Issues & Ideas | 24th November 2014

Three pressing policy problems and the start-ups that could solve them

Among the big issues the next government faces, spiralling healthcare costs, food waste and poor procurement […]

Photo: Getty


Among the big issues the next government faces, spiralling healthcare costs, food waste and poor procurement are some of the most pressing.

A £700 billion government machine can’t solve every problem. Could start-ups help?

These three are trying to, using every approach from 24/7 monitoring to bringing groups together and catering to small companies.

Healthcare costs – Sentrian

Long term conditions such as heart disease and diabetes account for 70 per cent of the NHS’s budget as well as over two thirds of the social care budget. Preventing even 10 per cent of hospitalisations for heart disease could save the NHS over half a billion pounds a year. (And given the looming £30 billion NHS funding gap it’s not like we’ve got much of a choice.)

Sentrian uses new biosensor technology to monitor patients with chronic diseases remotely. With the data it gets from these devices, the US startup’s algorithm can predict which patients are most likely to be hospitalised.

Sentrian, which is in discussions to carry out pilot studies with British councils, can even identify when an elderly person is most at risk of falling. With biosensors getting a big name check in the recent NHS Five Year Forward View, expect to see one on a relative in the fairly near future.

Food waste – Food Cloud

Food bank use in the UK rose 168 per cent between 2012-13 and 2013-14, with over 900,000 people receiving emergency food supplies, nearly a third of them children. Yet every year 18 million tonnes of food end up in landfill.

Irish startup Food Cloud finds a use for food waste by connecting supermarkets and restaurants with charities. No, this doesn’t happen already. Yes, it’s a crying shame.

Founded in 2013 by students Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, Food Cloud has already distributed 146 tonnes of food to over 200 charities and signed a deal to take care of Tesco Ireland’s food waste in July 2014.

“The businesses would be paying waste costs to dispose of this food, so instead they’re paying us,” says Food Cloud’s Niamh Kirwan. They make cost savings from it and it also links into their corporate social responsibility.

So, to round up: that’s a) Good for society. b) Good for Food Cloud (ie. they can actually make money without having to rely on donations). c) Good for business.


Poor procurement – TenderScout

Procurement is the process whereby the government employs companies to deliver services. It might not rank high on most people’s list of pressing social problems, but bad procurement is like bad plumbing: if it’s not working properly, everything goes to shit.

Recent examples of procurement blunders include the bidding for the West Coast Mainline franchise, when the deal collapsed because the government got the rules wrong. Less spectacularly, but more typically, this week saw the announcement that two giant private companies would be given the contracts to run the probation service in England and Wales. Third sector organisations were squeezed out because the procurement process was weighted against them.

Irish startup TenderScout opens up the procurement system to smaller companies by giving them the information to compete with the bigger players. “If you’re not in the system it’s very hard to understand,” says Operations Director Padraig Coakley. “That’s the gap we’re trying to bridge.”

The service, which is live in Ireland, will be launched in the UK late this year.

Rowland Manthorpe is the editor of Think Tank Review, a site analysing the best ideas from the think tank world, and a contributing editor to May2015.