Starting Up in the North - RSA

Starting Up in the North


  • Social enterprise
  • Fellowship
  • Technology

The tech community is growing rapidly across northern UK cities. With the recent announcement of Tech North - a major new Northern Futures project which will bring together pockets of excellence in tech industries across the North to form an internationally renowned virtual hub, it’s a very exciting time to be ‘starting up’ in the North.

Last year, RSA Fellow Emma Cheshire approached the RSA to partner with a new social venture that her company, Dotforge, were keen to take forward. Emma established Dotforge in 2012 to invest in and nurture early stage software companies from around the world. Dotforge Impact is the next step; a new accelerator and investment programme for entrepreneurs who want to harness the power of digital technology to realise positive social change.

The programme is set to foster the tech startup scene in the north of England and will be delivered twice throughout 2015 to support early stage digital technology companies seeking to have social impact through their venture. We’re eager for Fellows to contribute to this programme which has great potential to boost the North’s economy.

The programme consists of a 3 month accelerator followed by an 8 month incubation period for up to 24 startups. Eleven teams making up the spring cohort of the Dotforge Impact Accelerator are almost half way into the three month programme, supported by The RSA, Key Fund and The Cabinet Office. Teams from around the world joined Dotforge in Sheffield, Yorkshire at the beginning of March 2015, supported daily (and often nightly) by the Dotforge community to grow their tech-for-good startups through funding, workshops, mentoring, tech, business & social expertise, as well as the working environment to progress product and business development. Teams include:

Open Cinema, led by Christoph Warrack FRSA and Neil Patel, enables communities to turn any space into a cinema. Open Cinema are developing an app to further progress their aim for cinema anywhere, for anyone.

Chummunity, made up of Jelena Ribić, Helena Habdija, Sasa Eldović and Sasa Popović, connects freelance writers and people who have a story to tell.

PiP Payments includes Ollie Walsh, Julian Callaghan, Rory Ryan and Brian McNally, providing a solution which enables offline, cash payments to be made for online purchases.  

Mobile Power (Jono West, Danny Ballam, Chris Longbottom & Isobelle Logan) aim to provide a clean, affordable and sustainable source of electricity to the off-grid market in the developing world.

As Regional Coordinator for the RSA based in and working across the North, I’m leading on Fellow engagement with the programme, so I’ve been working closely with teams and connecting them with the skills of our Fellowship. A brief introduction to each team can be found here.

RSA Fellow and friend of Dotforge, Claire Braithwaite (entrepreneur, ClearlySo CFO and newly announced Head of Tech North) recently delivered an inspirational fireside chat with the teams, who came out of the session bright eyed during their lack-of-sleep launch week.

A couple of weeks ago, RSA Fellows joined Dotforge Impact in Sheffield as mentors for pitch days; Fellows-turned-Dragons made up social enterprise, technology and business expertise panels, feeding back to teams about their tech-enabled products and presentations. James Garnett reflects on the day, encouraging others to get involved with the Dotforge Impact Accelerator, as well as sharing skills to help Fellows’ projects.

Lilian Barton, Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University and award winning strategic and creative marketing professional commented that it was a pleasure being a mentor:

It’s often been said that mentors are startups’ secret weapon.  Being a mentor is always a rewarding experience and I was only too happy to support Dotforge especially as I heard so much about the initiative from its early stages.  The selection of ventures pitching was broad and their enthusiasm and infectious determination was clearly evident.  Not only was I impressed by the standard of ideas but also by their stamina in having to run through their pitches again the next day.


Yorkshire based Fellow Adrian Ashton, who recently won an international award for his support to the social enterprise sector also joined us for a pitch day: 

Being part of a panel of people who were coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and current roles was also exciting in helping to prompt me to consider alternative perspectives that I might not otherwise have.

I was also impressed at the initiative of Deliverd - in their feeding us lunch as part of the illustration of their future product ranges.

Thanks also go to Dan Zastawny, Elodie Draperi and Cathy Varley for joining our social enterprise pitch day, and to Rod Hyde, Jim Ferguson, Toby Rhodes, David Floyd and Dave Thornett for sharing business enterprise knowledge and feedback on our second pitch day.

Get Involved

The response from the teams has been rewardingly positive, each valuing and responding to the input from our Fellows – including those offering skills and support remotely through skype and email conversations. Fellows have described their involvement with the accelerator so far as engaging, thought-provoking, challenging and enlightening; if you’re interested in connecting with the Dotforge programme and would like to contribute to the startups’ learning, please contact Rachel Barker.

Dotforge Impact will be running a second accelerator programme in 2015, which is now open for applications. Tech-driven social entrepreneurs are invited to apply for the opportunity to receive £30,000 in funding and powerful business connections to aid positive social change. For more information, please get in touch.

Follow teams’ progress and FRSA engagement @theRSAnorth and @dotforgeimpact
Dotforge Impact Accelerator was recently featured on Business Quarter.

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