Our projects address either challenges that are shared across the industry or high potential opportunities. We call these “Building Block” and “Exploration” projects, respectively, and we can fund either type at Concept or Pilot stages. To learn more about amounts of funding available, see “How much funding can I apply for?”.
Building Block projects create shared solutions for problems that are commonly faced across the industry. As an example: mini-grid companies need to design and estimate the costs of a distribution network for potential project sites. While some companies have an in-house team and/or tool to address this need, no such network design tool exists on a freely accessible and open source basis. This means that new or upcoming mini-grid companies will have to spend time and resources figuring out this aspect of their operations. While being able to design and cost a distribution network is a critical part of becoming a commercially viable mini-grid company, it’s not the source of sustainable competitive advantage. In this sense, this shared challenge could be easily addressed by an open source tool. An open source network design tool would be what we’d call a sector “Building Block”. All developers could download the tool, adapt it to their needs, and start using it in their operations.
Exploration projects research high potential opportunities that might inspire new thinking in the industry. Unlike Building Block projects, which are relatively defined, Exploration projects might be open ended and highly uncertain. We don’t always know how Exploration projects will turn out, but are happy to take risks on ideas that we find promising. One example of an Exploration project might be a series of discussions that explore opportunities to harness artificial intelligence (AI) in energy access. The results of this kind of Exploration could be a whitepaper describing an innovation roadmap for the industry, a research webinar, a concept note for a new organization, or a prototype tool analyzing data from various organizations.
Whether your project is big or small, concretely defined or exploratory, and has to do with either commercial or technology development, we can support it. We are looking for radical ideas that can push new thinking or bring efficiencies to the industry. To learn more about our selection process and criteria, see “How do you select projects to fund?”.
We support two project stages: Concept and Pilot. We expect Concept project budgets to be in the range of USD 15k to 50k, and Pilot project budgets to be in the range of USD 25k to USD 250k.
We can work with startups and established companies, non-profits, individual innovators, investors, and researchers. During our screening, we’ll ask questions to assess your capacity to deliver the project.
Yes. We’re a small team; please consider this if making multiple submissions.
Yes. We will contract with one “lead” entity, but you are free to collaborate with partners.
Once you’ve submitted an application, our team reviews and shortlists promising projects. We reach out to the target adopters of your proposed solution or concept, and other industry stakeholders, to assess the sector need and your approach. Following this initial review, we’ll take a closer look at the project itself. While we are concerned with the solution that can be created by the project, we also make sure the starting point of the project is sufficiently defined. There should be well-founded logic and reasons for why a particular solution needs to be developed, or why a particular opportunity needs to be explored.
If we see a potential fit, we’ll reach out to learn more. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of why this project is important, what you will deliver, how you’ll deliver it, who’s on the team, how much the project will cost, and the timeline. If all goes well, we’ll present the project to our Board.
In terms of specific selection criteria, we review several factors.
As a heads up, the rigor of our selection process adjusts with the amount of funding being requested.
For every project we fund, we create a shared working folder (e.g. on Dropbox or Google Drive) so that we can follow progress in real-time.
Instead of written reports, we check in monthly to discuss the project. These calls are held at a technical level; we want to learn about what’s going on, what’s going well, what’s hard, what you are learning, how things could be better, and how we can help. These conversations are recorded so that we can refer back to them when finalizing the project. (Note: We don’t publish these recordings.) These calls and the deliverables that are provided throughout a project form the basis of our reporting.
You can submit a project as long as our submission form is accessible on the website. We try to respond to all submissions within two weeks.
Our work has been generously funded by the Mott Foundation.
We currently aren’t hiring but keep an eye out! We’ll post vacancies here.