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Organizations supporting small businesses get millions in grants

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The Strive Innovation Fund program will support 11 organizations around the world | Photo: Jacques Bopp
The Strive Innovation Fund program will support 11 organizations around the world | Photo: Jacques Bopp

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth announced the newest grant recipients of the Mastercard Strive Innovation Fund, with nearly $2 million in grants distributed globally. Mastercard Strive supports early-stage solutions with the potential to drive outsized impact for small businesses in the categories of sustainability, digitalization, community lending, and more. Funding is awarded to change-making organizations focused on building, testing, and scaling creative solutions that drive small business growth, financial resilience, and environmental sustainability.

The Strive Innovation Fund program, which is administered by Caribou Digital and DAI, will support 11 organizations around the world, including seven organizations focused on innovative digital solutions that support small businesses’ growth in environmental sustainability and data for market access. In the United States, grants will be awarded, through Strive USA, to four organizations focused on elevating and accelerating promising ideas for strengthening the small business ecosystem through digital and data-first approaches.

“Every day, digital advances are creating new opportunities for small business growth and resilience.  Mastercard Strive helps provide the necessary funding to develop and scale ideas and solutions that meet the needs of small businesses today and for the future. This is key as we work toward an economy and society that promises opportunity for everyone, everywhere,” says Shamina Singh, founder and president of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

Grantees of the Strive Innovation Fund include:

Global

Vested Impact, Global
Vested Impact assesses the impact of companies’ activities against the 169 United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Targets. They are developing a portal for automated impact assessment for small businesses, particularly in Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Asia Pacific

Alner, Indonesia
Alner employs a reusable and returnable packaging system in Indonesia, replacing single-use, non-recyclable packaging for daily essentials. They empower small businesses as resellers with a digital solution, namely a mobile app, enabling them to sell zero-waste yet affordable daily products and monitor consumer habits, packaging return rates, and business performance to drive efficiency.

SkyEye, Samoa
SkyEye is a geospatial and software solutions provider whose ecommerce platform works with Samoan small businesses to facilitate access to local and international markets and collect sales, user, and location data. This platform helps enterprises with advanced business intelligence analyses.

SoBanHang, Vietnam
SoBanHang is a business management mobile app that empowers small businesses to sell more across digital channels, manage business operations efficiently, and access inclusive financial services easily on smartphones. SoBanHang wants to provide merchants instant access to market data and procurement services through its Intelligent Procurement Solution for small businesses in Vietnam.

Europe

Tern Eco Ltd, UK
Tern’s mission is to help retailers of any size build brand-owned circular models that meet business objectives and sustainability goals – reducing waste while driving customer lifetime value and unlocking new opportunities for revenue growth. They plan to improve the functionality and flexibility of their current service to enable additional circular models and leverage the collected data through the development of an API infrastructure.

Latin America/Caribbean

Datasketch, Colombia
Datasketch advocates for the responsible use of data technologies to enable evidence-based decisions. Their mission is to democratize data science for small businesses, particularly those in developing nations, by equipping them with accessible, easy-to-use tools to harness the power of their own data.

Middle East/Africa

Africa 118, Ethiopia
Africa 118’s mission is to act as marketing support to help African small businesses get discovered by leveraging digital platforms and social media. Africa 818 leverages a Digital Presence Pack, which it plans to expand to add value and accelerate its adoption, including social media integration, a mobile operator and market intelligence database.

North America

Accessity, Calif., U.S.
Accessity opens the doors of financial opportunity for primarily low-to-moderate income and diverse entrepreneurs through access to small business loans and a community of support and resources. Accessity’s SmartLend solution will utilize Accessity’s years of lending data and integrate AI-enabled tools to enhance the client experience through education and resources, predictive analytics, and a simplified and expedited loan application and underwriting process.

Aeris Insight, U.S.
Aeris Insight accelerates the flow of capital to Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), whose mission is to provide financial services to underserved small business and communities in the U.S. Aeris will establish a data repository to support analysis of CDFI industry performance and create a performance baseline for new investment and liquidity tools that expand and diversify capital resources.

California Farmlink, Calif., U.S.
California FarmLink is focused on investing in the livelihoods and well-being of farmers, ranchers, and fishers who build and restore healthy communities and natural environments. In partnership with local Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs), FarmLink will pilot a program that integrates capital tools, digital solutions, and conservation measures to better support Latino farmers and promote social impact investment in climate-smart agriculture.

Scale Link & LoanWell, U.S.
Scale Link and LoanWell are piloting a scalable solution — Regional SMB Loan Digital Marketplace — that will facilitate small business lending via a common interface with a network of participating CDFI lenders, for the purposes of loan applications, matching, reporting, and recapitalizing of loans by Scale Link.

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Startups seeking funding will pitch on Leap Day in freezing temperatures

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A competitor training in a ice role ahead of the Polar Bear Pitching event
Aura Pyykönen, from Natal Mind: cold enthusiast will be pitching her startup in Oulu this week

Whatever you are doing with your extra day this leap year probably isn’t as cold as the challenge some startups from around the world are facing in Finland: participating in a competition by pitching from an ice hole this February 29th.

The Polar Bear Pitching, hosted in Oulu, a city 600Km from Helsinki, has attracted startups from as far as Japan and Kazakhstan to pitch for a chance to secure investors and win a €10,000 prize. Finnish startups and businesses from Norway and Iceland will also be joining the contest today.

“We are currently raising our first seed round and entered the Polar Bear Pitching contest as an impactful way to express the vision and mission of our venture to potential investors in Europe,” says Sajjad Kamal Shuvro, a Bangladeshi who has been living in Japan for 7 years now. He is the co-founder of Floatmeal, a He is the co-founder of Floatmeal, a company that uses technology to produce the next-generation plant-based superfoods.

Oulu is one of the world’s leading concentrations in the health and wellness industry. Obstetrician and gynaecologist Aura Pyykönen will be competing at the Polar Bear Pitching for the first time on behalf of her own startup, an AI-powered birth coaching program based on the Nordic method designed for pregnant women and their partners.

“We thought pitching at the Polar Bear Pitching will be absolutely cool and great way to get visibility for Natal Mind, a redesigned perinatal journey for a calmer mind  and improved birth outcomes,” says Pyykönen who is a cold enthusiast and has been training ahead of the event.

The last time Polar Bear Pitching took place as an in-person event, in Oulu, was in 2019. For 2024 the program includes an IceTech Summit exploring topics such as artificial intelligence and printed electronics.

For those who are not in Finland or didn’t manage to secure a ticket to watch the Polar Bear Pitching in Oulu, the event will be broadcast from 6 PM  Eastern European Time (EET) on www.polarbearpitching.com.

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Birmingham joins global network of design and digital consultancies

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Representatives of the Design Factory Birmingham
Based at Aston University, expertise in areas such as 3D printing will be shared to boost the local economy

Birmingham has become the latest city to join a global network of design and digital consultancies set up to solve real world challenges through effective problem-solving.

Design Factory Birmingham will be based at Aston University, one of just two hubs in the UK outside of London.

The city has officially joined the Design Factory Global Network earlier this month. As a result, businesses, industry partners, entrepreneurs, staff and students will be able to collaborate on projects that will involve technologies such as 3D printers and design software.

The University will be sharing its expertise in artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing, data science and web, app and graphic design to boost the local economy.

Currently there are 39 innovation hubs in 25 countries across five continents based in universities and research organisations.

The Design Factory will include a space named after the late Dame Margaret Weston, former director of the Science Museum. Dame Margaret had studied electrical engineering at one of Aston University’s predecessor institutions and went on to be the first woman appointed to lead a national museum. She left a generous gift to Aston University in her will, which will be commemorated in the Birmingham Design Factory in honour of her engineering background.

“The Design Factory Birmingham is another key milestone in our ambition to be a leader in science, technology, and innovation, driving socio-economic transformation in our city and region.  It is important to the Midlands because it will make a direct contribution to innovation led growth in partnership with industry and businesses.  However, this is not only a local launch but also a global launch as Design Factory Birmingham is a global innovation hub, and an integral part of the Design Factory Global Network involving 39 innovation hubs around the world,” says The Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Aston University, Professor Aleks Subic. 

“Shared understanding and common ways of working enable Design Factories in the network to collaborate efficiently across cultures, time zones and organisational boundaries fostering radical innovations,” says the head of the Design Factory Global Network Felipe Gárate from Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland who attended the official launch in Birmingham, UK.

There are 39 Design Factory hubs around the world with three of them being based in the UK.

As a member of the global network the Birmingham Design Factory at Aston University will participate in two global design challenges – one run by McDonalds and the other run by the Ford Motor Company.

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Energy Storage Summit gathers global experts in London

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Energy Storage Summit gathers global experts in London
UK minister of state for climate change and energy Graham Stuart was one of the key speakers at the Energy Storage Summit | Photo: David Stanley-Tate

Nearly 1,000 experts and leaders in the global energy storage industry gathered in Hammersmith,  London this week to attend the 9th Energy Storage Summit 2024.

The event, one of Europe’s largest networking events for the energy storage sector, hosted over a thousand delegates from across the globe.

The line up of speakers included Nick Winser,  commissioner at the National Infrastructure Commission; Doriana Forleo Executive Director at Energy Storage Coalition, and UK minister of state for climate change and energy Graham Stuart.

According to analysts, by 2030 the global cumulative installed capacity for energy storage will have reached 1,420 GWh, with large-scale development of storage power stations from 0.1 GWh to 1 GWh and then to 10 GWh becoming an inevitable trend. However, such expansion will bring with it challenges in cost efficiency, safety and operation and maintenance complexity, making the need for advanced storage technology and design more urgent.

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