Long reads

The start-up companies that will change the way you work (maybe)

12 Jul 2018 By Eleanor Whitehouse

People Management offers you a glimpse into the future with 10 hand-picked start-ups promising to revolutionise HR

Since the world’s first iteration of the smartphone – IBM’s Simon Personal Communicator – appeared on the market in 1992, technology has been slowly ingratiating itself ever further into our lives, solving problems we didn’t know we had.

And HR and L&D haven’t been immune to the rapid acceleration of workplace technology. Whether it’s chatbots that can do your recruiting for you, or machine learning systems that spot engagement issues in the workforce before you do, hundreds of enterprising start-ups are busy creating the next big things in HR technology.

But amid the glut of venture capital cash, which young businesses will make it on to your radar over the next few years? People Management consulted industry experts and trawled prospectuses to come up with a list of 10 of the most exciting start-ups out there. While we can’t guarantee they’ll all be winners – and no endorsement of any individual company should be implied – they’ve certainly got the chutzpah to question the way we all do business. 

Use AI as your recruitment assistant

Olivia

  • Founded: 2016
  • Based: Arizona, US

Recruitment chatbot Olivia, from developers Paradox, offers “personal candidate engagement at scale”, promising to reinvent the hiring experience and iron out inefficiencies at every stage of the recruitment process by capturing and screening applicants, organising interviews and answering questions. She boasts an application completion rate of more than 90 per cent, and can intelligently send ‘green light’ candidates straight to recruiters.

It isn’t a wholly original idea, but what marks Olivia out from the pack is both the ‘human’ nature of its interface – the chatbot is modelled on founder Aaron Matos’s wife, who shares its name – and the number of large US organisations already using it, including Delta Air Lines and Staples. 

Matos spent more than eight years in HR before moving into the start-up arena, and is also the brains behind several other recruitment-based companies. 

Assess hires with gamified virtual reality

Actiview

  • Founded: 2016
  • Based: Israel

With the market seeing an influx of companies offering gamified candidate assessments, Israel-based Actiview is taking the idea one step further with Assense, its virtual reality assessment platform. Assense says it uses machine learning to spot behaviours and characteristics from the way candidates complete its ‘games’, and evaluates their skills and competencies across categories including cognitive ability, integrity, motivation and approach to work.

This gives recruiters a “full picture” of the applicant’s suitability for the role, team and organisation, it says, as well as the ability to “predict success” and make hiring decisions backed up by data. The platform also lets candidates glimpse what working life is like at the company with a virtual reality tour. 

This is proving to be a bumper year for Actiview; the firm secured $6.5m in financing, allowing it to expand its workforce from 30 to 50 (pictured), five of whom are based in London. The next challenge will be cracking a notoriously competitive market for assessment tools – around a third of all AI-enabled HR products are competing in the recruitment arena, according to experts CognitionX.

Put an end to harassment with the power of blockchain

Vault

  • Founded: 2017
  • Based: London

In the era of the #MeToo campaign, and with an estimated 79 per cent of sexual harassment cases going unreported, employers are waking up to the fact that they need to do more to surface instances of sexual harassment and encourage victims to speak out.

Enter Vault, the world’s first blockchain-powered anti-harassment platform made specifically for the workplace, launched at the height of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It allows employees to log instances of harassment and bullying, which are collated and fed (at the user’s choice) directly to the right person in HR – all totally anonymously – with the aim of encouraging more victims to come forward.

The use of blockchain technology makes it tamper-proof and completely secure, cementing the crucial trust users need for the system to work as intended. By cross-referencing reports, Vault can also ascertain whether other victims are experiencing harassment by the same perpetrator – seen as key to encouraging more people to speak out.

Founder and CEO Neta Meidav cites inadequate processes for recording complaints, and a lack of trust in current HR reporting channels, as the inspiration for setting up the company.

Crunch data to determine cultural fit

ThriveMap

  • Founded: 2016
  • Based: London

Straight out of Croydon and barely two years old, ThriveMap promises to eliminate hiring mistakes and put people analytics “back in the hands of everyday managers” by comparing potential candidates’ cultural preferences to the organisation’s and predicting whether new hires will fit in well and – you guessed it – thrive.

Its cultural fit assessment, which uses organisational psychology to measure five cultural parameters – decision-making, career progression, working style, measuring performance and team interaction – takes as many minutes to complete, and the data is represented in easy-to-understand visual charts. It also offers managers insights into how their team members prefer to work to improve performance. 

May 2017 saw ThriveMap’s co-founders, Chris Platts and Mark Hla, win more than £128,000 in seed funding through Belron’s Drive start-up accelerator, leading to matched funding from the UK Coast to Capital fund.

Personalise employees’ L&D budgets 

Sunlight

  • Founded: 2016
  • Based: California, US

Learning platform Sunlight is a one-stop shop for learning and development, putting employees in control of their own L&D budget with a choice of thousands of online courses, books and events from a curated library of content. And if it isn’t already in the library, they say they’ll get it for you.

Admins receive real-time updates of staff purchases, and can determine their own level of control to fit with the organisation’s policies; for example, allocating spend on a monthly or annual basis, limiting content to certain formats or ensuring requests require prior approval. The platform also generates custom reports, so managers can easily see their L&D spend broken down by individual or team.

Sunlight offers integration with existing platforms such as Slack, as well as its own API. Could it make the dream of user-centred learning a reality?

Unleash the science of employee engagement

VibeCatch

  • Founded: 2015
  • Based: Finland

Plenty of businesses are attempting to disrupt the ritual of the annual engagement survey by capturing employee satisfaction in snappier ways. VibeCatch’s USP is that it utilises Slack (as well as email) to fire out snapshot surveys to staff – allowing managers, it says, to proactively identify shortcomings in culture and act on minor issues before they become big problems.

Based on the Quality of Work Life framework by Professor Marko Kesti, an academic specialising in HRM performance, VibeCatch uses 15 “strategically selected” questions and promises to pinpoint “weak signals” among a workforce that other survey platforms fail to pick up on. 

Build a better culture by showing your appreciation

Disco

  • Founded: 2015
  • Based California, US

Formerly known as Growbot, Silicon Valley-based Disco aims to build a “culture of appreciation” by allowing teams to recognise the contributions each member makes to the organisation – whether that’s nailing a client presentation or bringing in cakes for colleagues – by awarding ‘stars’. Think of it as an electronic pat on the back.

Integrating with Slack, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams (with more platforms on the way), Disco measures and records all feedback in customisable dashboards, letting managers know about good things going on in their organisation that they otherwise might not hear about. The data can also be exported for use in other formats, and optional team leaderboards throw in a bit of healthy competition.

The results are displayed clearly in a dashboard for managers, who can tangibly track engagement – not just survey scores – over time, and link it directly to productivity and profit.

Co-founder and CEO Juha Huttunen told Forbes that he created the first version of VibeCatch to check in with the remote-working employees of another of his businesses, before realising it had potential in its own right. The company began rolling out in the UK in May 2018 after gaining several clients in the Nordics since its launch, and has recently been awarded €600,000 in funding from two Finnish investment firms.

Understand productivity in real time

Worklytics

  • Founded: 2015
  • Based: New York, US

Rather than adding yet another platform to most companies’ ever-growing raft of digital tools, Worklytics taps into their existing apps – including Microsoft Office 365, Google Suite, Dropbox Enterprise and Slack – to analyse productivity, collaboration and engagement in real time and feed back to managers.

Created by three engineers who met while working at Spanish social network and mobile operator Tuenti, Worklytics was borne out of their need to manage engineering and product teams “without the appropriate tools”.

Rather than just keeping an eye on how much time employees spend on Twitter, it analyses how they spend their day across collaboration platforms, and identifies any improvements that could be made, such as unproductive meetings or someone doing too much overtime.

Monitoring tools, of course, make plenty of employees (and organisations) nervous, given the potential to misuse their findings. Worklytics stresses that it gives strictly objective feedback and supplements others forms of managerial observation rather than replacing them. 

Stop using multiple HR platforms

CharlieHR

  • Founded: 2015
  • Based: London

It’s hard to sum up CharlieHR’s purpose when it’s been done so well in the tagline: ‘Building a company is hard. Running one shouldn’t be.’ Founded by serial entrepreneurs Ben Gateley, Rob O’Donovan and Tom Carrington Smith, it aims to solve challenges the three came across when setting up other businesses – namely, headaches and wasted time caused by unnecessary HR admin, they say. 

Aimed at fellow start-ups and small companies, it makes the almost too-good-to-be-true promise to “get rid of HR admin” and automates several otherwise time-consuming processes, including holiday and sickness absence, employee records (it’s GDPR-compliant, of course) and onboarding, even down to the small-but-important birthday and work anniversary reminders. It’s also the place employees go to access company policies and other documentation.

With a full reporting suite available, managers can download any report they need in a few clicks, living up to its promise to give them “more time to do more of what matters”. Helpfully, the system also integrates with existing enterprise collaboration platforms such as Slack, Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook.

CharlieHR was awarded £1m in funding in 2016, and now has more than 3,000 companies using its platform. 

Spot the signs of mental fatigue in the workforce

Performetric

  • Founded: 2015
  • Based: Portugal

Looking after employees’ mental wellbeing has rightly moved higher on employers’ agendas recently, but unless they encourage open conversation among their workforce, they’re still often none the wiser if their people are struggling.

Performetric, on the other hand, claims to be able to spot signs of mental fatigue in workers without them needing to say a word. The software tracks interactions with their keyboard and mouse ‘non-invasively’, including typing speed, movement accuracy and keypress duration, while running in the background and requiring no data entry or interaction.

It uses machine learning to build an individual profile of each user, and looks out for warning signs on the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine Mental Fatigue Scale – when it spots something worrying, it alerts the user that they’re at risk of burnout, and makes recommendations to improve performance.

Three months after officially launching in 2015, Performetric secured funding from investors Hovione Capital and eggNEST.

Career Coach and Employer Engagement Manager

Career Coach and Employer Engagement Manager

Oxford, Oxfordshire

Grade 8: £40,792 - £48,677 with a discretionary range to £53,174 p.a. (plus 30 consultancy days)

Saïd Business School

HR Manager

HR Manager

Sheffield, South Yorkshire

circa £39,000 per year

Sheffield Theatres

HR Director

HR Director

Yorkshire or Heathrow

90k- 100k

Evans Taylor

View More Jobs

Explore related articles