Vodafone's Wireless Innovation Project (WIP) competition challenges nonprofits, universities, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and social entrepreneurs to develop innovative mobile and wireless solutions to some of the most challenging issues facing society today.
Projects addressing problems of education, health, access to communication, economic development, and the environment or disaster relief are eligible for entry to win a grant, payable over the next three years. $300K goes to the winner, $200K to the runner-up and $100K to the third-place contender. Grant recipients also receive expert support and guidance in bringing their innovations to life. To be considered, projects must be in the late stages of research, or have a prototype or field test in the works.
Last year's winner, Neopenda, produced an affordable wearable newborn vital signs monitor to help improve infant care. Teresa Cauvel, CTO and co-founder says the grant money helped boost the organization's technology development:
"Before the program, we were working on prototypes in house and were not yet at the stage of thinking about medical grade sensitivity, compliance with international medical device standards, or design for manufacturing. With the funding, we were able to begin working with Ciklum, a technology firm with the expertise in IoT biometrics and medical device development that we needed to move our device to the next phase. As a startup with a unique focus on developing markets, this partnership was key to streamlining our process and lowering costs without compromising quality. We now have completed a first generation product that will be deployed in our first pilot study in a couple of months.
We were also able to go on a second trip to Uganda this past summer, where we met with our users, nurses and doctors, to continue to learn from them and get feedback on our design, and we strengthened our partnerships and network on the ground, including meeting with several influencers on the Uganda Ministry of Health's Newborn Steering Committee. We were able to work with our partners at the Uganda Pediatrics Association and St. Francis Nsambya Hospital to lay the groundwork for our upcoming pilot study.
Lastly, we recently hired an individual in Uganda to join our team as Country Coordinator; he is now managing our operations in Uganda and coordinating the upcoming pilot study. Growing our team at this pace would likely not have been possible without the WIP prize."
June Sugiyama, director of the Vodafone Americas Foundation pointed to two other standout entries from past years:
"MobileODT's low-cost digital camera attachment for smartphone is a potential game-changer in reducing cervical cancer. Since winning the WIP, their Cervical Cancer Screening System has been met with enthusiastic response in 21 countries around the world, and recently expanded into Afghanistan. One US doctor said the tools was even better than the ones used in their clinic."
"Nexleaf's ColdTrace wireless sensor is designed to help alleviate the last mile transport of vaccines to children by remotely monitoring vaccine fridges to provide near real-time information on storage temperature and other critical infrastructure issues. It is important for some vaccines to be refrigerated in order to stay effective. The WIP grant has helped Nexleaf partner with large aid organizations like Gavi and expand into international markets and provide solutions to rural clinics and health facilities."
Online applications will be accepted through March 6, 2017, with winners announced in June 2017.
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Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.