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Living our values: learning from the dynamic journeys of social tech pioneers

On: 28th June 2016

What a thrill it is to be on the frontline of discovery in ‘tech for good’ at Nominet Trust: what we learn from our successes and challenges may become the foundations of this emerging field.  Back in the spring ‘Tech for good pioneer’, Nick Stanhope,  distilled five years’ worth of hard work into five foundational lessons for aspiring tech for good entrepreneurs, at an event we co-hosted with Shift.

Take foundational lesson #1: “good social tech ventures … are made up of three concurrent, intertwined strands of value – social value, user value and commercial value – which need identifying, understanding and nurturing from the very beginning of development.”

It’s true! We know it’s true because we continually collect evidence which shows how building these three strands of value has helped our funded frontline ventures on their journey as social tech start-ups.

An important thing we’ve discovered about the social, user and (as we call it in our model) financial values is that they are dynamic! The three strands grow in different ways; they take unexpected turns and spur each other on; they challenge and strengthen one another. More than anything, we use the “three strands of value” model as a tool to help teams respond to all the changes they encounter in the early stages of their venture – sometimes what the entrepreneurs propose as their venture’s greatest value is not what becomes most valuable to customers and beneficiaries. Let’s focus on two of the journeys from our most recently funded ventures:

Skills Route is a brilliantly clever platform that uses data to help young people choose the subjects and courses that are right for them. However, the first iteration of their platform was too clever. Users (young people) felt like it was doing too much of the thinking for them. Working with their users, Skills Route redesigned their platform to shift the focus from data to decisions. This change in the user value positively affected social and financial value: young people wanted to use it at home as well as school, expanding target markets and also increasing their potential for large-scale social impact: more young people building the skills they need to build the life they want.

For Adris Technologies, user value has been the driving force behind their invention, PulseGuard, bringing social and financial value along. Adrian Perry originally built the device for monitoring epileptic seizures to use in his own home with his own son, Tom. But when it worked better than anything else on the market, Adrian couldn’t keep the value to himself, and Adris Technologies was born.

Nominet Trust started working with Adris Technologies on their road to generating financial value– bringing PulseGuard to care-home settings. Innovations required by care-home users led to the development of PulseGuard Link, which allows PulseGuard to communicate with any external health monitoring system. In turn, PulseGuard Link helped Adris Technologies to expand back into the home market, generating further financial value –and social value, allowing more people to live independently. More users brought more use cases, with PulseGuard detecting heart-rate changes associated with other conditions, like hypoglycaemia with type-1 diabetes and choking. Thus PulseGuard’s user, social and financial values continue to co-evolve!

These are just two stories of how entrepreneurs have harnessed the galloping strands of their venture’s user, social and financial value. Nominet Trust has had the privilege to journey with hundreds of other ventures over the past seven years.  (We’ve written about some of the recent insights we’ve gained here).

Nick Stanhope’s ‘5 Lessons’ reminds us just how valuable the collective journeys of these pioneers are: Tech for good is no longer in uncharted territory; with every discovery we plot another point on our map, and with every dozen entrepreneurs that venture out to reach that point, testing and improving the route, we strengthen the guidelines of our exploration.