Dotforge Impact

Dotforge Impact provides £18,000 of funds for teams creating technology to extend social impact, or tech startups working to improve society. Run in partnership with Key Fund, the most prolific Community Development Finance Institution in the UK, providing a further dedicated fund of £500,000 second round investment, and the RSA extending your network through their 21,000 Fellowship of business and social entrepreneurs from around the world. Free office space at Manchester Central Working during the 3 month programme, and a further 3 months after the programme.


1. The Investment

£18,000 convertible loan note, plus an extra £2,000 you may claim back when you become VAT registered.

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You get a total funding of £30,000 via a convertible loan note, of which £10,000 plus VAT is programme fee and £18,000 is funding to support your company. If you become VAT registered you get the £2,000 back.

2. How much equity do I give up?

Zero. The investment is given to you on an uncapped convertible loan. This means that our investment is only converted to equity at your next priced round of investment, which can be at whatever determined by you and your future investors.

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A convertible loan is considered to be the most entrepreneur friendly way of early stage investing because they are designed to be signed and closed fast. The founders can then get back to the business of building their company.

3. Who will mentor and support me?

The program is run by 500 Startups and Seedcamp alum Colin Tan, founder of Rentlord. He will be your experienced mentor and will be available to coach you on a day to day basis.

You will also be supported by Emily Hill, Dave Thornett of the Key Fund, and Rachel Barker of the Royal Society of the Arts. Together, they can introduce you to entrepreneurs, other organizations, and investors that they feel would be relevant to work with you to help you forward, as advisors or potential customers.

And of course, you have access to the Dotforge family for advice: other who, like you, have executed on their idea and turned it into a bussiness.

4. What will you teach?

We have a 13 week programme developed by Colin focusing on Pitch, Product and Metrics. A key part of this process is pivoting early if necessary, through bouncing your business model in mentor sessions and the one-to-ones.

Once you have refined the business model and target market (the “Pitch” to your own team and eventually an outside investor or customer), we will help you define a meaningful “Metric” that can help you learn about the adoption and growth of your product. Finally, you build “Product” to prove the business model.

You also get workshops on accountancy, legals, intellectual property, plus warm introductions ecosystem.

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This is the broad structure of our program, reflecting the workshops and mentoring sessions you will experience. But the main bulk of your time would be to build your product, get your early customers, and prove adoption. We will always connect you to mentors within our network who may be experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve and give feedback, or even be one of the early adopters of your product.

Month 1 - Product: sessions on business model and metrics
Month 2 - Growth: customer development, legals and accounts
Month 3 - Finance: sources of finance, refining your pitch, presence

5. Who is behind this?

Dotforge Impact is part of the Cabinet Office’s £10M Social Investment Fund, created to seed invest in early stage tech ventures that can make a social impact. It is run by the team behind Dotforge, a tech accelerator based in Sheffield, together with the Key Fund (the UK’s largest regional social investor by deals done) and the Royal Society of the Arts.

6. What is a “tech social venture”?

We define a tech social venture as any company that seeks to use technology to do social good. This is either as it’s ultimate goal, or as a positive effect of its use. The definition is intentionally left broad, because it is broad: the scope is very large, on the one hand, for the startup world to embrace social benefit as one of its values; and on the other hand, for social enterprises to use technology to amplify its impact.

At Dotforge Impact, we consider a startup’s business model as something inseparable from its social impact, because we believe that doing good while doing business is not only good for the world we live in, but also ultimately, is a galvanising force that is good for shareholders, sales and business.

Please join our mission as a mentor, founder or investee, if you too believe in this vision.

See here to read some case studies we have done of tech social ventures and how you could be using these strategies to improve your social impact.

7. Should I apply? What kind of team or company are you looking for?

We are always happy to receive your application, and will try to give feedback to founders to help you forward whether or not we eventually invest in your idea.

These are the conditions under which a team normally joins us:

(a) You are a team of at least 2 persons, one person being technical (usually a backend coder).

Why do we recommend this?

It keeps your burn rate down having tech built inhouse, especially if you have ambitions to create a tech company. It also makes you more investable going forwards, as investors generally like to see a team with complementary skills rather than an individual (unless you are this guy). Bringing a cofounder onboard also signals social proof of your idea, that it is something that more than one person believes in, and therefore suggests the product represents a solution that customers will enjoy-- and not just you. A cofounder also signals some element of "sales" or persuasion has been done already, again, making it more likely that you will be able to execute on the sales or early adoption cofounder?

(b) You are able to commit full time to our programme in Sheffield for 13 weeks. We may make exceptions if you are already a running business or nonprofit, and you have existing customers or a product you need to service.

Why do we recommend this?

Because we have a structured curriculum that aims to give you as much product and business knowledge in a short time, plus connections, feedback and mentors. The programme should be seen as a time to focus. For many teams this would be the first investment monies you receive, and the first time you are literally working together, bouncing ideas off each other in real time as you build the product in real time. Your time in Sheffield should also be seen as a chance for us to get to know you, your product and market, and potentially introduce you to other investors, customers or mentors we know.

(c) The product must have a socially beneficial angle. This does not have to be the core of the startup, but it does need to be one of the intended aims and uses of the product. This is a requirement because we are part of the Social Incubator Fund. If you are an existing startup or team, and would like some advice or product feedback from us how you could make your company more social, please feel free to get in touch.

8. I don't have a protoype yet. Should I apply?

We accept companies at idea stage. However there should be proof that you would be able to execute on your idea and build a company. For example, previous projects you have created or coded (if you are a tech co-founder), or prior industry knowledge.

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The price of hiring a developer is one of your problems. In our experience, a developer can cost between £200 - £600 per day to hire. That’s nearly impossible to work with as a burn weekly rate.

In early stage investing, where there are sometimes no immediate proof of product, traction, or consistent revenue, team is the only criterion for an investor to go on. This means not only the quality and complementary skills of the individual members of your team, but also how you know the project

9. I don't have a tech co-founder. Should I apply?

If your potential social impact is great, and you have a knowledgable team to execute this idea albeit minus a tech co-founder, we will still consider your application. In any case, even if we do invest, we highly recommend that you find a tech co-founder before the programme begins, as it would be expensive and impractical to hire a contractor to work with you to build and iterate upon your product once the programme starts.

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The price of hiring a developer is one of your problems. In our experience, a developer can cost between £200 - £600 per day to hire. That’s nearly impossible to work with as a burn weekly rate.

Contractors also have to fit in your work within their calendar, around work given to them by other clients, which are just as urgent as yours. This makes it hard for you to respond quickly to customer feedback, and acquire more customers.

A third reason is that a contractor is unlikely to sit with you through the workshops and one-to-one sessions within the programme. This means they won’t be able to bounce ideas around with you, and be coached by the technical teachings that you learn during the programme.

One last reason why you should find a technical co-founder is this: a co-founder of any sorts provides social proof that your idea is a good one. It also provides to investors proof of your persuasion skills, and ultimately sales skills. It is also a sign of your resourcefulness.

In early stage investing, where there are sometimes no immediate proof of product, traction, or consistent revenue, team is the only criterion for an investor to go on. This means not only the quality and complementary skills of the individual members of your team, but also how you know the project

10. What teams have you invested in so far?

You can see a list of our teams here.