Creating an Idea factory for Mobile Enabled Community Services

Why an Innovation Fund?

When designing the Mobile Enabled Community Services programme we researched organisations that had a track record of innovating and incubating ideas which, at the time of development, had an unclear business proposition. The hope was that we could learn something from the inventors of yester year to inform and influence the approach of the programme.

We quickly realised that some of the most innovative companies were often government backed or monopolistic in nature, where large dedicated Research and Development budgets could be ring-fenced and protected from shareholders value extracting agenda, allowing scientists the runway to develop technologies over years if not decades, and bringing them to the market under the right conditions.

What MECS is trying to achieve

Bell Laboratories, the current research arm of Alcatel-Lucent, stood out as prime example of the level of innovation that can occur when the research agenda is protected.  In his book “The Idea Factory” chronicling the history of Bell Labs the 1920’s through 80’s, John Gertner argues “ it was where the future was invented” [1].

“Bell Labs was behind many of the innovations that have come to define modern life, including the transistor, the laser, the silicon solar cell and (…) developed the first communications satellites, the first cellular telephone systems and the first fiber-optic cable systems.” [2]

While our ambitions are smaller in scope and shorter in timescale, the MECS programme is certainly focussed on the “future”: the 20% of the world’s population without access to energy and 10% of the world’s population without access to water, increasingly living with access to the GSM network. Today, this customer bases is often considered a low value segment for mobile operators but represent one of the greatest growth opportunities for the industry.

To achieve our goals, the MECS programme has launched a £2.4M Innovation Grants Fund to provide focussed resources to accelerate the development and trial of products and services improving access to energy and water services in underserved communities using the mobile channel.

But building an Idea Factory requires more than just funding good ideas: To put our research into practice we have chosen to adopt a structure that allows the MECS Team to act as facilitators providing on-going support to innovators, advising potential applicants during idea generation and development, and providing on-going support to the sector (grantees or not) during project implementation. The decision to fund is taken by a fund panel including an external fund manager and industry experts across the mobile, energy, water and development sectors.

Submit your Concept Note for Round 2 of the MECS Innovation Fund & Attend our Webinar

The MECS Innovation Fund is accepting concept notes for the second round of grants –be quick, the deadline is Sunday, 8th September 2013!

With the support of the UK Government, the MECS programme has set up a £2.4M Innovation Grants Fund to support the creation of new, innovative mobile-enabled technologies and business models to improve access to energy and water services.

You can learn more about the application process here and attend our next webinar on Monday, 26th August.

Register for the webinar

Please do not hesitate to get in touch ( if you are interested in applying to the second round.  We also invite you to share this information with any colleagues or contacts who may be interested.

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