New digital employment training service for vulnerable people coming to Bristol

AutonoMe is a Bristol-based EdTech provider that combines technology with one-to-one support to improve outcomes for vulnerable people in Education and Social Care. The AutonoMe app gives vulnerable people access to personalised, instructional video programmes to develop and maintain their independence and prepare for employment. It also presents Social Care and Education providers with real-time data to evaluate impact and progress towards independence.

City Funds contributed £150,000 to help AutonoMe roll out a new digital employment training service for vulnerable people in Bristol. We sat down with founder and CEO Will Britton to discuss why impact investment was right for them.

Tell me about AutonoMe: what problem are you trying to solve?

The main problem we’re trying to solve is the challenge that vulnerable people have around developing and maintaining their independent living skills. if you’re a young person and you need help developing cooking skills or cleaning skills, you will have a support worker standing next to you teaching you those skills. And we acknowledge that this is really valuable. What AutonoMe is doing is developing a solution that is a combination of staff and technology. This means that when the staff are not there, the technology is always accessible to provide development towards independence.

Tell me about the major milestones you’ve hit and why you needed investment.

When we started, we were developing our solution for adult social care. But we started to notice that if we supported someone earlier in life and worked with them in school or college, then they wouldn’t probably need us at 35. As a result, we started working on a pathway that spanned social care as well as education and employment. This drove our desire to expand and support this entire pathway with our platform. We needed this funding to help us build out that platform, so we could support people at an earlier stage in their life.

AutonoMe 1

Why did you seek out impact investors, rather than pursue typical sources of investment?

Practically, our industry can be quite slow to adopt, so we were needing a form of investment that was very patient. But more than that, we were keen to work with someone who was not just focused on the finances, but also looking at how much overall value is being derived from the investment.

Internally, we look at things like social return on investment. What is the value for AutonoMe? But also, what’s the impact on our sector as a whole? And what’s the impact of increasing people’s confidence? We felt a lot of alignment with this and the mission-driven local investment ecosystem. When we went out for investment it was very important for us that our investors really understand what’s going on. That’s why we landed on City Funds and Bristol Private Equity Club as two of the key investors in this round.

How are you going to use the funds, and how is that going to benefit Bristol?

We’ve forged a partnership with the City of Bristol College and we’re rolling out AutonoMe to the Brislington Centre. We’re helping students with our platform so when they transition out of college they have that confidence and ability to live more independently.

As of September, we’ll be working with the college to roll out this provision to about 500 EHCP [Education and Health Care Plan] students. AutonoMe will provide benefits to the student, but also potentially to the teachers by providing evidence of learning and progress throughout the academic year and then support them to have good OFSTED outcomes as a result

Congratulations on a successful funding round! What do you know now that you wish you knew when you set out?

It always takes longer than you think. And it changes the whole time. So it’s important to be very clear on what you want out of it. An investor is going to be embedded into the whole journey so it’s important to know who you’re partnering with. Do private investors understand what we’re trying to achieve? Do they get how long that will take? Are they motivated by not just the financial returns, but social as well? It’s important to target the right investors, understand what they want out of it, and what value they can offer in addition to their capital, like networks and opportunities. There’s always more than just financial benefits, and that’s worth exploring up front.

What’s next for AutonoMe?

In addition to our work with the college, we have another project that is developing people’s pre-employment skills. This is supported by UFI, and we’re looking at how AutonoMe can help vulnerable people into paid employment. This is a 12-month project and it’s going very well. The idea is that we can provide support to someone from a very young age for as long as they need us. And it wouldn’t matter what kind of pathway they go through, either social care or the public sector, we would be able to support them along that pathway because we have something we can offer at every step of the way.