Dotforge plans next move on tech for good

Sheffield-founded tech accelerator Dotforge is working up the next phase of its pioneering programme of support for tech for good businesses in the English north, as two of its accelerator alumni are shortlisted as ‘Northern Stars’. Julian Blake reports.

emma1Dotforge was created as a tech accelerator in 2012 after a dozen angel investors, including co-founder Lee Strafford, came together to support the idea. After running mainstream programmes in 2013 and 2014, last year the Dotforge team shifted its focus on to for-profit tech for good, establishing the Dotforge Impact accelerator.

Dotforge Impact’s 13-week accelerator programme supported 24 startups in 2015 across two cohorts in Manchester and Sheffield, funded by the Cabinet Office’s £10m Social Incubator Fund backed by KeyFund, Big Lottery and the RSA.

Each of the 24 businesses came on to the programme driven by a desire to address a social problem through technology. DigitalAgenda’s change directory features five Dotforge-backed businesses:

Cathartic – allowing anyone to share their stories anonymously.
Kuorum – connecting citizens with politicians.
PiP iT  – online payments enabling purchases offline.
Street Support – making it easier to help homeless people.
Textocracy – anonymous SMS feedback platform.

Textocracy and Kuorum were named on October 31 as finalists for Tech North’s latest Northern Stars showcase.

Chief executive Emma Cheshire (pictured) said Dotforge was now preparing a new wave of support for impact tech business. “We’re working with a number of national partners to develop a fund for investing in for-profit mission-led technology companies, with a view that we launch something quarter two next year,” she said.

She said Dotforge’s next phase of work would “combine some of the social investment agenda of government, while working with large companies interested in doing their corporate social responsibility differently and looking at that type of investment having a long-term sustainable impact, both in the challenges of their local community and knowing those solutions could be adopted elsewhere.”

“We’re encouraging that thinking and that’s where our ambition lies,” she said.

dotforge logoDotforge is the only tech for good accelerator based in the English north, working in Sheffield and Manchester and also in Leeds, where Cheshire works on the city’s Futurelabs initiative. It is now looking to start work in Nottingham.

Cheshire said the Dotforge model offered the flex that for-good startups need. Startups join as a company limited by shares but could leave as a CIC or a charity. “We make sure you can do whatever works best for your social mission and business,” she said.

“We use a convertible loan note to invest in the companies, taking equity at the value set by the seed investors in the next round. We always charge a fee as part of the programme. It’s not usually the full cost of the programme as we seek to subsidise this through sponsorship.”

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