£15m fund to fight poverty premium

A new £15m venture fund for businesses working to eliminate the poverty premium is set to be unveiled next month, as a new accelerator programme opens in the English north to support tech startups working to reduce poverty at home and abroad. Julian Blake reports.

povertySome cheer for the one in five UK citizens living in poverty. Early-stage VC firm Ascension Ventures is to manage a new £15m ‘Fair by Design’ fund, created to help eliminate the ‘poverty premium’ by 2027.

Government statistics show that 14m people – more than 20% of the population – in the UK now live in poverty. The poverty premium sees people in poverty or on low incomes paying more for the same products or services than those better off financially.

Ascension will run the fund alongside long-standing investment partner Finance Birmingham and others.

Ventures supported by the fund will be working to eliminate the poverty premium across four sectors: financial services, energy, insurance, and food/household goods. The fund will support a combination of community interest companies and charities, as well as for-profit companies including tech startups.

Since 2013 Ascension has invested, across four distinct funds, in over 40 early-stage companies across the UK. It has backed several social impact businesses, including Edukit, Flashsticks, GiveVision, Highbrow, Looop, Night Zookeeper, Percent and The Skills Academy.

Ascension is recruiting for two roles to help manage the new fund – a programme director and an investment manager. Both will be based out of Manchester.

The initiative is also backed by Big Society Capital and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Ascension-Ventures-LogoThe news comes as Wayra, the Telefónica-backed tech startup initiative, confirms the formal opening of its latest startup space in Greater Manchester, next month.

Telefónica Open Future_North will operate a new accelerator programme out of the Oldham space, focused on supporting ethical tech businesses addressing poverty through digital innovation. Wayra UK was not in a position to confirm a link with the new £15m fund.

Open Future_ North opens on June 29. Wayra describes the £200,000 space as a “multi-functional hub designed to scale young digital businesses across the Greater Manchester area”.

Wayra already operates spaces in London and Birmingham, as well as supporting the GCHQ Cyber Accelerator programme in Cheltenham.

It previously supported tech for good businesses in a 2013 partnership with Unltd and the government’s £10m social incubator fund.