• Essmart equips local shops in India with essential technologies such as solar-powered lights, pictured here.

    Photo courtesy of Essmart

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  • Wecyclers deploys its cargo bicycles to collect recyclables in densely populated low-income neighborhoods. For every kilogram that a family recycles, it receives "Wecyclers points" via SMS that can be redeemed for goods such as mobile phone minutes or food items.

    Photo courtesy of Wecyclers

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New grants help amplify impact of MIT IDEAS Global Challenge teams

Student-led entrepreneurship supported by new Venture Grants


Since its founding 12 years ago, the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge has funded student-led teams with promising and innovative humanitarian ideas. Teams leverage this early seed funding from the Public Service Center program to pilot their idea, gain more funding and, in many cases, launch a venture. These ventures focus on addressing pressing challenges in underserved communities around the world — from developing low-cost insulation for households in rural Pakistan to creating an online platform with which disaster-afflicted communities can coordinate their recovery efforts.

Realizing that many student-led teams aim to make their impact sustainable in the long term, the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, in association with D-Lab Scale Ups, recently launched Venture Grants as an additional level of funding and support. These new $12,500 grants provide follow-on funding to recent winning IDEAS teams that have produced promising results and presented a clear plan of action for their path forward.

Two teams, both 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge winners, were each selected to receive the inaugural Venture Grants over the next 12 months.

Delivering essential technologies to rural India

Essmart received a Venture Grant as it continues to develop its distribution system in India for essential technologies such as solar lights and water filters. Led by co-founders Diana Jue ’09, MCP ’12 and Jackie Stenson, Essmart’s distribution channel connects small local shops with technologies that address the needs of the local community. The team aims to expand its reach into more of India's estimated 14 million retail shops. Essmart strengthens local businesses while also helping households access clean water and wean themselves off hazardous, dirty kerosene.

Since launching in 2012, Essmart has sold 500 products through local shops and hired six full-time employees. Over the next year, the team seeks to expand its distribution network while developing a model for testing new products and sharing product feedback directly with the manufacturers.

Innovating recycling in the slums of Nigeria

Wecyclers also received a Venture Grant to expand its creative recycling system in Lagos, Nigeria. Led by Bilikiss Adebiyi MBA ’12, Wecyclers has built 11 customized bicycles that collect recyclables in pilot neighborhoods in Lagos. In less than one year, the team has already reached 1,600 regular customers and hired 16 employees. Wecyclers has received early support from Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline and the Lagos Government Innovation Initiative, which has helped it gain credibility and establish a foothold in the communities where it works.

Wecyclers has already recycled 25 tons of waste, and it plans to recycle much more. The team will use the Venture Grant funds to help grow its customer base by building an additional recycling hub to expand its services tenfold.

The Venture Grants that enabled Wecyclers and Essmart to receive additional support is made possible by D-Lab Scale-Ups through a generous gift from Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives.


Topics: Alumni/ae, Awards, honors and fellowships, D-Lab, IDEAS competition, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Public service

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