Tech to Connect Challenge

Looking to find ways that tech can tackle social isolation and loneliness

What was the Tech to Connect Challenge?

The Tech to Connect Challenge was a £1 million prize looking to help civil society develop their early stage ideas for tech that enables more or better interactions between people. Tech can be alienating or divisive for those that are isolated, so we wanted to help civil society translate their knowledge into good ideas for new ways to connect people. The Challenge was funded by DCMS and delivered by Nesta Challenges with support from the Developer Society.

Why did we run the Challenge?

Social isolation is measured by the strength of a person’s social connections, and therefore the lack of these connections denotes social isolation. It’s distinct from loneliness, which is a “subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship”. In an age of social media, there has never been more technology that connects us with one another. Though we think there’s space for technology to do more. That’s why we wanted to support civil society organisation – England’s charities, social enterprises and social ventures – who were working on new ideas of tech for good. The Tech To Connect Challenge gave these organisations the resources they needed to bring their innovative ideas to life.

What were we looking for?

We were interested in any and all solutions that could reasonably be expected to have a measurable impact on social isolation in England. These could have been digital technologies that augment the way people interact with organisations or ideas that could enhance the way isolated people interact with each other. We were also looking for innovative back end solutions that could help to improve the service delivery of an organisation, clearly supporting the reduction of isolation in communities in England. The solutions did not have to be digital, but it was expected that the finalists would develop a prototype by the end of the innovator support package provided by the challenge prize.

What happened?

Applicants were asked to detail a problem related to social isolation in England and their idea for how technology can help to address it. The solutions could have been direct (‘this is how we plan to change the interactions between people’) or indirect (this is how we plan to improve the service we offer people face-to-face).

Ten Finalists each received cash grants of £25,000 to use in the development of their prototype solutions; from these finalists, two runners up each received a £75,000 cash prize and one winner received a £100,000 cash prize.

In 2016 to 2017...

5% of UK adults reported feeling lonely “often” or “always”. Loneliness is a “subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship”

Social isolation is...

the state of being deprived of social relationships that provide positive feedback and are meaningful to the individual

UK figures show that...

socially isolated people are 3.5 times more likely to enter local authority funded residential care

Impact of the Challenge

  • 90% of finalists stated that they were able to develop their solutions faster as a result of being part of the Challenge
  • 90% of finalists found the experience of taking part in the Challenge either good or very good and enjoyed the experience
  • 55% of finalists felt that had built, developed and/or improved their skills and capabilities due to taking part in the Challenge
  • Over 70% of finalists were able to further develop their business model as a result of taking part in the Challenge
  • The majority of finalists agreed that the Challenge helped to raise awareness about the potential of technology to solve social isolation

Read the Tech to Connect final report


YANA: You Are Not Alone

YANA is an online web platform created by the community interest company Chayn, and provides a safe space for people to access details of local shelters, sexual violence units, lawyers and therapists, to build a more connected system of support for sexual assault survivors suffering from isolation.


Mirthy is a web platform to enable older adults to stay active whilst remaining independent at home, by connecting under-utilised communal spaces in retirement housing schemes with those people looking for social clubs.

The Chatty Cafe Scheme reduces loneliness and gets people talking by encouraging venues to designate a Chatter & Natter table, via their web application. Chatty Cafe already has partnerships with Costa and Sainsburys, and 73 other venues have joined through the website since January 2020.

An additional grant of £25,000 from The Pargiter Trust was awarded to Music Memory Box, an innovative kit to support and connect people with dementia and their loved ones. It combines sensors, sentimental objects and photographs to link to songs, helping to unlock and recall memories in a simple and tactile way.

The team

Janet Southern McCormick

Programme Manager

Caroline Pradier

Programme Manager

Gary Fawdrey

Assistant Programme Manager

Piotr Gierszewski

Senior Researcher

Related content

Announcing the winner of the Tech to Connect Challenge


Tech to Connect Challenge: Finalist Showcase



The Tech to Connect Challenge: Impact and Insight


The Tech to Connect Challenge: Origin and Design


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