10 Startups Fighting Poverty

Holding hands.

Here at Startup Savant, we love startup culture. What’s more, we really like it when those startups are helping to solve real-world problems like poverty. From rugged routers to farming by SMS — these are the most innovative poverty-fighting startups to put your conscience and dollars behind.

Companies Tackling Poverty

The best businesses don’t just serve to empower consumerism, they help to make the world a better place too. According to WorldVision, globally, 689 million people live in conditions of extreme poverty. So, if you’re thinking of following or investing in a startup, why not make it one that helps fight poverty?

Disclaimer: With so many exciting startups launching and growing worldwide, we aren’t able to cover them all. Furthermore, the startups that are listed below are not officially ranked and are listed in no particular order.

1. Wefarm

Location: London, United Kingdom
Funding: Series A, $32 Million

Wefarm originated in Nigeria as a way for subsistence and small-scale farmers to crowdsource farming resources and knowledge, even without access to the internet. The network works through SMS and gives some of the 500 million smallholding farmers across the world access to invaluable advice even if the region they live in is experiencing political strife or natural disaster.

2. M-Pesa

Location: Mumbai, India
Funding: Corporate Round, $3.5 Million

M-Pesa has recently been acquired by Vodafone. The startup had its roots in Kenya as a mobile money platform, giving users the option to transfer money to friends and family members by using their mobile phones. Such a service is vital to people living in countries where migrant labor for survival is often necessary, and banks may not always be available to send money home.

3. Kiva

Location: San Francisco, California
Funding: Grant, $11.5 Million

Kiva is a peer-to-peer lending platform for entrepreneurs. Lenders earn no interest on the loans they provide but get to follow the progress of the person they’ve assisted, and the payoff is knowing they’ve done a good deed. This startup is currently listed as a nonprofit, but the concept is certainly monetizable for the greater good in the future.

4. UpEnergy

Location: Kampala, Uganda
Funding: Debt Financing, $1 Million

UpEnergy is a Ugandan startup that aims to improve the levels of accessibility to clean drinking water while also educating people on safe methods of cooking and fire ignition. Its current projects include the creation and distribution of high-efficiency water purification systems, stoves, and solar lights in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths per year caused by unsafe practices. The startup prioritizes the use of locally-sourced materials and cooperation at the grassroots community level to help empower local artisans and simultaneously provide life-saving services.

5. Unhoused.org

Location: London, United Kingdom 
Funding: Undisclosed

Unhoused.org is the world’s first online store working to aid homeless people. The London-based social impact startup was founded in 2019 and sells men’s and women’s clothing, sanitary items, dental kits, and even haircuts to the public. For every item purchased, the same item gets donated to a local organization serving the homeless community. The clothes sold on Unhoused are manufactured in a sustainable fashion and are self-cleaning through a technology called “FreshTech” to prevent the infiltration of dirt, liquid, and perspiration. 

6. Wagestream

Location: London, United Kingdom
Funding: Series C, $254.3 Million

Wagestream is a poverty-fighting startup that aims to strike at one of the main causes of employed-person poverty—crippling debt. As the economy across the world has struggled to overcome one hit after the next, loan shark companies have sprung up, offering over-indebted people payday loans at exorbitant interest rates. These loans, however, only serve to perpetuate the cycle of poverty, and this is what Wagestream hopes to target. The company gives workers access to their wages throughout the month (as they are earned) to accommodate ongoing needs. The startup has seen significant investment from the finance community as well as individuals such as Jeff Bezos.

7. BanQu

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Funding: Series B, $11 Million

BanQu is a Minneapolis-based tech startup that has set out to help fight global poverty by supplying a mobile, democratic economic identity to some of the world’s poorest people. Founder and CEO Ashish Gadnis explains that the patent-pending app will help people with the most basic of economic identity assets — birth certificates, identity books, a piece of inherited land — to make that identity portable via the blockchain so that, no matter where they are in the world, they will have access to financial services. The founder also emphasizes that the startup is, and always will be, a for-profit business that simultaneously makes a positive difference in the world.

8. Dot Glasses

Location: Brno, Czech Republic
Funding: Pre-Seed, €1.1 Million

Dot Glasses is a startup that has recognized that poverty is often a vicious circle, particularly when it comes to the cost of medical care, including optometry. When the children of under-resourced families are not able to get access to eyeglasses, their education inevitably suffers, resulting in them having fewer opportunities as adults. For adults in the same position, this may limit their chances of employment. The startup distributes eyeglasses through various channels, including nonprofit organizations, micro-entrepreneurs, and government organizations.

9. FreeWater

Location: Austin, Texas
Funding: Self-funded, $270,000

FreeWater is a social startup on a mission to provide access to water wells for people in need by giving water away for free. By selling advertisements on their paper bottles, FreeWater is able to charge nothing for their product while giving 10% back to charity for every bottle. 

10. Vula Mobile

Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Funding: Seed, $173,000

Vula Mobile is a South African startup focusing on the healthcare sector, specifically in rural areas where there are so few resources available. The company’s product is an app that helps to connect health care workers in the most far-flung areas with specialists based in hospitals in the city via a mobile app.