The D-Lab Scale-Ups fellowship program is a year-old acceleration platform for MIT innovators and entrepreneurs turning poverty alleviating technologies into commercially scalable products. With fellowships available in three tracks or phases, depending on the stage of development, the Scale-Ups Phase I program focuses on the newest MIT social entrepreneurs who have a target need and market identified, a proof-of-concept prototype built and tested in the lab, and initial feedback received from a community partner.
Over the course of the June 1 to Sept. 30 fellowship, Phase I fellows have the opportunity to conduct in-depth needs and market analysis, value-chain analysis, and user testing in their target market. Devoting full-time effort to the project during the four months, including six to eight weeks in the chosen geographic area, fellows are expected to improve the technology design and cultivate additional community and project implementation partners.
"This fellowship was absolutely crucial to the development of our Moringa seed sheller and oil press, and the MoringaConnect venture," says Kwami Williams '12, a summer 2012 Scale-Ups Phase I fellow who is now in the Phase II program. "So many technologies come out of D-Lab and MIT that have the potential to improve the quality of life worldwide but sadly they never realize this potential due to a lack of seed funding, and technical and business mentorship … Honestly without [D-Lab Scale-Ups support] we wouldn't exist, our technologies would still be rough proofs-of-concept and any hope of having an impact on the developing world through our venture would have been slim at best."
Joost Bonsen is a lecturer in the Media Arts and Sciences program, and co-creator of the Development Ventures class, now in its 12th year. Development Ventures, also known as the MIT Emerging Markets Innovation Seminar, is part of the D-Lab suite of MIT course offerings and centers on the founding, financing and building of entrepreneurial ventures targeting developing countries, emerging markets and underserved consumers everywhere. "The Scale-Ups program is particularly relevant for those who have taken the Development Ventures class," remarks Bonsen, "Scale-Ups fellowships provide essential next funds for those students serious about scaling up."
As a recent MIT alumna, Scale-Ups Phase I program coordinator Rebecca Smith '09 wishes that a similar program had existed when she graduated. "I really appreciate the opportunity that we are now able to provide," she says. "The focus on deeply understanding the need being addressed is extremely important for creating technologies have the potential for positive impact on a large scale."
Smith became involved with D-Lab as a senior when she took the D-Lab Development class and traveled to Tanzania. But she doesn't expect Scale-Ups applicants to necessarily have a D-Lab background. "I expect to see Phase I projects come out of not only the D-Lab suite of classes, but from other corners of the Institute — they could start from a Public Service Center fellowship experience, an Engineers Without Borders project, a Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development team, a 2.009 team, a 2.75 project ... the list goes on. I look forward to learning about new projects through the Phase I applications, and supporting recent alumni during their fellowship period."
Applications (PDF) are due April 3. A panel of judges will review the submissions and select candidates to be invited for in-person interviews. Six fellows will be chosen for the 2013 Phase I program and each will receive a $5,000 grant to support travel and materials. They will also be provided access to technical mentoring, skills-building resources, partnership cultivation opportunities and use of D-Lab workspaces. The program also provides online and in-person forums for fellows in all three phases to share their experiences and accumulated wisdom, while also connecting them to leaders in industry, international development and business.
Applicant eligibility requirements:
- Graduation from MIT during 2012-2013. You must be an MIT undergraduate or graduate student who has completed or will complete your course of study during the 2012-2013 academic year. D-Lab students from Harvard and Wellesley who will graduate during the 2012-2013 academic year are also eligible.
- Hardware technology: You must be working on a new or significantly improved hardware device that can deliver value to a large number of people at the Base of the Pyramid. For Scale- Ups Phase I you should have identified a need and market, have a proof-of-concept prototype built and tested in the lab, and have received initial feedback from a community partner.
- Availability: During the course of the four-month fellowship, you must be able to work full-time on the project and be available to spend at least six to eight weeks in your target market.
- Travel experience: You must have experience traveling in a developing country and working within a local community.
- Partnerships: You must have identified at least one community partner for your project.
- Mentor: You must have a mentor who can advise you on technology aspects of your project during the fellowship period.
Located at D-Lab, MIT's fast-growing and highly regarded technology and international development program, Scale-Ups was created with generous support from Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI), to identify and support technologies with potential for wide-scale poverty alleviation. Just over a year since the establishment of Scale-Ups, the program features a technical assistance program for social enterprises in the developing world and technology development and evaluation services for socially minded companies with wide distribution channels in Base of the Pyramid markets, in addition to the fellowship program.
D-Lab fosters the development of appropriate technologies and sustainable solutions within the framework of international development. D-Lab programs include 20 MIT courses, fieldwork opportunities for MIT students, research and evaluation programs, conferences and K-12 outreach.