Social impact startups face unique challenges — joining the right accelerator is key

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Social impact startups face unique challenges — joining the right accelerator is key

Andrea Hak

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Andrea Hak

Andrea is TNW’s Branded Content Editor and, as a writer, she’s covered a wide range of topics from ClimateTech to AI and gender bias. She’s Andrea is TNW’s Branded Content Editor and, as a writer, she’s covered a wide range of topics from ClimateTech to AI and gender bias. She’s always on the lookout for stories that explore the social and political impact of emerging technology.

A growing number of founders are leveraging the power of technology to help solve some of society’s biggest problems, from developing self-monitoring digital health platforms that give patients more autonomy to finding new solutions for storing renewable energy.

Today, on Global Accessibility Awareness Day, it’s particularly important to recognise the advancements a growing number of founders have made in making technology open, equal, and accessible to all, from creating devices that take into account deaf and blind communities to using AI to build groundbreaking advancements in prosthetics.

But, due to the novel and often disruptive approaches they take to solve common problems, these startups also need to contend with additional hurdles. They often struggle with developing their product and business models, complying with regulations and bureaucratic red tape, gaining funding, and marketing their products and services.

Zeng Xi Feng, founder and CEO of TangTangQuan, a new platform that offers professional health management to children with Type1 diabetes, understands this all too well. With digital and wearable technology, his company aims to help diabetics maintain a normal life and combat key issues, such as discrimination in social environments and gaps in medical insurance coverage.

However, despite the potential TangTangQuan has to change lives for the better, Xi Feng and his team faced a number of challenges.

Challenging the status quo

Ironically, the main difficulty social impact startups are up against is not inventing a new solution, but getting people to change their habits and ways of thinking. As Xi Feng explained, many chronic disease patients place a greater focus on medicine and body examinations than on continuing health monitoring and management, which are actually more beneficial for therapy.

“The most difficult hurdle for digital health startups is developing a business model. Patients with chronic disease are used to paying for doctor visits, physical medicines, and examinations, but there is no notion of paying for digital services.”

Despite the fact that the type 1 diabetes community is already one of the chronic disease community’s most concerned about continuing health management, Xi Feng shared that less than 10% of patients are willing to pay for the health service.

Gaining funding

Many VCs still carry the outdated notion that social impact can’t be profitable, especially when it’s targeting new and niche audiences. For many social impact startups, this can make it difficult to raise funding amongst traditionally risk averse investors.

“The type 1 diabetes we are targeting is actually a very small community with few patients. Many of our peers and investors felt that our team would not survive the fierce competition using such a large team to serve such a small number of patients. As a result, we do not receive as much financing from VCs as other firms in the digital health field.”

Building a network

Xi Feng and his team realised forming a partnership with a large industry player would be the best move to gain the influence, credibility, and network TangTangQuan needed to reach more users. But attracting attention would be difficult.

“In China, business health insurance is still in its early stages. So there is no way to get the business model off the ground as rapidly as digital health startups in Europe and the United States can by working with commercial insurance companies,” Xi Feng explained.

That’s why they decided to enter the OPPO Inspiration Challenge which is aimed at empowering startups with innovative solutions to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

TangTangQuan was selected as one of the top ten proposals in the 2022 OPPO Inspiration Challenge, gaining access to OPPO’s tech, marketing, and business experts, and allowing it to establish a longer-term partnership with the brand.

Could joining an accelerator programme be right for you?

Joining an accelerator is a great way to get the guidance, mentorship, network, and visibility you need to take your startup to the next level. However, you need to select the right one for your business.

1. Define your goals and needs

Each program has its own unique strengths and areas of focus, so it’s important to find the one that best suits your startup’s specific needs. Start by clearly defining your startup’s long-term goals. It’s important to consider the growth stage your startup is in and what it would take to make it to the next level of growth, whether that’s access to new markets, technology, or funding.

Xi Feng had identified OPPO as a partner with the technology and market influence TangTangQuan needed to get its business off the ground.

“We had been researching the OPPO watch on our own before joining this challenge. We wanted to integrate the blood glucose monitoring app and the artificial pancreas app into the OPPO watch, and then have the watch send the blood glucose data to the cloud, allowing the patient’s parents to have real-time distant blood glucose monitoring as well as local blood glucose management.”

After being selected as one of the top 10 winning proposals last year, TangTangQuan started a partnership with the company. Now, OPPO watch (Chinese version) can be applied to the app to help more type 1 diabetes patients. Meanwhile, its IoT team has also helped TangTangQuan optimise data connection and transmission, making the app more accurate and convenient for patients to use.

“Of course, I think the value of participating in the OPPO Inspiration Challenge is still in the business model optimization mentioned earlier. In China, it’s still quite difficult for digital health startups to charge for their services, but by combining with OPPO hardware, we can successfully productize the service physically, while being able to transmit data remotely and make the service easy.”

2. Assess network access

When evaluating accelerator programs, it’s crucial to consider their market influence and reputation. Take a deeper look at the program’s network both in terms of potential corporate partnerships and its media presence. A well-connected accelerator can provide invaluable introductions, partnerships, and guidance from experienced professionals who can help propel your startup forward.

“Of course, OPPO’s brand influence and corporate awareness remain high, which is a positive endorsement for us. The variety of media coverage we received as a result of our participation in the Inspiration Challenge also contributed to our increased visibility. At the same time, we made many new acquaintances and generated commercial potential for future collaboration. In addition, we were also invited to participate in the filming of a video to promote our startup project to a wider audience.”

3. Research past alumni

Look for programs that have a strong track record of success, with alumni who have gone on to achieve notable milestones or made significant industry impact. Programs that have produced successful startups in your specific sector can also provide valuable market connections and credibility. Research the program’s alumni network and don’t be afraid to reach out to previous participants.

2023 OPPO Inspiration Challenge now open for applications

If you’re a social impact startup developing innovative new solutions in the fields of digital health, accessibility, and environmental protection, the OPPO Inspiration Challenge could be for you.

Together with Qualcomm, GSMA 5G IN, Amazon Web Services and LinkedIn, OPPO and its global technology ecosystem partners aim to bring new and innovative solutions to life by providing funding, support, and partnership opportunities. By working together, OPPO hopes these innovations can create a positive impact, and encourage greater awareness of the issues that affect global communities.

Each of the final top 5 winners will receive a grant of $50,000 (tax-included). The top 15 will be invited to OPPO’s Acceleration Camp where they will receive mentorship from experts and industry partners. Additional partnership opportunities will be open to the global top 45 participants.

The deadline to submit your proposal is 30 June 2023. Check out the OPPO Inspiration Challenge’s official website for more information.

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