South Yorkshire: decent lodgings for impact startups

By Samantha Deakin Hill

“It’s time that we pivot the idea of a unicorn. Let’s think about 1bn also meaning positively impacting 1bn people.”

 A recent Sifted article hit close to home and had me drawing parallels with the social impact scene in South Yorkshire.

 Stockholm in Sweden is the ‘home of impact startups’ with impact startups raising €3.6bn of venture capital in 2021. Last year, there were 460 impact startups in Sweden.

 I’ve been working with founders in South Yorkshire for over a decade now and social enterprise has always been woven into the entrepreneurial culture here. It feels as if it’s part of the Sheffield identity. There has often been a tussle and debate over impact vs profit and growth (such dirty words!), but what Stockholm shows us is what many of us already knew – social impact and high growth are NOT mutually exclusive.

 It is OK to be mission-driven and raise venture capital investment. It is OK to have social impact at the core of the business and have exponential growth.

 The article mentions Sweden’s reverence for the environment, something I felt keenly when I moved to Sheffield in 2006 for university, in awe of all the parks and trees making this big city feel like a collection of little villages. Only last year, Sheffield was named the greenest city in the UK by the Natwest Green Cities Report.

 As in Sweden, Universities play their part in our region too with research centres such as the Centre for Energy, Environment and Sustainability at The University of Sheffield. Sheffield Hallam’s recent innovation conference focused on Green Futures research, climate change and the net zero agenda.

The Electric Vehicle industry is also a growing sector across the UK and Europe and South Yorkshire has some notable startups in this space. Mina, the EV charging company has its headquarters in Sheffield and raised £2m in 2020, further funding in 2021 and 2022, and has a valuation of over £6m. It now has official B-Corp status. 

 But impact isn’t just about climate. South Yorkshire cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of its residents too. World class assets are available to entrepreneurs through an accelerator programme run out of the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre (AWRC). In fact, an impressive health and wellbeing cluster is starting to form around the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park. Well Rotherham supported local people with great ideas to support their local community.

 P4SY Precision Medicine Accelerator South Yorkshire, has attracted a number of high growth potential impact startups to the region, including Holly Health, who recently raised investment through the South Yorkshire Angel Hub, a collaboration between TEAM SY and NorthInvest.

 South Yorkshire is also home to Unrest North, a social impact accelerator in the TEAM SY family that works with mission-driven B2C startups to develop their brand, grow fast and scale their impact. Later this month, Unrest and TEAM SY are hosting a Tech for Good event at the Barnsley DMC, with a panel made up of social impact startups in the region, including Tickets for Good and FutureGreens.

It’s the culture of caring and collaboration in South Yorkshire that draws you in and back, even when you’re miles away. The social investor, Key Fund Investments, has its headquarters here. South Yorkshire Housing Association has its own Social Value Fund. And there are multiple networks such as the Sheffield Social Enterprise Network and the Social Enterprise Exchange to share ideas, challenges, or even just some fresh air.

Like Stockholm, we’re impacted by things not fully in our control – national policymaking immigration policy, taxation, patenting law, etc. I don’t know the stats on impact startup teams and how many of them are woman-led… I imagine they’re not much, if at all, better than the standard startup stats. And the same goes for social impact investing in the region. It’s something to work on.

There’s a lot to be learned from our European cousins (not least the ways that so many cities successfully engage the public sector in the nurturing of startup ecosystems). But South Yorkshire is an incredibly exciting place to be for tech startups right now, including those with mission at their core. And if Stockholm can call itself the ‘home of impact’ for startups, I think South Yorkshire offers pretty decent lodgings too. 

In putting together this article, I’m aware there are so many great organisations, initiatives and startups in this space that have been missed. Please do give them the shout out they deserve by commenting on this post with a LinkedIn tag or a URL.