Innovate Now: Africa's first AT accelerator
Kenya is a country on the rise. Since 1990, Kenya has witnessed a steady increase in life expectancy, years of schooling and gross national income. A significant part of the country’s rapid advancement is linked to the tech boom that has made Nairobi famous as the Silicon Savannah, the place where smart and talented Africans creatively use technology to solve problems. Despite the overall progress, inequality rates are especially high in Kenya and people with disabilities are amongst the ones who are more often left behind, with approximately 67% of them living below the poverty line.
Innovate Now is a start-up accelerator that provides early stage AT companies in Kenya with an intensive 12-week curriculum, as well as business connections and a LiveLab where they are introduced to people with disabilities to test their ideas. The ARC followed the founders to study the process, carrying out qualitative and quantitative research to identify who we are helping, what their issues are and any ways that we could improve our process. We now have 10 companies on board (two cohorts of five), the second cohort taught virtually because of COVID-19. The success of the virtual classroom will be assessed as a potentially permanent solution for future cohorts.
The Global Disability Innovation Hub, as a part of the UK aid funded AT2030 programme, has developed a series of strategic partnerships with NGOs, DPOs, government agencies and the private sector to create an assistive technology innovation ecosystem called “Innovate Now”. The scope of the ecosystem is to facilitate entrepreneurs who have developed new inclusive assistive technologies to get their products to market. Support will be provided to innovators not only in the form of additional funding and access through traditional business services but also through research, clinical expertise and the access to live-labs for innovation testing thanks to the direct links with NGOs and DPOs operating around East Africa. The long term goal of the Innovate Now ecosystem is not only to accelerate local innovation to ensure that more people have access to assistive technology; but also to become an example of how a new inclusive innovation model, to be replicated around the world, could revolutionise the world and make Kenya the world leader in assistive technology innovation.