for projects that make use of collaborative economy models – similar to those of companies such as Airbnb and Uber. Whereas those firms are predominantly money-making businesses, Nesta wanted to develop ideas that support public services and address social and environmental needs.

Eight winning projects have today been announced, with each receiving between £14,000 and £40,000, as well as additional business guidance from Nesta over a period of eight months. The scope of the projects is varied, ranging from a scheme to connect self-employed care workers with older people in Oxfordshire (TrustonTap), to a plan for tackling UK homelessness by connecting people with skills and training (Beam).

If there’s one thing that unites these projects, it’s the aspect of using digital technology to join people with existing resources – be it language skills (Chatterbox), community spaces (ShareSomewhere), car seats (Happy CT) or breast milk (The Milk Bank App).nesta_chatterbox

“The ideas funded through ShareLab show that the collaborative economy has many practical applications beyond just finding a place to stay or getting a cab ride,” said Helen Goulden, executive director for Nesta’s Innovation Lab. “We see great potential in these innovations to help alleviate some of the pressure on local governments, addressing the real needs of people, families and communities. ”

Leveraging sharing economy models certainly seems like a good idea, with the Uber model being a relatively untapped resource when it comes to social-focused projects. That said, it will be interesting to see whether these initiatives are able to sustain themselves long enough to become established tools.

Here’s hoping they do, because there are some great ideas among them. I’m particularly interested in Chatterbox’s plan to train refugees as language teachers, which looks to be the latest in a number of projects that use tech to help refugees at all stages of their experience in a new country. Another intriguing prospect is TrustonTap’s idea to match care workers with older people living independently – set against a background of dwindling NHS provisions and the rise of care robotics.

You can read more about the winning projects on Nesta’s website.

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