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    August 23, 2010
    What we’re looking for – Part 1

    At BGV, we’re focused on supporting small teams of people who are building information and communication technology-enabled services that have a social benefit. We’re concentrating on the internet and mobile networks because we think the potential they hold for changing the way we organise our society is only just beginning to be felt.

    Over the coming months, we’ll be writing about specific areas of focus we see as opportunities to do this and some of the things we’re looking for in a team.

    But first we wanted to kick things off with four principles we look for in a great idea:

    1.) Make cooperation easier

    Given the right tools, people are pretty good at organising things. We’re looking for services that use technology to help build capacity in a system and create social value by getting people involved and working together.

    Ushahidi is a great example: the community mapping and visualization tool helps ordinary citizens report and track events in a local geographical area – from monitoring elections to mapping the fallout from natural disasters. Anyone can be a witness and report an incident and Ushahidi organises the information in a way that’s useful.

    2.) Change things structurally, not incrementally

    Rather than simply replicating or improving existing offline systems by digitizing them, we think these technologies offer a huge opportunity to create entirely new ways of doing things. This often means building new services from scratch rather than working through traditional organisations.

    Peer-finance is a growing area. With Zopa you don’t need a bank to get a loan: sign up as a borrower and you can access loans from other people who’ve signed up to lend their cash. Kickstarter helps you fund your next album with the help of the crowd, not your record label.

    3.) Get people off the internet

    It’s not just about pageviews; nothing beats the face-to-face. Internet services that help people get off the internet and back into the real world, meeting other people, are hugely valuable.

    Meetup is the archetypal example of a service using the online world to organise people in real life.

    4.) Make money by providing real value

    We’ll always be looking for a sound business model in the projects we help, but we’ll also be making sure that income is linked to providing real value. That means we’re not looking for ideas that will need to be supported by grants but neither will we support ideas where the income stream might lead the team away from their social goal.

    Patient Opinion, for example, is a feedback system for the NHS whose income stream comes from hospitals and primary care trusts subscribing to the service. It’s free for people to post and read comments, but for tailored information and easier right-to-reply functionality, you have to subscribe.