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Plexal unveils plans for OpenDoor design incubator to promote social inclusion

The UK’s largest innovation centre, Plexal, has unveiled plans to launch an inclusive design incubator, called OpenDoor.

The initiative, a collaboration between Plexal’s Social Inclusion Unit and the engagement charity My Life My Say, will launch in September and seek to find technological solutions to issues that make it harder for underrepresented groups to participate in society.

Up to 12 founders will be selected to join a four month incubation programme at Plexal’s home in the old broadcasting and press centre in the Olympic Park. The successful candidates will benefit from free work space, masterclasses, mentoring and a tailored programme to support a particular business goal, such as developing technology or securing funding.

Plexal’s managing director, Andrew Roughan, is hoping to raise between £250,000 and £1m from corporate backers for a series of challenge funds focused on different aspects of inclusion. He is already in talks with Barclays and Microsoft, which sent representatives to the launch of Plexal’s Social Inclusion Unit on Thursday (4 April).

The incubator will also aim to connect big tech companies, as well as organisations such as Transport for London, with startups to see how they can provide technological solutions to inclusion challenges.

“By launching OpenDoor, we intend to help scale the impact of innovation, build on what works and address the gaps,” said Roughan. “What we want to create here is a centre that causes change and drives a product dividend. It’s our belief that long-term sustainability needs to balance financial viability with social purpose.”

The Social Inclusion Unit carried out research ahead of its official launch which found that only 30 per cent of people believe technology will help excluded people to participate in society, while more than half believe they have a responsibility to do so. The survey also suggested that Brexit may have an impact on social inclusion, with 72 per cent of respondents saying they feel the UK has become less tolerant.

Commenting on the findings, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The SIU’s mission is to bring the voices of the people who are typically excluded to the forefront, to support innovations that allow them to participate more fully in society and to work with industry to enact measures that deliver tangible improvement to social inclusion.”

“This work is especially urgent given the challenges ahead with Brexit: we cannot allow our exit, or the debate around the terms of our exit, to make social inclusion any worse,” he said. “We cannot let inequality and alienation become normalised, or look to everyone else to pick up the slack.”

The OpenDoor project is one of a number initiatives launched by Plexal to try to address a diverse set of challenges. It has run programmes to boost the number of female founders in the tech industry, address British startups’ failure to scale and minimise the impact of roadworks. It also has a long-running cyber security accelerator.

Applications for the OpenDoor programme will open on 3 June.