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What is impact tech?

“Solutions that place the priority firmly on responsible technology and science as the key driver to address the world’s biggest challenges.” — tech2impact

As you have probably noticed — maybe also just by our name? — our core focus and DNA is impact tech. But what is it actually? Tech startups? Purpose-driven business? Solutions to achieve SDGs? Is it deep-tech or low-tech? And what is “impact”? We have collected and summarized key answers to these questions. You will find below all relevant key points to understand what impact tech is.

How do we define tech?

The tech part of impact tech refers to pretty much any technology or application of science. Therefore, everything ranging from simpler low-tech to high-tech/deep-tech is included in this term. What is also important to mention, is that tech is not only digital application or software but also hardware and bio-based applications.

What is impact anyways?

In order to understand better what impact tech is, it is important to clarify what we mean by impact and that there are different types of impact. “Impact is a change in an important positive or negative outcome for people or the planet.” By assessing the impact and performance of an organization, following the framework of the Impact Management Project, an organization’s impact can be classified into three categories:

  • Act to avoid harm
  • Benefit stakeholders
  • Contribute to solutions
Illustration is taken from Good Tech Lab report (page 34)

At tech2impact we work with the startups, who are focusing on the impact type C- contributing to solutions. They are using responsible tech to build innovative products to create a positive impact on society or/and planet.

What do we mean by responsible tech?

You might be confused now. What is responsible tech and is there any difference to impact tech? Responsible tech is the way we use technology, in which we can ensure that no unintended or consciously planned negative impact is caused by it. Impact tech is the proactive use of responsible technology to create or multiply positive impact.

Good Tech Lab proposes a framework on how the types of impact we’ve learned already from Impact Management Report (A, B, C) can be allocated between responsible tech and impact tech.

Illustration is taken from Good Tech Lab report (page 35)

In a nutshell, all tech solutions should be using responsible technology. Impact tech is an intentional use of responsible technology and science to benefit people and the planet, ideally addressing a major social or environmental problem.

Is there a business case behind impact?

Let’s answer this question by specifying that there are 2 types of impact tech solutions — impact tech businesses and tech non-profits. Both can create a significant impact, but whether to built for profit or not for profit business model around it is up to founders. Unfortunately, the term “impact” is often (mistakenly) thought to be non-profit only. But that’s not the case, there is a growing number of startups and businesses having sustainable business models with the focus on creating impact with their tech solutions.

How do the SDGs fit in here?

Impact is a quite broad and abstract term, therefore it is important to have a framework to measure it and to define the goals to be achieved if we want to improve the current status quo in the world. In 2015 the United Nations created a set of 17 goals for sustainable development to be achieved by 2030. As it is the most broadly known, recognized, and comprehensive and urgent to achieve set of goals, we decided to use the Sustainable Development Goals as framework for tech2impact. There are many other comprehensive and more complex frameworks to measure impact, but it is a topic for another day and a separate blog.

So, now you got a glimpse of what impact tech is — of course, there is much more to it than what we wrote here. This is just a short summary to give you a brief overview of what impact tech is. Check out below our recommendation for further readings if you want to deep dive into the topic.

Now, let’s put theory into practice and show you the real examples of impact tech solutions. Head over to our Impact Tech Radar and meet our incredible members coming from South Korea to Mexico.
PS: If you know great impact tech startups, feel free to recommend them to join our community



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Katharina Buiten

Katharina Buiten


Sustainable development graduate with a passion for new technologies. Trying to live a more conscious life in every aspect - taking care of myself & our planet.