We often hear about Tech for Good, a growing wave of social entrepreneurs who are on a mission to tackle some of the world’s toughest social or environmental challenges through digital solutions, where growth and revenue go hand-in-hand with positive social impact. Chuk Ogbobie, Katie Whitlock and Polly Gilbert are just that, ambitious founders who are inspired to tackle social issues closest to their hearts with their startups.
The inspiration for their businesses are based on their daily experiences: Katie and Polly are on a mission to tackle the daily reality that sadly 1 in 4 Londoners face homelessness and poverty. TAP is a platform meant to support hundreds of grassroots charities, providing a new way of inspiring the public to give at small contactless donations while ‘on the go.’ As a small gift for giving back to local charities, donators also receive a TAP card with a thoughtful artwork or illustration that perfectly captures the spirit of the city that week.
Chuk’s mission, on the other hand, is to support road safety for children through his creation of the Safe in Sound app. Shockingly, road accidents are the biggest killer of kids aged 16-24, and the second biggest killer of under 15 year-olds. With this statistic in mind and on learning that two of his son’s friends were run over on their way to school Chuk was inspired to take action. The Safe In Sound app is a road-safety app engaging music and tech. The app turns the volume down on headphones and warns users about the dangers of crossing the road with their headphones on. It will also track travel and if they stay on route they will be rewarded with prizes.
Combining their skills as creatives, strategists, and marketeers, all three founders have channeled problem solving into practical solutions that are easy to use, technologies that are smart and can be seamlessly built into our everyday experiences.
Both startups have used the power of partnerships to create early traction for their products, creating a wide reach through mutual beneficial partnerships, harnessing cross-promotion and generating a multiplier effect, which is so vital in the early stages of startup growth. While working with public sector and third sector organisations is core to their business models, partnering with private sector and commercial brands is also fundamental in supporting these life-changing solutions. TAP has a semi-exclusive partnership with Barclaycard, whose tap machines and technology make their innovative payment method possible and are working with a range of organisations to tap into their culture of CSR and employee engagement to support their volunteering strategy. Since Safe and Sound’s conception, Chuk has successfully progressed partnerships with retailers, all major road safety charities as well as celebrity endorsement and recent sponsorships with some of the largest councils across the country.
Hearing from these inspiring founders really does encourage us to think big and bold about the possibilities for problem solving through innovation and technology — and the importance of following through with the light bulb moment!
Q. What the inspiration behind your startup and when did you found it?
Katie Whitlock and Polly Gilbert: It all started with a hotdog. I arrived back to Vauxhall station late one night in the middle of a freezing November. A rough sleeper was huddled up in the doorway of Sainsbury’s, almost vibrating with cold. My boyfriend and I were buying a hotdog from a street vendor, and got an extra one to take over to him. He was respectfully declined it, having already eaten five that evening (and likely being sick of the sight of them). On Monday back at work, Katie and I chatted about this frustration. Seeing visible symptoms of poverty in our communities, and feeling unsure of the right way to help. We developed the idea in our spare time for around 6 months, and left our jobs in advertising at the beginning of 2017.
Chuk Ogbobie: I had the idea to develop a road safety app towards the end of 2015. The inspiration sadly came from an accident, as I have a 17 year-old son who unfortunately had two friends run over on their way to school. I was also shocked to learn that road accidents are the biggest killers of kids aged 16-24, and the second biggest killer of under 15 year-olds, and the numbers of death and injuries are rising. This drove the desire to create an app that could save lives, but also one that students would actually want to use.
Q. Why now and was there a particular light bulb moment?
PG & KW: Poverty in London is getting worse, and is set to continue a downward spiral. Katie and I had taken TAP as far as we could whilst in full-time employment, and we both felt we couldn’t sit on the idea for any longer. To be honest, the jump came quite naturally. It was scary – but natural.
CO: Yes, we are fortunate to be developing an app in which none of the companies we’ve approached have said no to! We were able to win the support of the largest councils, retailers, and charities across the country. The response was so powerful we decided to go on a national school tour to engage students and learn more from them and it was their unique insights that definitely highlighted to us that this business was solving a real problem. How might we keep modern kids safe without appearing snobbish or out of date in our approach?
Q. What’s the key driver behind the business?
PG & KW: Helping local charities to grow their services, and creating a consumer journey which is actually enjoyable for a donor.
CO: Hearing parents suffer the trauma of allowing your child to go to school and wondering if they would make it, whether through any fault of their own or others.
Q. Whats the key challenge for you as a start up?
PG & KW: There are a myriad of challenges and joys in the startup life. I think for us the key challenge has been psychological. Learning to handle the highs and lows with a rational, positive mindset, and keeping your focus on the end goal.
CO: Raising finance will always be a problem in this country because culturally we are not yet geared towards risk as say in the US. But in order to let the UK tech industry thrive, more early stage investors will have to take punts.
Q. In terms of people, who do you admire in the startup world or otherwise?
PG & KW: Sir Tom and Marion Hunter. They directly address one of the most problematic issues in the startup world today, that there are many amazing ideas of how to eradicate poverty — but there is very little funding to get them started. Through their foundation, they use a proactive venture philanthropy approach, take a ‘punt’ on high-potential initiatives and provide vital support along the way. They have invested over £50 million pounds in incredible projects such as Social Bite, a small chain of sandwich shops in Scotland who feed around 150 homeless people a day, and host ‘Social Suppers’ in the evenings where homeless people are invited to sit in for hot food and chat with support workers.
CO: I admire a wealth of individuals from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, the obvious ones being Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Others like Troy Carter (Atom Factory) and Jonny Rose (Croydon Tech City) have all impressed me.
Q. Who’s your biggest influencer and why?
PG & KW: Katie probably has about ten thousand influencers. She’s a TED talk addict and serial reader of non-fiction. As less of a fan of motivational bumf, we’ll meet in the middle and go with someone we met early on in our startup journey. Somehow we managed to wangle a meeting with Gina Miller (she successfully sued Theresa May over Brexit), and we were completely awe-struck by her. Her tenacity, fearlessness, and ballsiness is a complete inspiration. “WWGD?” [What Would Gina Do?] and “Be More Gina” are now rallying cries for us when we are feeling beaten down or anxious.
CO: Everyday life to be honest, I’m a ‘people watcher’ and wondering how to solve great problems without ego definitely drives me forward.
Q. What would you like to see more of in terms of support for startups? What would really help you right now?
PG & KW: Less red-tape. In charity in particular, there are so many rules and restrictions for start-ups, and without a huge budget for professional services it can be draining on resource and energy.
CO: Access to [Chief Technology Officers] would definitely encourage a higher success rate in this country of start-ups. Local councils or incubators could also have their own Crowdfunding platforms to encourage local support financially and PR wise.
Q. What does the future hold? What does success look like?
PG & KW: The future is exciting and scary in equal parts, and almost entirely unpredictable. Success is making a difference in our community, and using contactless technology to tap into a new sector of charitable Londoners who otherwise wouldn’t regularly donate.
CO: We’ve got a really exciting period coming up! We are currently developing the app and will be launching a regional campaign with high-street partner brands later this year!