In the months before the Covid-19 hit, a growing number of European startups were pitching themselves as “tech for good” companies.
Along with several investors and policymakers, they made a bet that Europe could set a new global standard by showing that best practices on environmental impact, diversity and privacy are a driver for business.
But is that opportunity still alive after coronavirus?
Frédéric Mazzella, BlaBlaCar founder and co-president of French and European startups grouping France Digitale, says he thinks prospects are intact.
“There’s a new sensibility among consumers for environmental issues and social responsibility,” Mazzella says. “The seeds of these preoccupations were planted well before the Covid crisis and they’re going to keep growing, carried by the younger generation.”
European companies that don’t have their eyes set only on the money, but rather have built their business on a multitude of variables, including social and environmental impact, stand to become global leaders, he says.
“The tech for good thematic is a massive opportunity for Europe,” Mazzella says. “Mentality, culture can lead to innovation that surpasses technological hegemony.”
San Francisco roadshow
One thing about tech for good is not everybody agrees on a clear cut definition for it. Companies have tried to claim the label after doing as little as cutting their carbon footprint a little here and promoting diversity a little there.
For Mazzella and France Digitale, it has to be more than that: an emphasis on European values, from environmental awareness to data privacy, that’s built right into a company’s mission.
Mazzella himself founded carpooling platform BlaBlaCar in 2006 with a promise to cut pollution and help people save money by sharing the cost of their trips.
In February, he toured San Francisco with a group of entrepreneurs for four days to pitch the idea that purpose-driven companies also attract the best talent. The roadshow, dubbed Tech4Values, was the first in what will become a series, with the next stop planned in New York. It included startups like doctor-booking app Doctolib and second-hand fashion platform Vestiaire Collective.
Others like BackMarket (refurbished electronics), Ynsect (insect farming as meal replacement for animals) and OpenClassrooms (free e-learning) have also established a global presence, including in the US, by boasting business models that make an environmental or social statement.
Tech for good companies worth knowing
Sifted worked with France Digitale, which represents some 1,800 French and European startups, to produce a list of tech for good European startups worth knowing. Many are part of the Tech4Values grouping, but not all. Here they are:
Backmarket. Based in France. A platform for selling refurbished smartphones and other electronic devices, for consumers who don’t want to buy new and throw away.
Benevolent AI. Based in the UK. Artificial intelligence for drug discovery and development.
BlaBlaCar. Based in France. Carpooling for long-distance travel and shorter commutes to cut pollution and travel costs.
Bluetown. Based in Denmark. Low-cost, sustainable wifi for people in rural areas who don’t have internet access.
Bulb. Based in the UK. Renewable energy supplier.
CardioLogs. Based in France. Uses artificial intelligence to help detect heart conditions.
Cityscoot. Based in France. Electric shared scooters in cities including Paris. Part of the push to cut back traffic congestion and car emissions.
CleverShuttle. Based in Germany. A ride-pooling app and clean shuttle service for urban transport.
Doctolib. Based in France. Doctor appointment booking app that’s expanded into teleconsultations and plans to take part in building the hospitals and healthcare of the future.
eCooltra. Based in Spain. Shared electric scooters fleet in several European cities.
EcoVadis. Based in France. Rates companies on sustainability measurements.
Enevo. Based in Finland. Waste management technology that claims to simultaneously lower costs and environmental impact.
Evaneos. Based in France. Connects travellers with local tourism professionals to promote local job creation and more responsible tourism. Local travel agencies were going extinct, but it aims to bring them together in a community and boost their online capabilities.
Healx. Based in the UK. Uses artificial intelligence capabilities to help find treatments for rare diseases.
Infarm. Based in Germany. Indoor farming for cities that claims to reduce pollution linked to transporting food, but also to producing it.
Konux. Based in Germany. Technology built for transforming railway operations, with the aim of cutting maintenance costs and extending the lifespan of infrastructure.
Kry. Based in Sweden. Doctor teleconsultation app.
JobTeaser. Based in France. Recruitment and education counselling site, built around helping young people find their place in the world and using technology to hand-hold them in their quest for self-fulfilment.
ManoMano. Based in France. A marketplace for products meant for do-it-yourself home improvement, promoting fixing rather than throwing away. Their tech for good extra: a big emphasis on hiring disabled workers.
Min Doktor. Based in Sweden. Doctor services online, meant to make taking care of oneself easier for patients.
Netatmo. Based in France. Designs connected products for homes; claims to ultimately make people’s houses more eco-friendly.
Northvolt. Based in Sweden. Battery developer and manufacturer, founded with the mission to build the world’s greenest battery.
Olio. Based in the UK. Connects people with their neighbours to share food and other things, all with the goal of wasting less.
OpenClassrooms. Based in France. Free education, online, for everyone.
OVH. Based in France. Sees itself as an alternative to Amazon’s cloud, giving Europeans power back over their data: a choice on where it’s stored, and what’s done with it.
Vestiaire Collective. Based in France. Part of the so-called “circular economy”, the platform lets consumers buy and sell second-hand clothing and fashion.
Ynsect. Based in France. Insect farming as a less-polluting meal replacement for animals and fertiliser.