About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Lessons from ShareLab: Beam

In 2016 we launched the ShareLab Fund with a call for ideas that made use of collaborative digital platforms to create social impact. We selected eight pioneers who we’ve been working with closely over the last year and a half. Now the process is coming to a close and we’re starting to review the progress made and the lessons learnt. We’re going to be publishing updates as they come along and intend to collate our findings into a formal set of observations and recommendations.

Beam is a social impact business supported by the ShareLab fund to tackle the UK’s growing homelessness crisis. Led by experienced tech entrepreneur Alex Stephany, Beam launched in September 2017.

During the selection process the prospect of a tech start-up working with highly credible expert partners who understand the needs of the vulnerable people they work with inside out seemed radical and potentially very powerful. We were particularly interested in the way Beam empowers previously disenfranchised people by giving them more autonomy over how, when and what they receive in terms of support to move on from homelessness.

The results have been impressive and it's clear that Beam members benefit from the combination of a highly personalised and caring service with the scale, speed and transparency of a crowd-funding platform.

Here the Beam team share their progress, business model and results so far.

How does it work?

Beam is partnered with the UK’s leading homelessness charities, including St Mungo’s and Thames Reach. These charities recommend people for the Beam platform who typically live in homeless hostels and are ready to train up and get into work.

Each referral is then supported to put together an online campaign, which includes their employment plan known as the 'Journey' and an exact budget, from the cost of the course to training equipment and even travel and childcare where these represent barriers.

The individual also writes their own 'story' for the Beam website, giving them an opportunity to have their voice heard and tell their story to the world, as well as showcase their talents and professional aspirations in a highly positive way.

The individual formally joins Beam as a 'member' once their crowdfunding campaign goes live on the Beam website.

screenshot of funding campaigns live on the Beam website

Check out Beam’s current crowdfunding campaigns.

Once the funds are raised, Beam also looks after all the funds on behalf of each member, before purchasing training from the most suitable third party training provider. Beam never hands out cash to members.

But this is not only about tech - it’s also about supporting people with complex challenges. Each member is supported by a 'Member Manager' - a Beam employee who assists them all the way from when they are referred by a charity until they are settled in stable employment.


Beam now makes it easy for you to be part of the long-term solution to homelessness by sponsoring homeless people to train up and get into work.

In short, technology empowers supporters to take a small amount of money and make the smartest possible investment in a vulnerable person’s future as well as see their impact.You can support a single individual or make a 'split donation' between all Beam members with a live campaign on a one-off or monthly basis. The growing majority of funding for members’ campaigns now comes from split donations.

The Beam model is also highly transparent and efficient - with 90% of each donation going on budgeted items - and allows 'supporters' to see their impact via updates on the members’ progress.

10% of each donation is a contribution to Beam’s running costs, but Beam is funded predominantly by grants for now. In the long-run, Beam hopes to find a variety of other revenue streams, including providing services to government.

Most importantly, by breaking down financial barriers to training and education, Beam empowers homeless people to gain industry-recognised qualifications and make the most of their talents and aspirations.

Beam member Pat, now working as a Site Manager

Beam member Pat, now working as a construction site supervisor

Rapid progress

Since launching in September, 24 campaigns have fully funded and there are currently 9 live campaigns. A range of unique career paths are being pursued, from electricians to accountants, teaching assistants and social workers.

By supporting a Beam member, you’ll be joining a network of over 1,500 supporters, more than 300 of whom give split donations each month. Over £90,000 in total has been raised from public donations.

Three of our first members are now in full time employment. Joe is working as a slinger signaller (a technical role working with cranes) on the Northern Line extension at Battersea. Pat is working as a construction site supervisor.

My life has totally changed. It’s beyond my wildest dreams to be here

Pat, Beam member

With Beam, Joe raised £1,132 from 19 supporters in just 5 days for his Slinger Signaller training and Pat raised £1,005 from 30 supporters for Construction Site Manager training.

A collaborative platform

Beam is more than just a fundraising site. It functions increasingly like a social network, directly connecting the public desire to help with those in need. Supporters can leave messages along with their donation, which have been invaluable as a way to build motivation and self-belief for our members. Members now all have their own News feed on their Beam profiles. They can update this throughout their Beam journey, showing the supporters the impact of their donation.

Members have chosen to write messages, send in photos, or create video messages for their supporters. By the end of their journey, members end up with an extremely positive, visual diary of their progress and the ability to inspire others with their story.

Supporters can also login and see exactly where their money has gone on their personal impact page. This transparency shows who the money has gone to to the nearest penny, how many people they have helped and where the members are now on their Beam journey to employment.

In the long-run, Beam will offer tech-enabled volunteering opportunities to smartly match members with the most helpful supporters to further increase the power of the networks they have built using Beam. Each member’s campaign is funded by an average of 163 'supporters' - so let’s use these networks to help members get into work.

Challenges - social financing

We have many challenges, as any startup does, but the biggest is finance. We are building a scalable solution to help millions of disadvantaged people train up and get into work. But even though the benefits to society from that will be immense and hugely economically valuable, financing Beam - despite significant validation, grants from Nesta and the Mayor and large amounts of positive PR - remains a significant challenge.

If you’re interested in funding Beam and being part of a breakthrough innovation that is according to the Guardian 'one of the most exciting innovations for 2018', email [email protected]

Get involved

You’ve heard the story. You can see it works. Now get involved!

Head over to the website to meet the Beam members and see the unique journeys they are each pursuing as they train up, get into work and leave homelessness for good.

Keep being amazing,

The Beam Team

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Jenni Lloyd

Jenni Lloyd

Jenni Lloyd

Programme Manager, Innovation Programmes

Jenni was a Senior Programme Manager, responsible for the development, management and delivery of government innovation programmes.

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Alice Casey

Alice Casey

Alice Casey

Head of New Operating Models

Alice led on a portfolio of work looking at how technology is transforming communities and civic life.

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