Vodafone launches 8th Annual Wireless Innovation Project

Vodafone Americas Foundation holds an annual contest to promote innovation in the mobile/wireless technology space. They're now accepting entries for their 8th competition.

2015 Vodafone Americas Foundation Annual Wireless Innovation Project winners.
Image: Vodafone

I wrote last June about a contest called the Wireless Innovation Project (WIP) held by the Vodafone Americas Foundation, part of global telecommunications company Vodafone's global network of foundations. The goal is to promote the development of mobile and wireless technologies to help humanity and the environment via new and creative endeavors. Winners and runners-up receive cash prizes; first place merits $300,000, second place $200,000 and third place $100,000, which are paid out over the course of three years.

Last year's winner was the California Institute of Technology for their SEVA Sustainable Sanitation project, which can treat dirty water and utilizes a monitoring and maintenance system. The second place prize went to a company called WellDone which create a tool called MoMo to track water flow rates through cellular data. Third place was earned by MIT D-Lab for its USB-based mobile stethoscope and correlating diagnostic app.

In addition to the benefits of devising technological solutions to assist people in need, prize winners often go on to bigger and even more meaningful projects as the result of the funds and publicity they receive.

I received the following feedback from Cody Finke, the co-lead of the Cal Tech project which won first prize last year.

Scott Matteson: "Any specific reflections about your involvement in the program last year?"

Cody Finke: "While WIP was a very challenging competition, it was also extremely open across all competitors. The judging is fair and they tell you exactly what they want throughout the competition. In the end, they choose the most relevant and most tested projects."

SM: "How has WIP set your project up for future success?

CF: "We are very excited to partner with Vodafone through WIP. We believe that the contacts and resources that Vodafone has exposed us to will help us immeasurably as we move our project forward. In fact, since our participation in WIP, we have already been contacted by several potential investors."

Vodafone launched its 8th WIP earlier this week and are now accepting submissions for "wireless-related solutions with the high potential to solve today's most challenging issues - from sanitation to healthcare." The application process will run until February 27, 2016, and the winning entries will be announced in June of 2016.

Vodafone's online WIP application can be found on their site, which has these stipulations:

  • "The competition is open to nonprofit organizations, universities, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and social entrepreneurs with a 501(c)(3) status. If you are not a nonprofit, you must have a nonprofit partner."
  • I spoke via email with June Sugiyama, the Director of Vodafone Americas Foundation about the WIP competition.

    SM: "Anything specific you are hoping to see in this year's competition?"

    June Sugiyama: "We look for solutions in the five areas of impact - health, education, economic development, environment or disaster relief, and access to communication. Each year, we are always surprised by the creative out-of-the-box ideas and projects and we're excited to see more this year."

    SM: "Any tips for organizations hoping to compete?"

    JS: "The hint I can provide is simple - know your constituents and express the passion for your work. We'll be able to tell if your technology works. We want to hear more about how it will make impact."

    SM: "Any specific reflections about the program from the past few years?"

    JS: "Over the years, as mobile technology has rapidly changed, the mobile solutions we see have also evolved. As a result, the applications we see continue to look better and better every year and I expect the same to be true this year."

    SM: "Are the submissions geared towards 3rd world countries or the world overall?"

    JS: "We do not put geographical restrictions on our submissions. We look for all wireless related technology projects that have the high potential to solve critical issues facing the world."

    SM: "What is the criteria when it comes to selecting the best 3 submissions?"

    JS: "The ultimate goal of the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project is to identify and fund the best wireless related technology innovations addressing social issues around the world. Successful submissions will demonstrate significant advancement and a true potential impact for social good through wireless technology."

    SM: "How many submissions do you receive on average each year?"

    JS: "We average around 100 submissions each year."

    SM: "What has been one of the most unlikely/unique teams to win (e.g. a group of teenagers, retirees, etc.?)"

    JS: "We see so many great submissions each year, but a two that stand out were women-led non-government organizations. In 2014, SOKO Enterprise was a WIP winner for their enterprise tool that enables small scale producers to manage production and operations, sell to global consumers and get paid directly all via mobile. A 2012 WIP winner, InSight, designed a money management tool that operates entirely over SMS, so people and businesses can report their daily financial metrics and have access to simple reports to track their spending and income."

    SM: "On average how much capital must participants raise to complete their projects?"

    JS: "Each project requires different types of support to continue their projects. The goal of this competition is to provide projects with funding, so participants can continue the evolution of their solutions that may change the world. We also strive to provide support beyond funding by sharing additional guidance and making introductions to partners that may benefit the growth of the project. Past WIP winners have gone on to future success through international accolades, various industry prizes, and more than $9.5 million in additional funding following their involvement with WIP."

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