2020 IDEAS Grantees

Congratulations to our 2020 Grantees!

A warm congratulations to the 2020 IDEAS Finalists and Grantees! We welcomed an incredible cohort of students and social innovators this year, and we are happy to share the final results.

The live-stream of the IDEAS Award Ceremony, which took place on Sunday, April 26th, can be found below. It was heartening to celebrate the work of our inspiring student social innovators and entrepreneurs, and we look forward to seeing where these projects go in the months and years to come.

Live-stream of the 2020 IDEAS Awards Ceremony
(4/26/2020 | approx. 40mins)

2020 IDEAS Grantees

The 2019-20 finalist cohort was comprised of 13 graduate and 7 undergraduate teams from the following MIT degree programs: Sloan (UG, MBA, EMBA), Media Lab, Mechanical Engineering, Civil & Environmental. Engineering, Architecture, Electrical Engineering, Math, Computer Science, Leadership & Global Operations, and Integrated Design Management! The projects spanned across 10 sectors. 13 of  20 teams were women-led!

Recipient of the $20,000 Juried Grant: Green Source

Green Source seeks to help millions of smallholders in West and Central Africa produce sustainably-made oil and make a living wage. A majority of smallholders live below the poverty line due to the inaccessibility of machinery. Green Source is a cooperative that 1) supplies locally-made processing machinery for smallholders to use at affordable rates in their communities; 2) offers sustainably certified oil; 3) connects smallholders to a growing number of environmentally and socially-minded buyers. Green Source is proving this works at our pilot facility, which we launched with MIT grant support in Sypouma, a rural village in Cameroon, where we’ve served hundreds of farmers. Beyond our proof-of-concept facility, our next goal is to regularize our processing system into local factory-built turnkey containers with machinery inside, and then to build out a network of these containers across greater Central and West Africa to serve millions of smallholders. This model will allow us to reach areas of high demand, eliminating the long-distances smallholders travel. In an industry that is dominated by large palm oil producers responsible for the clearing of native people’s lands, large-scale deforestation, and exclusionary practices, we offer an alternative: palm oil that is not only fair trade but sustainably made. Locality: Cameroon | Primary Sector: Agriculture & Food

Recipient of the $15,000 Juried Grant: Insightiv

Compared to the United States or Europe, where there are about 100 radiologists per million, the story is very different for developing countries. In Rwanda, we have a population of about 13 million people, but we only have 12 radiologists. This is less than 1 radiologist per million. The radiology service is specifically unfairly distributed in Rwanda. All the 12 radiologists are based in Kigali, a city with less than 10% of the population, while the remaining 90% of the population comprising more than 11 million people in rural areas and other cities have no radiologists in their region. This requires them to travel long distances and wait from days to weeks for their XRays, CT and other scans to be analyzed for diagnosis, becoming an extreme financial burden for them and endangering their lives. Radiologists also have to work for multiple clinics and hospitals on the same day, which means a lot of traveling, overwork, and hindrances in their ability to provide accurate diagnosis. At Insightiv, we’ve built an Intelligent and Distributed Diagnostics Platform that leverages connectivity and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to optimize the workflow for doctors, radiographers and radiologists, allowing them to effectively serve more patients from all over the country in a short amount of time. We’ve developed the first prototype, secured a pilot with the first customer, established key strategic partnerships, and we’re working with stakeholders in Healthcare and Regulation to get the product to different clinics and hospitals throughout the country as the summer unfolds. Locality: Rwanda | Primary Sector: Health & Assistive Technologies

Recipient of the $10,000 Juried Grant: TILT

Tilt is a universally adaptable wheelchair attachment that allows assistants to move wheelchairs up and down stairs with more ease. Locality: India | Primary Sector: Health & Assistive Technologies

Recipient of the $7,500 Juried Grant: Out of the Box

Out of the box is a mobile, modular classroom-in-a-box for pre-school children aged 3 to 6. It comprises hardware and software. The hardware is made from sustainable, non-toxic material and manufactured in a low-cost manner. It has different modules such as whiteboard, tables, chairs and learning equipment for children that can all be packed into a cube/box. The software complements the hardware and delivers learning materials digitally for the children. Out of the box can be easily deployed anywhere, especially in disaster-prone areas or areas with displacement or without proper education infrastructure. Locality: US & South East Asia | Primary Sector: Education & Training

2020 Crowd Favorite Grantees

Recipient of the $2,500 Crowd Favorite Grant: SpeakEasy

One of the greatest questions facing the modern workplace is that of unions. It is the fundamental right of every individual to stand up for themselves, reducing inequality, increasing opportunity, and building lasting connections. Until now, unions’ clunky and outdated mixture of tools and procedures prevented workers around the world from accessing their rights. Communication between members and representatives is inefficient and often occurs across multiple platforms. This has left volunteer representatives struggling to balance their daily work with union responsibilities. Communication between members is also limited, creating a lack of member engagement in the workplace. Imagine if you had a social media platform for unions where people could discuss workplace issues and events, read relevant news, invite their friends, self-organize, and connect with local reps. That is what SpeakEasy offers: a way to transform unions into engaging communities that actually work for their workers. Locality: US | Primary Sector: Civic Engagement & Policy

Recipient of the $2,500 Crowd Favorite Grant: Earned Credit Project

The Earned Credit Project is joining big data, mapping software, and community organizing to identify and support families most at-risk of not claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Locality: US | Primary Sector: Finance, Employment & Entrepreneurship

We’d also like to celebrate our 2020 Finalists…

Each finalist was a recipient of a $1,000 seed grant to further their noteworthy efforts.

  • Almond Finance: Almond Finance achieves financial inclusion for entrepreneurs in the developing world through a mobile platform integrating microfinance, digital payments, and market mapping to bring sustainable prosperity to unbanked rural communities.  Lack of access to capital is among the main contributors to poverty globally. Two billion people worldwide have no access to banks – farmers, manufacturers, retailers, and others, therefore, struggle to grow their businesses due to limited capital. Yet, in markets like Myanmar, as much as 95% of people have mobile phone connectivity despite this financial exclusion.  Almond, in partnership with local financial institutions, uses mobile technology and machine learning to enable individuals and small businesses in remote areas to overcome the most pressing economic hurdles by providing access to essential financial services on a single phone-based platform.

Locality: Myanmar | Primary Sector: Finance, Employment & Entrepreneurship

Locality: Myanmar | Primary Sector: Finance, Employment & Entrepreneurship

  • ARC: ARC is a collaborative solution to boost disaster resilience for communities through a more connected ecosystem of people and data in Puerto Rico and beyond. As climate change continues to worsen, the frequency and severity of weather events and natural disasters are on the rise. While disasters touch virtually every segment of the population, the most vulnerable populations are disproportionately affected. However, disaster management agencies often lack the information and capacity to deliver aid to where the greatest needs are. To tackle these challenges, we created ARC. It has three key components: 1) Connect: ARC works with community organizations to formalize a buddy system that connects community members with the elderly and others in need to provide assistance; 2) Ready: Through the buddy system, communities collect and manage crucial information about the vulnerabilities and resources to get ready for disasters; and 3) Act: ARC will then be able to help integrate crowdsourced local information and provide actionable insights to disaster management agencies to help maximize their impact through targeted support in response and recovery efforts for communities. Through ARC, communities will be able to reduce disaster risk, foster a stronger sense of belonging, and strengthen disaster response capacity, while disaster management agencies will be able to deliver targeted services to the right places and amplify impacts. We believe that ARC will connect the dots in disaster management and bring the most important players together for a more resilient future.

Locality: Puerto Rico | Primary Sector: Disaster Relief

  • BeTu: Betu is solving 2 problems. (1) Stable work is needed by refugees/immigrants in the US, and women overseas in refugee camps or remote/poverty-stricken regions. (2) In developed countries, women 40+ years of age with disposable income seek a distinctive style and embrace sustainability and innovation, but also want to look professional in management and leadership positions. This target market is largely ignored by the fashion industry. Betu has already identified various immigrant/refugees in the US for finishing part of the manufacturing process, and women from refugee camps or remote/poverty-stricken areas in Morocco and Vietnam that can produce various components of the clothes. Furthermore, BeTu will create a non-profit division, specifically to support the infrastructure of the lives of our immigrant and refugee workers, their families and communities. Anh Sawyer, the founder, is a former Vietnamese refugee and presently the Executive Director at the Southeast Asian Coalition of Massachusetts which serves more than 10,000 client-visits annually of immigrants and refugees from all over the world.

Locality: US, Morocco, & Vietnam | Primary Sector: Finance, Employment & Entrepreneurship

  • Effective Environmentalism: There is a tremendous amount of energy and motivation to address the world’s pressing need for sustainability, but often individuals don’t know what to do to have the biggest impact on the issue. There is currently an overwhelming number of solutions out there, many of which feel like they don’t really make a difference. That’s where Effective Environmentalism steps in. Finding inspiration in the Effective Altruism movement, we are creating an online resource for individuals to determine exactly what they can do–personally, politically, economically, and more–to have the biggest impact possible on this issue, as well as tools and tips on how to follow through with those solutions. Our ultimate goal is to form an online community of people from all walks of life who feel empowered to build a better future for the planet.

Locality: US | Primary Sector: Energy & Environment

  • Ethiopian Diaspora Coalition (EDC): For the last four years, the World Bank has ranked Ethiopia as the fastest growing economy in the world, with an expected GDP growth of 7.9% in 2020. Sustaining the growing economy can only be accomplished with an educated and motivated working-class coupled with expansions in the science, technology, engineering, and math industries. Ethiopia has begun to address this challenge by broadening university education and providing more support for local STEM and finance companies. However, most universities in Ethiopia lack the resources to provide students with practical application to the theoretical knowledge they learn in the classroom. As a result, not as many students as possible are inspired to pursue professions in STEM and entrepreneurship; while those that are interested end up emigrating to the country in the look of more opportunity. In light of these roadblocks in Ethiopia’s growth, the STEM and entrepreneurial sectors in Ethiopia’s workforce are not growing at their full potential. The goal of our project, Ethiopian Diaspora Coalition – A Maker Space Initiative, is to travel to Ethiopia and work with the country’s largest university and epicenter for innovation, Addis Ababa University, to create a technology maker space that will be available to the university and the broader community including local high schools, startups, and nearby smaller universities. EDC will work side by side with Addis Ababa University and interested community members to implement a maker space at the university equipped with a wide array of electronics, tools, and supplies. The ultimate vision is that once completed, the maker space will provide university students across all departments and interested community members a space to learn about and pursue practical and entrepreneurial applications to their classroom studies. Once open, Maker Space would be used in various ways such as teaching classes out of it, having open hours for people to come in and work on projects, and bridge programs with local high schools to get underrepresented communities more involved with STEM.

Locality: Ethiopia | Primary Sector: Education & Training

  • Health Passport (AI4Health): The purpose of the Rwanda Health Passport is to provide a platform that ; 1. Enables the use of private patient data for research purposes while maintaining their privacy and compensating subjects for the use of their data.; 2. Allow healthcare service providers to gain a better understanding of their clients and create new opportunities.; 3. Allow governments to address epidemics and slow-moving threats by securely and ethically tapping into private patient data.; 4. Allow patients to “own” their data, monitor and control access to it and be able to move it across multiple providers and domains, both within their countries and across borders.

Locality: US, Rwanda | Primary Sector: Health & Assistive Technologies

  • Instinct: Climate change is making wildfires increasingly more devastating. Large forest fires were over 500% more frequent in the 2000s than in the 1970s, causing a 1,200% increase in acres burned. Current methods of detecting fires are slow. Humans stand in lookouts, pilots who happen to be flying over a fire report smoke (if the fire is large enough to be spotted), and people on the ground report fires when they become large enough and spread. This is a serious shortcoming because the larger the fire gets, the faster it spreads and the more difficult it is to contain. The central product of Instinct is a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) dedicated to rapid wildfire detection and multi-purpose environmental monitoring. The sensor units detect a wildfire within minutes of ignition. They continuously send data to a few node units, which then send the data over larger distances to the server. Pattern recognition software runs in real-time, ensuring that fires will be detected quickly and accurately. The modular system can be expanded for other applications.

Locality: US | Primary Sector: Energy & Environment

  • Muser: Substance abuse has been a critical public health issue in North America. In the United States, 19.5 million people suffer from substance abuse and 2 million of which are addicted to opioids. However, only 10 percent of the population receives appropriate treatment. Muser is a wearable-enabled music therapy platform in addictions and recovery that integrates data from music streaming apps and biometrics from wearable biosensors to understand how people are physically affected by the music they listen to. This information is not only shared with the user of Muser, but also with the music therapist they are working with. The music therapist can use the data to work with the individual to gain a greater understanding of their internal mood and physiological states as well as to devise ways (playlists) that the individual can use independently as a way of adaptive coping to combat the symptoms of substance abuse. This solution expands the work of music therapists into an easily accessible app that combines music and biometric data. This data will be presented in a way that the app user can gain a greater understanding of their substance abuse symptoms and internal states.

Locality: US & Canada | Primary Sector: Health & Assistive Technologies

  • MyPath Global: MyPath Global is a social venture dedicated to preparing and linking young women to successful careers and entrepreneurship opportunities. It provides a bridge between a young woman’s current skills and what is required for career or entrepreneurial success through upskilling and coaching, and is built upon a “Pay it Forward” support approach from mentorship and community of MyPath Global beneficiaries.

Locality: Kenya | Primary Sector: Education & Training

  • Pandar Africa: Pandar Africa is focused on increasing small-holder farmers’ financial agency in Africa. We do so by providing community financing to co-operatives who can buy or lease soil sensors for their farmers. This soil information is then used to acquire the right fertilizer and seed inputs at discounted prices.

Locality: Kenya | Primary Sector: Agriculture & Food

  • REAssembly: An online sharing platform that can help to minimize waste and maximize reuse of construction resources by matching idle or surplus resources from completed projects to other ongoing projects in real time basis.

Locality: US & China | Primary Sector: Housing & Transportation

  • Sabal – TRY (Safe Ride India): In a country ranked as the most dangerous place for females, our project‚ Sabal‚ aims to make comfortable, free and sexual harassment-free commuting more accessible to women in India. The Sabal initiative will enroll women from low-income areas who would otherwise be working as domestic help into a comprehensive training program to provide two vital skills to promote their independence – self-defense and driving. Sabal will then connect its trainees to the numerous cab companies in India for employment.

Locality: India | Primary Sector: Housing & Transportation

  • SanPlus: Providing safe Water and Sanitation for all is certainly a challenge. It is even harder to tackle in informal settlements. In Zimbabwe, localized experience with EcoSan toilets has been successful, but innovations are needed to successfully scale up. The challenge is multifaceted. We need to tailor the EcoSan toilet to our specific context, we must make it affordable and we need a strategy for user acceptance. Through an innovative approach that leverages local assets, our project combines sanitation and engagement to Hack the Toilet and promote healthier communities in Zimbabwe’s informal settlements.

Locality: Zimbabwe | Primary Sector: Water & Sanitation

  • Video Bridges: Video Bridges is an app that uses widely available, simple to use technology to help seniors suffering from memory loss remain independent for as long as possible. Video Bridges provides a caregiver with a simple and straightforward way of creating fully customized video reminders to bridge the gaps of information necessary to safely perform activities of daily living.

Locality: US & Canada | Primary Sector: Health & Assistive Technologies

For more information about IDEAS, visit the IDEAS page!