Oldham tech accelerator to tackle poverty premium

A new generation of tech companies will seek to tackle the high costs of everyday goods and services faced by people living in poverty, thanks to a major acceleration programme that launches in Oldham tomorrow.

Based in the new Open Future_ North accelerator in Oldham, up to seven start-ups a year that are developing products and services aimed at tackle the poverty premium will be supported.

The poverty premium refers to the fact that people in poverty pay more for many everyday goods and services – such as energy, insurance, borrowing, transport and food – than those who can more easily afford them. A 2016 report by the University of Bristol revealed that the poverty premium paid by low-income families is, on average, £490 a year.

Wayra Fair By Design will be run by Wayra UK, a corporate accelerator that is part of the Telefónica Open Future_ network, based at the Open Future_ North facility in Oldham, which opens tomorrow.

Start-ups accepted to the programme will receive around £70,000 in cash and services, including support from investors, mentors and coaches; opportunities to work with Telefónica and its partners; and full access to working space at Open Future_ North.

Wayra said it sees Oldham as an ideal site for tech sector development, given the town’s young and diverse population, investment in regional infrastructure projects, passionate local business leaders and direct transport links to Manchester.

Wayra Fair By Design will be funded and supported by the Fair By Design Fund, a partnership between Big Society Capital, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Finance Birmingham and Ascension Ventures.

The fund has £8m ready to deploy and is seeking to raise up to £20m to invest into companies tackling the poverty premium, both within the accelerator and in separate investments across the UK.

Gary Stewart, director of Wayra UK, said: “It should not cost more to be poor. An entrepreneur’s central task is to offer a compelling, sustainable solution to big problems, and we can think of fewer problems bigger or more worthy of a solution than this one. We are eager to work with start-ups to make real progress in the battle against inequality.”

Wayra Fair By Design is the first step in the Fair By Design Fund’s programme to reduce or even eliminate altogether the UK’s poverty premium by developing and supporting companies that successfully tackle specific areas of poverty, including issues relating to energy, insurance, borrowing, transport and food.

The Fair By Design Fund will be managed by Finance Birmingham and Ascension Ventures, bringing nationwide reach and infrastructure for companies looking for funding in this space.

Jean de Fougerolles, chief executive of Ascension Ventures, said: “From the moment we first spoke to Big Society Capital and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about this initiative, we knew it was something we wanted to be involved with.

“When we understood just how many people in the UK are affected by the poverty premium, we knew that a fund like this has the potential to change lives. We are excited to get going by backing entrepreneurs that are building innovative products and business models that can put some of this £3.8bn annual premium on the poor back into the hands of the people that need it most.”

Open Future_ North is a new acceleration and co-working space designed to scale young digital business in Oldham and across the Greater Manchester area.

Building work on the new facility started in September 2016 and is part of a £1m investment by Oldham Council to help businesses thrive in the town’s Independent Quarter.

The hub’s primary purpose is to help entrepreneurs in the Greater Manchester area develop scalable new tech businesses, which in turn will create jobs and foster economic growth.

Jean Stretton, Oldham Council Leader said: “I’m delighted that this fantastic facility is now officially open, it’s looking great and there’s a real creative feel to the place. It’s so important that we help local, grassroots entrepreneurs and this new venture will bring together the talent, inspiration and investment needed to create a launch pad for new businesses, as well as energising and supporting the local economy. Wayra’s initiative to tackle the poverty premium is commendable and will help to ensure that those in poverty get a fair deal. I shall be watching how the programme develops with interest.”