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Social change v social media: Inspiring tomorrow’s entrepreneurs

From Hong Kong, to Singapore and back to Silicon Roundabout – a recent tour of duty across a number of tech events has meant I encountered scores of start-ups across different spheres. One notable theme across all of the events, notable in the most innovative ideas, was social good. When inspiration is driven by a passion for changing people’s lives for the better, not just for profit, ideas seem to take flight and innovation knows no bounds. That is not to say that some of these ideas can’t also make a decent turn, but they have the hairs-on-end excitement that makes you realise they are onto something. Here are three trends I took from my travels at the close of 2017:

Public health inspires pioneers: I was asked to judge the TATA-sponsored university undergraduate entrepreneurship finals, run by NACUE, in November. An incredibly slick group of budding business people presented their potential. Both the highly commended and overall winner were inspired by issues of public health: Twipes – a biodegradable wipe with unique dispersal technology that smashes the competition out of the water (hopefully!); and Motus Innovation, which combines robotics hardware and gamification software to support the path to recovery for stroke victims. Utterly inspirational victors who devised and developed their businesses while studying. Expect plenty more from budding entrepreneurs like these in 2018.

Banking on technology: Finovate Asia, in the hub of commercialism that is Hong Kong, also threw up some interesting ideas around social good. How to use technology to not just support the unbanked, but to unlock enterprising innovation was a major trend. I was impressed with BABB, a startup from Level39, who dubs itself as the ‘world bank for the micro economy’ and has set out to be as much a social movement as a modern financial institution. Its vision is to use blockchain to create a decentralised bank providing anyone in the world with access to a bank account for P2P financial services. This, in turn, will empower innovative business ideas from developing countries with a low % of bank accounts but high a % of mobile phones. The year ahead will no doubt see further development of fintech for the developing world and the micro economy.

A sense of connection: A session at Mumbrella 360 in Singapore looked at AI and connectivity. Origami Labs presented its ORII ring which, when pressed to the ear, uses bone as a conductor to allow you to hear phone calls with less disturbance. The session considered how machine learning can be adapted for creativity and how cognitive computing transcends devices and screens. ORII ring founder, Kevin Wong, shared his story of inspiration around his father’s visual impairment which led him to make a smart device which doesn’t depend on vision.

The whirlwind of November travels drew to a close in East London at Tech London Advocates’ global tech tour where one of the sessions talked on what it means to build a tech hub. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was human values and real life social connections that lay at the heart of real scalability for the tech businesses on the panel.

But isn’t that the point? Social connectivity has made the world smaller. In years gone by an attempt to influence a positive difference on the world was left for celebrities and winners of beauty pageants. Today, anybody with a great idea, the passion to bring it to life and the drive to execute it can make a real difference. So much so that, perhaps in a few years, building a businesses that doesn’t have a social conscious at its heart will be the outlier? But, for now, and with the hope of a new year upon us, it’s worth raising a glass to today’s pioneers, building a brighter future for us all tomorrow. Cheers!

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