In early 2017, we embarked on a social impact evaluation of our Social Tech programmes, working closely with our partners Aleron. It was an important milestone for the Trust and a real opportunity to reflect on our impact to date after many years of investing in early-stage social tech ventures. An opportunity, only now possible with a healthy number of grantees at a point of maturity and of a sufficient number to examine both the role we’ve played and most importantly the impact our projects have had on society.
As the social tech space evolves, it’s vital we share the knowledge and insights we’ve gained as a leading funder of socially transformative tech in order to create a healthy and dynamic ecosystem, so tech can reach its full transformative potential.
What did we learn?
The evaluation gave the Trust a number of important insights that are not only helpful for our own programmes, but important considerations for other funders and supporters in this space and for those developing their own ventures.
A truly innovative venture is far more likely to need to adapt during its project lifecycle. From our experience in supporting early-stage social tech, we’re acutely aware of the importance of flexibility and agility in developing social tech ventures. Project plans will deviate off course, unexpected bumps in the road will need addressing and there will be times when a little faith or patience is required in managing risk. Fundamentally it means there isn’t a one-size fits all approach to the relationship and pathway when supporting innovative ventures. The onus is on the funder to appreciate that and build a programme that supports such eventualities rather than expecting a smooth and uninterrupted project plan agreed from the start.
Match funding is key
Moving on to funding the key insight that stood out from the evaluation was that organisational success was far more certain when the venture had access to more than one source of funding at the time. There are a whole host of reasons why this is the case; it’s likely the venture fundamentally has access to different forms of capital but also access to a wider pool of support, networks and partnership opportunities. Whilst across our portfolio of grantees there wasn’t a distinction as to whether this funding was better made up 20% or even 70% of financial support. However, of the ventures with sole funding from Nominet Trust, 33% are now dissolved or inactive. This figure reduces to 6% or lower when another funding partner was on board.
More founders equals growth
The number of founders involved directly with the venture also gave a clear indication to future growth. With the involvement of more than one founder the chances of becoming inactive or dissolved reduces to 12% or below. A venture taken forward by one founder in isolation saw this increase to 40%. Across the portfolio, there were consistent perceptions of success that highlighted the importance of access to a wider range of skills and networks, commercial and business modelling advise and access to research. With more than one founder the ability to take on and resource those benefits is multiplied.
The evaluation report contains many more insights and I’d encourage anyone involved in this space to look through and get in touch to explore the findings further.
Read the full report here.