Innovating for Developing Economies

Living in one of the largest economies in the world, innovators in the United States naturally want to tap into their home market.  However, not all technology is suited for the relatively advanced infrastructure and lifestyle of the US.  For instance, while clean water is still a priority here at home, systems are in place to bring safe water to the vast majority of homes in this country.  However, innovations in clean water are substantially different in a region where basic sanitation deficiencies are causing an issue with the water supply or there simply is no water supply.

But wait, why would someone wish to enter a market with so few resources that they cannot afford basic utilities?  The answer is that there are many government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) with stated missions to introduce technology to those regions through supporting innovators.  This translates into opportunities in funding, partnerships, sales relationships, etc. with governments and NGOs.  While the process is not as clearly mapped as with some grants, such as the SBIR program, a good place to start is with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

What many folks know is that USAID “is an independent agency of the United States federal government that is primarily responsible for administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance.”  What many may not know is that there is considerable dilutive AND non-dilutive funding from USAID for innovations that promote their mission.  Some of the initiatives related to innovation funding are as follows:

  • Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) – A year-round competition that is open to ideas across sectors and geographies.
  • Grand Challenges for Development – Program focus global attention and resources on important problems and promote a series of innovative approaches to solving them
  • Facilitating business relationships and partnerships – For innovations that are developed, there are partnership and contracting opportunities through and facilitated by USAID

Of course, USAID may be a perfect fit or may not be.  In either case, the drive to explore doing business in developing economies should continue to the NGO arena within and outside of the US.  Agencies such as OXFAM and the Asian Development Bank are key contributors to innovation and entrepreneurism in the developing world.  SBTDC counselors can assist in navigating these unclear but fruitful waters.

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