Who will invest in humane tech?

Granted it’s an emerging market category, have you seen any angels/funds/foundations express interest in supporting this type of work?

Every week another prominent investor or former insider comes out in opposition of whatever they were involved with creating. But from personal experience and conversations with other startups in the space, it’s really challenging to connect with the resources (whether $ or advising/mentorship) we to build humane products and fuel the movement.


The federal agencies NEH and NEA offer grants for the development of digital projects. Here is the link to NEH’s page.

These are not for commercial projects, but you might find the page worthwhile reading nonetheless.


This may be less related to what you’re talking about, but perhaps it will spark ideas about partnerships.

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I’m afraid grants have an awful track record with tech startups because it encourages the wrong things. Grants encourage companies to spend more time chasing more grants instead of making a product which is self-sufficient.

Note: I have 10 years in the field plus a Master’s degree in this specific subject.


I do hope we see more grants and/or PRIs in this space. There are dozens of foundations supporting nonprofit and forprofit organizations in mental health digital citizenship, k-12 edu…


So far the Zebras Unite community has demonstrated the most interest in supporting humane design and business, but it’s small and the few investors that have revealed themselves don’t have a specific focus on humane tech.

It’s worth reading up on some of the alternative financing models promoted by the community e.g. revenue based financing and equity redemptions. If part of the problem here is growth at all costs, what are more ethical and sustainable ways to create and grow businesses?


This is not only a problem in the tech world; the nonprofit sector is guilty of this too. When an organization relies too much on grant money, they find themselves designing programs that will fit into current grant opportunities rather than seeking out grants that match their work. When this happens, grantmakers effectively decide the direction of their work. No nonprofit would ever admit to this, but it definitely happens.


Many nonprofit organizations depend on grants. And it’s probably true that such grants determine their programming.

In the case of the organization I work for, we come up with projects first and then try to find funds to support them. Luckily, we have a publisher (we’re a university press journal) that has made it possible for us to earn revenue through online publication. Institutions around the world subscribe to our journal through two digital repositories (I hope that is the right word), thus making it possible for us to earn enough to fund production. Interestingly enough, about two-thirds of our subscribers are outside the U.S.; some of these are African countries that get a subsidy to cover subscription.

We apply for grants mainly to support our staff and pay our contributors. Because we are an international journal, we occasionally apply for funding from foreign agencies, which adds another layer of complexity to our operations.

On a few occasions, we have modified a project to fit the requirements of a grant, it’s true. For the most part, though, I can say we are editorially driven–not driven by fiscal or marketing requirements.

Absolutely thanks for sharing this. It looks like Zebras Unite is well ahead of this community. Though their approach is different, it’s great to see they’re getting founders involved. I wish this had existed earlier. I see it as an ecosystem for small startups which are a bit more “normal” than the crazy and insular Silicon Valley startups.

My philosophy has always been no investment. If people are really passionate about something, fine they will go and do it out of their own goodwill. If they seek investment then they are already admitting that they want to sell out. There’s nothing wrong with selling out – except for the creation inhumane products under inhumane conditions.

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Agreed re: value of ecosystem. It’s tremendously helpful to create community and shared values/language around ideas that many of us have been thinking about for while. I see a lot of overlap between Zebras and CHT.

Disagreed re: seeking investment means intention to sell out. There’s a wide variety of investment vehicles available to align with a founding team’s business model and vision. Unicorn/VC culture typically necessitates an exit event, but those deals represent a small portion of all investments in new ventures. Most are debt or like the aforementioned hybrid debt/equity models with different terms. And then there’s bootsrapping!

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I found this interesting article that - while more on ‘hard tech’, I think has wider applicability as well: The Silicon Valley Myth:

Policymakers point to venture-funded entrepreneurship as a solution for all manner of problems. This is a dangerous mindset. The Silicon Valley model, for all of its charms, was developed for a specific industry, at a specific time, which was developing a specific set of technologies […]

We’re now entering a new era of innovation and that model doesn’t quite fit as well as it once did. We need to develop a new innovation ecosystem to stay competitive in the 21st century. […]

What startups need to get off the ground are not large markets, but a hair on fire use case, somebody with a problem that they are desperate to solve. […]

Clearly, the core of this ecosystem will be the loose network of federal government programs and nonprofit foundations that helped Opus 12 get started.

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Great find! I’m in the process of drafting a blog post on “humane business” to encapsulate some of these themes.


At least yesterday, Barron’s had a very good article about investors evaluating risks of the FAANG companies. OK yes this magazine is not free on the net unless you pay to subscribe. Most city dwellers live within 10 miles of a library that probably subscribes or can provide access via ILL to it.



Thanks for sharing, Jill. I didn’t read the article, but Apple also has its issues. It’s true that their business model is more about hardware and (well-)paying customers, but on the other hand where they collect data, the iCloud, they have much less scruples to give that away, breach privacy, to earn the extra buck. Like they did in China for Chinese customers, giving data access to the Chinese government. This while Google - the biggest data harvester and ad-based - decided to protect privacy and pull out of China.

The Apple thing even led Amnesty International to start a campaign against them:


Hey guys,

following up on the thread regarding startup funding. Do you know any VCs or funds specialized in financing startups that have a social / ethical goal such as B-Corp or Cooperatives? I am talking about financing for profit companies that look at making profit while being ethical and pursuing common good.

We have been talking in the past about other solutions to finance your startup such as crowdfunding, grants or loans but I am trying to investigate if some VCs or funds are also a possibility here. Maybe there are no dedicated VC or funds bu some might allocate a % of their investment to such projects.

Thanks for your help!

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Here is a pretty good list of the humane things Big Money is interested in:


  • carbon removal technologies
  • clean meat
  • cleaner commodities
  • computer security
  • diversity
  • education
  • energy
  • future of work
  • government 2.0 ( education, affordable housing, healthcare, food, physical safety, accurate news and information, a social safety net, and a liveable environment)
  • improving memory
  • longevity
  • one million jobs
  • safeguards against fake video
  • supporting creators
  • transportation and housing
  • underserved communities

Note that there are no “apps” on the list. :slight_smile: My own opinion is that if you are interested in software, there is a lot that falls under “computer security”, from improving privacy to creating ethical, open, private and secure versions of all the major software we still use every day.