In our latest Founder Feature, we’ve partnered with the Super Connect for Good Competition powered by Empact Ventures and Hays. We are talking to the Founder of Beam, Alex Stephany, who last month was announced as the competition’s Best UK Tech Startup and overall national winner
Alex Stephany hit upon the idea of crowdfunding to help homeless people after he asked if there was anything more he could do to support them. Beam helps members of the homeless community into careers, enabling them to regain their independence and pride.
Read on to learn more about Beam’s mission and Alex’s remarkable founder journey.
Could you tell us about your company and what you’re striving to achieve?
Beam exists to create a more just society by building radically better services and technology for those most in need. We do this by crowdfunding employment training for some of the most disadvantaged people in society and supporting them into skilled work for the long term. Primarily, we are helping those who are homeless and face barriers to getting into work, for example a lack of skills, education and financial backing to complete training courses.
Businesses and individuals are able to support people into work on Beam’s website, by donating to personalised crowdfunding campaigns and following the progress of those they’ve supported – influencing lives directly from a smartphone.
What is the core technology driving your start-up’s product/service?
Beam uses crowdfunding technology to remove the barriers faced by homeless people or those at risk of homelessness. It’s an approach to solving problems in which many people come together online to make a small contribution to the solution. This technology has enabled us to create a more personal and authentic connection between donors and beneficiaries. For example, each beneficiary can update their supporters on their progress through their Beam Hub, meanwhile supporters can leave messages of encouragement on the Beam newsfeed to spur them on and congratulate them. To date, we have crowdfunded more than £1m in donations, 100% of which helps homeless people pursue stable work in sectors ranging from healthcare to construction.
What made you decide to take on the challenge of founding your business?
Four years ago, I got to know a homeless man at my local Tube station. I’d buy him cups of coffee and pairs of thermal socks when it was getting cold. At one point, he disappeared for weeks and when he reappeared, he looked years older. He told me he’d had a heart attack and had just come out of hospital. Despite the well-meaning gestures from myself and no doubt others, he was clearly in a worse position than ever.
So I began to ask myself what it would take to make a lasting difference to this man’s life. He had never had a job, and was illiterate. For me, the answer lay in empowering him with the skills and training needed to sustainably support himself. Of course, that would cost far more than coffees or socks – but what if everyone chipped in?
The idea of crowdfunding employment training for homeless people was born. There was nothing else like this in the market, and it was clear that existing employment services for homeless people weren’t as effective as they could have been. So over the following nine months, I developed the model gleaning insights from homeless people and charities and Beam launched in October 2017.
How are you measuring your success? What are your metrics?
Naturally, a key measurement of success is how many homeless people we’re able to place into good work. To date, we have supported over 150 individuals into jobs that they can be proud of, in an array of industries from construction to healthcare. However, it’s not just important to place people in jobs. It’s important to measure the quality and longevity of these roles. This is why Beam monitors the average salary of its service-users, and their three-month work sustainment rate.
The average salary of a Beam graduate is currently £25,000, well above the London Living Wage. Additionally, the current work sustainment rate of our graduates is at 75%.
One of our core values is that we’re open and transparent, especially when it comes to our data, metrics, successes and failures.
Beam’s transparency dashboard tracks over 100 data points in real time and is public on our website. This displays how many campaigns Beam has launched, the number of people who have started work, as well as our service rating from our beneficiaries. Supporters are also able to monitor which career paths our beneficiaries transition into and can see a breakdown of Beam’s funding and expenditure.
What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
There are many highlights when it comes to working at Beam. For most of us, this is hands-down the most exciting and fulfilling work any of us have ever done. Our ability to scale quickly has made my work even more exciting, as we continue to see more and more homeless people progress into work.
What’s more, nearly 80% of the time they’re successfully starting work in their chosen career. These happy endings are happening more often than we ever expected, and more frequently with every passing month. Supporters can also transparently see who we’ve helped here.
But the absolute highlight for me is when we see people who are empowered through the Beam model to give back. We’re big believers at Beam in the value of skilled work – and the average salary of people who’ve used Beam is between £25k. It’s amazing to see those individuals choosing to fund new people coming through the Beam model.
Take Pat, for example, who used Beam to train and get into work as a construction site manager. After settling into his new role, Pat set up his monthly donation and is now the patron of a new generation of people using Beam to get into stable, paid work. Like the thousands of others who support people through Beam, Pat gets his own ‘Personal Impact Page’, showing who he helped and how they’re getting on. You can see Pat’s Personal Impact Page here.
What is your plan to adapt if your industry is completely disrupted?
Beam has fully transitioned to a remote service, which fortunately as a tech company has been pretty seamless. We’ve also been able to crowdfund smartphones and laptops for the homeless people we’re supporting, enabling us to connect with them from afar. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we have placed more than 100 disadvantaged individuals into stable work since the first UK lockdown.
Right now, Beam is supporting homeless people into jobs that have seen a surge in demand during the pandemic, provided it’s safe for them to start work. Many of these are key worker roles including warehouse operatives, NHS workers, carers, supermarket assistants and cleaners. While these roles may not require prior training, we’re able to remove other financial barriers such as childcare, travel to and from work, work attire and PPE. We’re also able to fund online training for people. For example, we helped Enya to raise £1,200 to fund an online IT course, laptop and portable WiFi router, so that she can train remotely.
Do you see this as UK centric or will you conquer the world by going global?
Beam currently operates in London, but we have big plans to launch Beam in more cities in the UK and further afield. We’ve created a highly collaborative model that can be scaled to other cities – it’s just a matter of time! If you’d like to see Beam in your city, you can email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to budding innovators taking the same journey?
There’s a lot of talk in the world of startups about ‘disruption’. Personally, I think you can often achieve far more through collaboration with existing organisations. That’s been our approach at Beam from day one when we set out to build a platform that was super collaborative and allows everyone in the ecosystem to play to their strengths.
We work with wonderful charities and forward-thinking government authorities who refer people to Beam. We work with concerned citizens who fund the campaigns, either through one-off or monthly donations. We also work with training providers who provide in-demand skills. Finally, we work with fantastic companies who hire from our talent pool.
So don’t be afraid to collaborate and learn from other founders, organisations and colleagues – you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from one another!
What was it like taking part in the Super Connect for Good Competition? Have the super connections before and after helped you?
The support from Empact Ventures will help us gain more connections with local authorities across the UK who could benefit from Beam’s model. We’re currently having ongoing conversations with these bodies and are looking forward to working with them to solve the UK’s homelessness crisis. We’re also on a big recruitment drive at the moment, and are therefore hoping this award will introduce us to lots of brilliant candidates who want to make a big impact in the world.
To learn more about Beam and Alex Stephany, or to make a contribution, visit: www.beam.org