On the International Day of People with Disabilities, the new Assistive Tech Impact Fund (ATIF) has been launched out of the UK Aid-funded AT2030 programme, led by the Global Disability Innovation (GDI) Hub. It is a collaboration between GDI Hub, Brink, Tamara Giltsoff and Catalyst Fund. The partnership combines deep expertise in AT, innovation and venture building in Africa, respectively.
First investment: HearX, bringing smart hearing solutions to African markets
The AT Impact Fund is delighted to announce its first investment in HearX, a company based in South Africa with hearing diagnostic products being used in 39 countries. AT Impact Fund will give them £200,000 in grant capital alongside 6 months of venture-building support.
The AT Impact Fund’s investment through UK Aid will enable HearX to be the first to provide hearing aids through a subscription model on continental Africa. It will also provide an opportunity to test alternative distribution models in South Africa and Kenya to ensure their product can be accessed by everyone, wherever they are located.
HearX’s innovative, direct-to-consumer product makes it possible for lay-health workers to detect and diagnose hearing needs, and demonstrate how hearing aids can help, all in one sitting. Their subscription model finally makes high-quality hearing aids affordable and accessible to everyone. With the support of the AT Impact Fund, HearX will be able to widely scale up across Kenya and other African countries where 97% of people requiring hearing aids can’t access them.
The HearX team is thrilled to work with the AT Impact Fund on this exciting project. The UK Aid investment through the AT2030 programme is allowing us to multiply our impact in Africa by creating innovative access to sustainable hearing health services in communities. - De Wet Swanepoel, Lead Inventor & Co-founder, HearX
Commitment to improving the lives of people living with disabilities in LMICs
The AT Impact Fund offers grantees flexible funding, in combination with bespoke, expert-led venture-building support through a ‘Scale Studio’: a pool of experts in assistive technology, innovation and startup acceleration. The AT Impact Fund helps innovators and entrepreneurs to get Assistive Technology (AT) solutions for low- and middle-income populations on a path to scale and are committed to improving the lives of people living with disabilities.The Fund will provide up to £200k grant capital to organisations that are ‘ready to test a business model for scale’ in Africa. This could mean a business where product-market-fit has been demonstrated in an existing LMIC market(s); or it could also mean that the business has a proven product and business model outside of Africa, but the proposal is to pilot, test and validate a business model to reach populations in LMICs. The Fund will also provide smaller grant amounts for earlier-stage AT businesses, where there is evidence of market traction, appetite and capacity to scale.
The Fund will validate decisions by leveraging its diverse range of investment committee members. The committee combines insight on building and scaling businesses in African markets as well as deep experience from users of AT:
- Farida Bedwei - Co-Founder of Logiciel, a fintech company in Ghana, and a Software Engineer (Ghana)
- Astou Dia - Senior International Development Specialist, Consultant, Investor, Business and Facilitation Coach (Côte d'Ivoire)
- Olutosin Oni - Principle at EchoVC Partners (Nigeria)
- Victoria Austin - CEO of GDI Hub (London)
- Mansoor Ahmed - Senior Adviser and Team Lead Agri-Business Impact, FCDO (London)
“This is a milestone for the global disability innovation movement in our quest to establish a thriving assistive technology ecosystem in Africa. The results of the AT impact fund will be felt far beyond the ventures we support. By demonstrating we can create demand, markets for assistive technology will be shaped for generations to come”
- Cathy Holloway, Academic Director, Global Disability Innovation Hub
“The ups and downs of 2020 have also served as an inflection point for many sectors. HearX really exemplifies the kinds of opportunities that are emerging like their exciting and pioneering approach to subscription models, and by putting greater power in users’ hands with their product. It’s exactly the kind of business we’re excited to support through the Fund.”
- Lea Simpson, Assistive Technology Impact Fund Director and Brink Co-founder
“This is a pioneering step for the development sector to fund an investment vehicle that deploys grant capital, hands-on venture-building support and dedicated ecosystem building in Africa to one of the least inclusive technology sectors, such as AT. Our ambition is to catalyse strategic partnerships, a circle of interested impact and philanthropic investors, and capital for a longer-term impact investment vehicle to scale this underserved sector in LMICs.”
- Tamara Giltsoff, Assistive Technology Impact Fund Director
“We look forward to working with and learning from AT innovators as we test and iterate affordable, accessible and appropriate AT solutions that can effectively reach people with disabilities in underserved communities. We see enormous potential to share new insights that can inspire further innovation across the industry.”
- Maelis Carraro, Managing Director, Catalyst Fund
About Global Disability Innovation Hub
Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is a world-leading research and practice centre driving disability innovation for a fairer world. A legacy of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the GDI Hub is made up of two bodies; an Academic Research Centre (ARC) led by UCL (University College London) and a Community Interest Company (CIC) that supports and delivers disability innovation programmes in more than 33 countries. The GDI Hub £50m portfolio includes the AT2030 programme and partnerships with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. More information at www.disabilityinnovation.com
About the Assistive Tech Impact Fund (ATIF)
The AT Impact Fund is operationalised as a partnership between GDI Hub and Brink, and Catalyst Fund as venture advisor. It is part of AT2030, a programme funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub. AT2030 will test ‘what works’ to improve access to AT and will invest £20m to support solutions to scale. With a focus on innovative products, new service models, and global capacity support, the programme will reach 9 million people directly and 6 million more indirectly to enable a lifetime of potential through life-changing assistive technology.
Brink is an innovation practice made of psychologists, strategists, designers, creative thinkers and tech optimists. The firm combines classic innovation methodology with the behavioural sciences in an approach called Behavioural Innovation.
Brink’s portfolio includes The EdTech Hub, The Frontier Technologies Hub, ASToN smart cities network, Wellcome Trust and Humanitarian Grand Challenges amongst others. The team currently supports 140+ ventures across Africa and South Asia, all working to solve global challenges around education, energy, climate resilience and response to the COVID pandemic. Brink has been awarded the Civil Service Award for innovation for its work on frontier technologies for development impact.
About Catalyst Fund
Catalyst Fund, managed by BFA Global, is an accelerator that supports inclusive tech innovators, and facilitates the growth of innovation ecosystems, in emerging markets. Launched in 2015, today Catalyst Fund supports impact companies offering accessible, affordable and appropriate solutions, across key markets in Africa, South Asia and Latin America, to improve the lives of the world’s 3 billion underserved. Catalyst Fund programs provide catalytic grant capital, bespoke venture-building support from market and sector experts and access to a global network of investors and corporate partners, while sharing learnings with the broader inclusive tech ecosystem. Catalyst Fund is supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and JPMorgan Chase. Its sister Inclusive Digital Commerce Accelerator is supported by the Mastercard Foundation.
To date, Catalyst Fund has supported 37 early-stage companies through its flagship Inclusive Fintech program, across 15 emerging markets. Those companies have gone on to raise over $122 million in follow-on funding and reach over 2.5 million underserved individuals and small businesses in emerging markets globally.