Nicholas Fusso

New Ventures Ditch the Product Invention Lab, Target Distribution Instead: The 12 D-Prize Competition winners are all about sharing proven tech, innovations – not inventing them

Last November, 500 teams of aspiring entrepreneurs pitched their idea for a new poverty-fighting venture as part of the D-Prize competition. This is no doubt impressive. What is truly remarkable, however, is that not one single team sought to invent a new technology or poverty intervention. My role at D-Prize is to find high-potential proposals ready for our investment, and so I could not have been more pleased.

You may be asking: “Where is the impact without a new technology?” Simple. Instead of spending resources inventing a new product, these ventures will distribute solutions that already exist. At D-Prize, we believe that there are already many effective poverty solutions, but most have yet to travel that last mile and reach actual people in need.

Young 1ove is one winning venture that is creating impact without having to create a new product. The new NGO is teaching a “sugar daddy awareness” class to warn teens about the increased HIV and pregnancy risks inherent with older sexual partners. The curriculum was created 20 years ago and is proven to reduce risky sexual behavior. By using an existing intervention, these founders can spend 100 percent of their time distributing this class to at-risk populations. The outcome is high potential for scale: In just one year, Young 1ove plans to reach every girl in Botswana and avert thousands of unwanted teenage pregnancies and HIV infections. Another winner, Peace Corps Volunteer Shaun Willis, is piloting a similar idea in Cameroon.

There are many more existing solutions that D-Prize winners will distribute. Miti Health uses a simple Android-based platform to help health care providers improve inventory management and supply chains. They will launch in East Africa, where vaccine breakage and stock-outs prevent many families from receiving vital treatments. In two years, the new venture hopes to support 1,200 providers who serve over one million clients. Another startup,, is enabling individuals in the U.S. to send remittance money to recipients in Ethiopia. Cash transfers and remittance payments are proven to drive economic development, and by 2015 aims to send $300,000 in transfers and save customers $10,000 in fees.

Distribution of proven solutions will directly lead to development. By focusing on distribution, the impact investors at D-Prize believe entrepreneurs will reduce risk, scale quicker, and impact more people.

There is another remarkable attribute among winners: for most, this will be the first experience launching a startup. Take recent graduates from the Hult International Business School, who developed a mobile banking idea through the Hult Prize. Their idea evolved into Pulse: the world’s first mobile “commitment saving service” that is giving unbanked people an effective way to save money specifically for purchases that matter, like healthy food. Another first-time entrepreneur is the founder of SolarRoute, who is also a current Tufts University student. This venture uses transnational bus routes to distribute sustainable energy solutions to rural areas, and will pilot this summer in Nicaragua.

Being the first funder means that D-Prize can help an aspiring entrepreneur become an actual one, and that provides an unprecedented level of impact.

Our appetite for raw potential is so strong that D-Prize is partnering with universities to give talented students a real path to a socially-focused career. At the Fletcher School at Tufts University, we worked with the Institute for Business in the Global Context to launch the Poverty Solutions Venture competition, a challenge offered specifically to Fletcher School graduate students. Two Fletcher students created an innovative model to distribute solar lamps among bus routes in Burkina Faso. This summer they will launch a venture named Claire De Lune (French for “moonlight”) to distribute lamps to 400 off-grid families, with a goal of reaching 30,000 families within two years.

A similar program exists at Brigham Young University. We partnered with the Ballard Center for Self Reliance and BYU’s Social Venture Academy to run the Y Prize. Students were challenged to design ways to distribute a proven 10-cent de-worming medication to some of the 200 million people suffering from schistosomiasis. A new NGO, Never Neglected, won the competition and will launch in Uganda. The team will leverage education workers to treat 5 million people in two years.

These 12 new social ventures have enormous potential, but there is still more to be done. Billions of people are suffering from poverty simply because the solution is outside their reach. D-Prize is looking for talented entrepreneurs who can solve these distribution problems. Our next competition launches this summer, and we are on track to award seed capital to an even greater number of aspiring entrepreneurs. Pitch your idea in our next competition, and you could be among are next cohort of winners.

The Complete List of D-Prize Winners

  • CAMEROON GIRL CHILD VENTURE: Peace Corps Volunteer Shaun Willis is disseminating sexual risk information to primary age girls throughout Cameroon. The organization will leverage Peace Corps Volunteers to teach a proven “sugar daddy awareness” curriculum to 5,000 girls living in 20 different villages this summer.

  • CLAIRE DE LUNE: Fletcher School students Andrew Lala and Tommy Galloway are distributing solar lighting to untapped markets in Burkina Faso. They reach rural families by leveraging established bus routes and positioning solar lamps as an alternative form of remittance. They will provide solar lighting to 400 families this summer, and will scale to 30,000 customers within two years. Claire de Lune won the “Poverty Solutions Venture” competition held specifically for Fletcher students.

  • LITE AFRICA ( Alyse Daunis and Hashim Mutanje are distributing energy efficient technologies to improve the health, income, and education of Africa’s low-income households. LiTeAfrica distributes to mobile money and retail shops, train retailers on marketing practices, and work with suppliers and retailers to ensure warranty and after sales service. LiTeAfrica hopes to sell 29,000 solar lamps and 37,000 cook stoves in two years, benefiting 66,000 households.

  • MITI HEALTH ( Stanford and UC Berkeley students Jessica Vernon, Benjamin Jenson, and Tammy Guo are starting Miti Health. They will provide an Android-based platform to streamline sales, inventory, and supply chains for essential medicines in East Africa. In two years, they hope to support 1,200 providers serving over a million clients

  • MONEY2ETHIOPIA ( Zacharias Teshome is launching, an online payment business that allows users to send money transfers from the US to Ethiopia. will enable users to send more money to recipients and serve as a tool for economic growth. By 2015, plans to send $300,000 in transfers and save customers $10,000 in fees.

  • NEVER NEGLECTED: Brigham Young University students Dane Anderson, Bronwen Dromey, Ryan Thomas, and Spencer Anderson will distribute praziquantel, a deworming medicine, to island villages in Uganda this summer. They will train teachers to provide medication to hard-to-reach communities. Never Neglected will treat over 5 million people within two years. Never Neglected won the “Y-Prize” challenge held specifically for BYU students.

  • PAYGO ( PayGo is a for-profit direct sales company that is distributing innovative and life changing products in Ghana. PayGo identifies and trains teams of sales representatives who sell solar lanterns directly to consumers. Sales reps are also the lending mechanism for PayGo’s “Hire-to-Own” model. PayGo is selling thousands of solar lanterns during its direct sales and Hire-to-Own pilot in Ghana and is now scaling its success.

  • PULSE ( Launched by Hult International Business School graduates, Pulse is the world’s first mobile commitment saving service. It will give millions of unbanked people a safe and convenient way to save a better future. Pulse ran its first pilot in Ahmedabad, India, and is now scaling up with a goal to reach 1000 people in Pune, India by the end of 2014.

  • SOCIAL COPS ( Social Cops is turning citizens into human sensors to aid decisions in civic, public health, and education issues. The organization is using citizen crowd-sourced data to bring improve services such as garbage collection, community toilets and mid-day meal schemes. The first pilot campaign increased garbage collection from 26 percent to 98 percent in one ward of Delhi.

  • SOLAR ROUTE: Tufts University student Morgan Babbs is creating SolarRoute, which uses transnational bus routes to tackle the last mile distribution challenge. She is using existing transportation infrastructure to deliver sustainable energy solutions to off-grid areas of Latin America. She will pilot the project this summer in Nicaragua.

  • YOUNG 1OVE ( Fulbright Scholars Noam Angrist and Brenda Duverce are teaching a “sugar daddy awareness” class to young girls in Botswana. The class warns teens about the increased HIV and pregnancy risks that come with having older sexual partners. Young 1ove has already taught this class to 300 youth, and increased knowledge of HIV risk from 6 percent to 90 percent, and boosted the percent of girls who say they are confident to say “no” to sexual predators by 32.3 percent. Within a year, Young 1ove aims to reach each and every school in Botswana, over 20,000 girls, and to avert thousands of unwanted teenage pregnancies.

  • YOUTH GLOBE ( A team of Harvard students are connecting talented, low-income Burundian girls with donors in developed countries to fund educational scholarships. It costs less than $30 to send a student to school, and Youth Globe aims to fund scholarships for 10,000 students over the next two years.

Nicholas Fusso is the program director for D-Prize.