Announcing the GSMA Innovation Fund for Accelerated Growth Cohort

The GSMA Innovation Fund has played a crucial role in grantees’ journey to scale, supporting over 100 organisations and unlocking more than £700 million in follow-on funding to date. However, due to several economic challenges since 2020, venture capital funding has declined significantly in 2023, with a disproportionate impact in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As a result, patient capital and alternative financing are more important than ever to help start-ups and small and medium-sized firms grow in LMICs.

In January 2024, the GSMA Innovation Fund for Accelerated Growth was launched to provide grant funds and additional technical assistance to a number of GSMA Innovation Fund alumni. The purpose of this fund is to help selected innovative organisations with an additional boost on their path to scale, reach a wider user-base, and ultimately accelerate the sustainability of their solutions that make a positive impact on low-income populations.

The fund is focused on selected number of the GSMA Innovation Fund alumni to leverage digital and mobile technologies in order to: 

  • Increase the market penetration by expanding the current offering to more low-income users in the same context, by targeting new segments or increasing market efforts 
  • Add more functionalities to an existing offering to increase the value to the users e.g. by leveraging emerging technologies like AI or IoT to provide a better customer experience 

Following project proposal reviews and selection by a panel, we are pleased to announce the 7 start-ups (4 from Asia and 3 from Africa) that have been selected, allocating a total grant amount of just under £700,000. Starting April 2024, the selected start-ups have commenced a 10-month long project focused on scaling their existing solutions.

Introducing the cohort

Innovators from Africa

Africa 118 | Ethiopia | a digital job tech platform which provides skills matching services to its customers in Ethiopia.

With funding from the previous two GSMA grants (Nov 2018 – Nov 2019 and subsequently in Mar 2021 – Nov 2022), Africa 118 have developed digital services that enabled low-income workers to gain access to jobs and helped SMEs to build an online presence.

Project funded: The proposed project will support expansion of Africa118`s job tech marketplace service from Addis Ababa (Ethiopian capital city) to 3 additional cities with a population of over 1.5 million people. Africa118 will also introduce 2 new product features: “Taskcenter” which will enable service providers to access working tools and supplies and “Taskcredit” which will enable access to credit, based on the service provider’ credit history. This will provide more value to workers and increase adoption of the service.

Ensibuuko | Uganda | utilises technological solutions to empower community-based savings and loans organisations.

Ensibuuko has received two GSMA grants in the past. The first grant (2018-19) helped them develop a USSD mobile banking platform for SACCOs and impacted 1.3M beneficiaries. The second grant (2021-22) enabled them develop a localised version of the GSMA Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT), adapted for rural customers and impacted 40k beneficiaries. Ensibuuko has since attracted £2.4M in additional funding and expanded its operations to Malawi.

Project funded: Ensibuuko intends to expand its current USSD mobile money banking platform tailored for SACCOs by creating an Android Application version, which will expand their reach to more tech-savvy populations (e.g. the young population). This expansion will include the incorporation of additional functionalities like bill payments and overdraft loans. Moreover, they aim to transition from relying on a third party for their USSD code to establishing their own to save on operational costs. This initiative will help Ensibuuko reach 45,000 new users and attain break-even point for its mobile banking platform.

Freetown Waste Transformers (FWT) | Sierra Leone | an integrated waste management solutions provider turning organic waste into electricity, heat, and natural fertilizer. 

During the previous GSMA grant project (Mar 22 – Aug 23),  FWT developed and launched a new GPS mobile mapping app called ‘DortiBox App’ that was designed to improve the efficiency of existing waste coordination efforts. During the project, FWT impacted 46,000+ users and raised GBP 2.9m of follow-on funding.

Project funded: Under this project, FWT will reach low-income households by making DortiBox accessible on any device through USSD codes and incorporating voice guidance in Krio (local language) and English and enabling use of graphic symbols to enhance user-friendliness, particularly for illiterate and low-income users.

Innovators from Asia

ATEC | Bangladesh | provides sustainable, affordable and accessible clean cooking products for bottom of the pyramid communities.

With the support of the previous GSMA grant (Apr 2022- Aug 2023), ATEC was able to achieve gold standard carbon credit certification for their smart electric cooking stoves. The certification helped ATEC to attract investment from Engie as they agreed to buy 11.5m tons of carbon credits from ATEC.

Project funded: Under the project, ATEC will launch a mobile application and hardware infrastructure to pay incentives to women using carbon credits, based on the usage data. ATEC aims to create behaviour change for users to transit from traditional cooking stoves to e-cook stoves, which should result in driving more usage and adoption. 

Diyalo Technologies | Nepal | offering an IoT-based water quality monitoring solution that includes a water intelligence system, mobile app and IoT-enabled web-based software called “Watermark”.

During the previous GSMA funded project (Mar 2022 – Aug 2023), Diyalo successfully launched their first water monitoring IoT solution for 16 water utility providers and provided 10,000 household users with a mobile-app allowing them to register complaints and mobile meter readings and to make digital payments, among other features. 

Project funded: Under the project, Diyalo will customise and assemble the IoT hardware in-house and will add new water quality monitoring features in their offering. This will help them make their solution more affordable and will enable them to reach small-scale utility companies that serve low-income households in Nepal. 

I-Stem | India | enhancing access for people with disabilities in education and employment through a platform offering accessibility conversion services and digital learning resources.

During the previous GSMA funded project (Jul 2021 and Feb 2023), I-Stem developed a document accessibility platform to convert inaccessible documents into accessible formats. This has enabled people with visual impairments to consume content. I-Stem has successfully reached over 8,445 users to date and raised over £400,000 in additional funding.

Project funded: The proposed project will help I-Stem add additional features to their previous grant funded product by leveraging Interactive voice response system and WhatsApp to improve access to all types of users and scale the solution. They will also leverage their new partnership with the Government of India to scale these services to over 30,000 users.

Orenda | Pakistan | an ed-tech startup that aims to bridge the digital divide between private and public schools in Pakistan by providing engaging, high-quality digital education.

During the previous GSMA funded project (Apr 2021 – Aug 2022), Orenda launched KaIOS mobile application and school learning management system to help low-cost schools and students from low-income families to get high quality educational content for students and teachers. Orenda replicated this model in more than 200 schools and also was able to raise GBP 2m follow on funding.

Project funded: Under the proposed project, Orenda aims to scale by using AI for personalised learning and integrating stakeholders in a unified platform. The use of AI will help Orenda to quickly adapt to the needs of students, teacher and schools as well as generate content adapted to the students and overcoming linguistic barriers.

Besides grant funding, the GSMA will support the grantees with:

  • Bespoke technical assistance
  • Knowledge exchange opportunities with other grantees
  • Networking opportunities
  • Facilitation of relationships with mobile operators and public sector organisations, where relevant
  • Opportunity to increase visibility and profile to potential investors and partners
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning support to track KPIs and conduct a scalability survey

In catalysing these digital solutions, we hope to generate insights from innovative use-cases, partnerships and business models to improve the sustainability and scalability of digital solutions for development in LMICs.

This initiative is currently funded by UK International Development from the UK government and is supported by the GSMA and its members.

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