FAQs – GSMA Innovation Fund for Assistive Tech

Do we need to address all of the barriers in our application and what do they mean?

No, you only need to address one of the barriers to digital inclusion but can address or refer to more than one. For more information read the blog here and examples of each can be found in the table below.

Barrier Examples (not an exclusive list)
Access – increasing accessibility and usability of handsets and mobile services for people with disabilities.    Mobile money provider offers visually impaired customers access to services that require authentication without having to type a PIN or password. The service uses interactive voice response (IVR) and is therefore more accessible to all. This also benefits elderly customers and those with who are not able to read or write in a specific language or sign language.
Affordability – improving the affordability of handsets or mobile phones and usage fees for people with disabilities. Full payment for service by the user. Digital assistive technologies (ATs) are purchased by the user as a one-off payment or on a subscription or payment by instalments model to make it more affordable. Innovators must consider whether their potential customers can afford the service.  (See pg. 19 of our landscaping research for more solutions).
Relevance – ensuring availability of content, products and services that are relevant to, and meet the needs of people with disabilities. Using voice and image recognition technologies, solutions can help persons with visual impairments to identify objects and colours in their local community, recognise and count local currency, recognise and read an MNO top-up card, or read a local taximeter.
Knowledge and skills – providing people with disabilities with the knowledge and skills required to access and use mobile services, as well as increasing awareness and understanding of the benefits of mobile technology. Provide a dual approach by offering training to people with disabilities as well as creating useful digital AT solutions with voice guides. Referral models could also help raise awareness of specific products. Innovators might generate income from commissions when customers purchase products or services from the endorsed company because of the digital AT placement.
Safety and security – addressing harassment, theft, fraud and security concerns of people with disabilities who want to use mobile services and/or building trust in these services Apps offering features which include identification of banknotes using the mobile phone camera, an emergency number to share the phone’s exact location with others when lost and text-to-speech services to read pieces of text scanned with the camera, etc.

What kind of projects are you looking for?

Applicants must seek to address one of the below types of project:

  • Test innovations which increase digital inclusion of people with disabilities by reducing the gap in access and usage of mobile-enabled products and services.
  • Develop approaches or business models that can be scaled or replicated in similar markets that meet a specific unfulfilled needs of people with disabilities.

Furthermore, GSMA Assistive Tech is looking for innovative projects which are using mobile technology to develop innovative AT solutions to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The Fund will select projects which are testing new commercial business models, or combined business models where the project has a good chance of being funded (at a minimum sustainable) following the end of the grant. The GSMA wants to learn from the projects and share stories of both successes and challenges with the wider community, through insights such as reports, videos and blogs, etc.

Who can and can't apply for funding?

The Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) for this funding round set out the objectives of the Fund, the type of organisations the Fund is looking to support, and the eligibility criteria for applying for funding. They are available here.

How do you define start-up and SMEs?

Start-up: Any organisation that is newly set up to test a new concept/idea to solve existing problems. It shall be a registered, licensed (if required) and revenue earning organisation in the country of its operation.

Start-ups are limited to the same size as SMEs.

SME: is a small and medium size registered commercial entity.

Can NGOs, charities or foundations apply for funding?

No, they will not receive direct grant funding. The Fund aims to assess and understand opportunities for commercial services (with a sustainable business model where grant funding will not be a source of revenue for the organisation). Therefore, NGOs, charities and foundations are ineligible to apply for this round. Eligible organisations are, however, permitted to form partnerships with NGOs, charities and foundations where these entities can add value to a project, such as through the provision of advisory support or to help appropriate products and services effectively reach people with disabilities. They will not receive direct grant funding.

Can Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) apply for funding?

DPOs must comply with other eligibility criteria, for example, they must be registered as a start-up, small and medium enterprise or social enterprises to be eligible. Grants will not be given to any projects which do not have a clear plan for commercial sustainability following the end of grant. Please see sections above about which organisations are eligible for funding.

Are enablers like incubators, accelerators and tech hubs eligible to apply?

No. Incubators, accelerators and tech hubs are not eligible to apply for funding, we welcome their support to recommend eligible start-ups in their current or past cohorts to apply directly.

Incubator: an organisation or programme that provides start-ups and early-stage businesses with the support and resources (such as providing workspace, seed funding, mentoring and training) that those young companies find difficult to access.

Accelerator: an organisation or programme that gives developing companies access to mentorship, investors and other support that help them to become stable, self-sufficient businesses.

Tech hub: an organisation or programme that offers or creates a space where a high density or start-up companies can cluster together and become part of an economic infrastructure to streamline the development of products or solutions.

Can social enterprises apply to the Fund?

Yes. Social enterprises that are operating as private sector companies in the country of grant implementation will be considered for funding as long as they meet the rest of the eligibility criteria set out in the T&Cs. I.e. they must demonstrate a sustainable business model where the majority of revenue is from commercially activity and where non-commercial revenue (e.g. grant funding, donations, gifts etc.) does not form a major source of revenue

Can mobile network operators apply to the Fund?

No. The Fund aims to support innovative start-ups, SME private sector and social enterprise companies that are willing and able to work with mobile network operators, rather than providing support directly to mobile network operators. Note, applications from eligible organisations working in partnership with mobile network operators are welcomed and encouraged.

Can a consortium apply to the Fund?

Applicants cannot apply as a consortium. Only one organisation can apply for funding and become a grantee. An applicant can have downstream partners – see policy who have a role on the project.

It is important that at the proposal stage the GSMA has full sight of all Downstream Partners so as to ensure that the Lead Applicant has (or plans to) appropriately procured, undertaken satisfactory due diligence checks and properly contracted them. This is because the GSMA is required to communicate full and accurate information about project delivery chains to its donors, and ensure that an appropriate level of scrutiny & oversight is applied to all organisations in those delivery chains.

Can we apply if we don't have a registered organisation in the country of project implementation but are willing to do so if we get funding?

No. For this round, we are unable to accept applications on the basis that you will register an organisation if a grant is awarded. We can accept organisations who meet the following criteria:

  • Are registered and have a bank account in the country where it will receive the grant money (if not the same as the project implementation country).
  • Have active users and revenue in at least one eligible lower or middle-income market.

The Fund may consider applications from organisations which do not operate in the proposed countries of implementations. However, applicants must be able to demonstrate either a current market presence or go to market readiness in all countries of implementation proposed at the time of submission. This also means you must be fully compliant with relevant business licensing, taxation, employee and other regulations in all applicable countries of grant project operation.

Is there a requirement for how long a start-up should have been registered as a legal entity prior to applying?

There is no requirement on how long the applicant needs to have been registered as a legal entity. See question above regarding organisation criteria for eligibility.

How many slots are available for this grant and is there a specific number of slots for regions (e.g. Africa or Asia)?

There is no pre-defined number of applications from a specific region. Between 8-12 grants are selected by an independent fund panel, who are advised to select a balanced risk and geographical portfolio.

How do we estimate how much impact we will have for the project?

The Fund is always keen to have the maximum impact on citizens. However, we encourage all applicants to be both realistic and honest when they disclose the market potential or number of people they plan to reach. You will be asked to demonstrate (within reason) how you estimated the impact number you submit and how you will measure them throughout the life of the grant. If there are significant discrepancies between the pitch and panel stages (regarding impact numbers), it will result in the application being removed from the process.

What does it mean to 'demonstrate the potential and appetite to form a strategic partnership with mobile operators'?

Lead Applicants do not need an existing partnership with a mobile operator partner in order to be eligible to apply for funding. However, the Lead Applicants must demonstrate having the appetite to form strategic partnerships with mobile operators and should be prepared to articulate the value proposition for a mobile operator.

This means, that the Fund is especially interested in understanding how you might work with a mobile operator in your market during or after the grant funded project. For instance, you could share your current pipeline or plans to engage with mobile operators or include a Memorandum of Understanding or upload materials that shows how you would drive more users to use an MNO’s mobile internet services.

Must the grant funding be used for a project targeting just one country or can it be used for a project across the entire region e.g. several markets in Africa and Asia?

The Fund is open to applications with projects focusing on one single market or across multiple markets (where eligibility criteria is met for each market).

N.B. Applications for projects in multiple markets will need to demonstrate that the projects can be effectively managed and completed within 18 months. If there are concerns about the feasibility of managing multiple markets, applicants may be advised to prioritise one market.

The Lead Applicant must apply for funding for a project in one of the eligible countries set out in the T&Cs.

If you have been awarded a grant by the GSMA previously, are you still eligible for this grant?

GSMA grantees that have successfully completed their grant are eligible to apply. However, the Fund is looking to test new and innovative business models which will be sustainable following the end of the grant. Therefore, you will need to demonstrate why additional funding will achieve something the original grant could not.

Grants will only be given where there is “additionality”. This means that the provision of grants must not substitute or replace an organisation’s core funding (or other existing funding), or crowd out or under-cut other funding sources. If a project progresses to the Proposal stage, both the Technical and Financial Proposal will be scrutinised by the GSMA to ensure the applicant needs the amount of grant funding requested.

How should we decide the grant amount we are asking for during the Pitch stage?

We advise applicants are realistic and honest with grant requests as you will have to demonstrate how you will spend the money efficiently. The amount requested should correlate with what you require to deliver the solution you want the GSMA to fund (the project). Grant funding will not be used for costs that do not have a direct link to the project you’re pitching

We do not encourage you to change the amount of money requested during the application process, this could result in you being removed from the process by the Fund Manager as it is a competitive selection process.

If a project progresses from the Pitch Stage to the Proposal stage, both the Technical and Financial Proposal will be scrutinised to ensure the applicant can justify the spending of grant funding requested and ensuring value for money for donors. In the majority of cases, where you have clearly justified the amount, the Fund Panel will approve the amount requested, but this is not always the case.

If we apply for £100,000 at the Pitch stage, is this the amount that we will receive from the Fund if we are awarded a grant or could the amount we receive be lower?

Applicants to are shortlisted at the pitch stage will be invited to submit a full proposal with a budget.

The budget and activities will be reviewed to ensure all spend is commensurate with the objectives of the Fund and demonstrate a good use of donor funds.

Is matched funding mandatory and what counts as a match funding contribution?

Yes, match funding is mandatory. The Fund requires a matching contribution from the applicant in order to demonstrate interest and trust from the wider investor community.

Acceptance of match funding is subject to approval by the Fund:

  • Requesting an amount between £100,000 to £150,000 at least 25% of requested grants amount.
  • Requesting an amount between £150,001 to £250,000 applicants must provide a matching contribution of at least 50%.

Matching contributions must be used towards the proposed project and spent in full across the 15 to 18-month project cycle. Match funding contributions can be made ‘in cash’ and/or ‘in kind’ and can be provided by the Lead Applicant themselves or a third-party. For more details and examples of what constitutes ‘in cash’ or ‘in kind’, please refer to the T&Cs.

Does the specific partner that will be contributing to the match funding have to be decided and secured before pitch submission? Or can that be confirmed later?

If a project proceeds to the Proposal stage, the Lead Applicant will be required to provide evidence that the match funding has been secured or will be secured prior to contracting. Failure to provide this evidence may mean the Proposal will not be presented to the Fund Panel. Please refer to the T&Cs for examples of evidence.

Can I edit my application once it has been submitted?

You can edit your application at any time until you hit submit by logging into the application portal. Applications cannot be edited once they have been submitted. You will receive a confirmation email once you have submitted in full.

Applications cannot be submitted after the deadline of 23.59 GMT 16th October 2020 (check the website for details) and any drafts including personal details will be deleted after this time.

Can I submit more than one application for projects?

Multiple submissions for the same project are not permitted. In cases where this occurs, the first submission will be reviewed if it is eligible but all duplicate submissions will be deemed ineligible and not reviewed.

Applications for different projects from the same organisation are allowed, although we do not encourage this approach. You must demonstrate and consider how you spend your own resources through this process and if you are able to support the application of more than one Proposal.

Can I speak with someone personally if I still have questions?

While we are unable to address all individual questions, GSMA Assistive Tech will be hosting two webcast sessions to address frequently asked questions:

  • Wednesday 19th September 9.30am BST (UK time)
  • Thursday 20th September 16.30 BST (UK time)

Since this is a fully competitive process we keep applicants details anonymous, and you will have the option to ask questions anonymously online. Finally, for urgent enquiries you can email GSMAIF@gsma.com, please expect a response within 2-3 working days.