By the age of two years (1,000 days from conception), a child’s brain has twice the number of neural connections it will have in adulthood. During our early years, nurturing relationships are essential to growing brains. Children who have lots of positive interactions with those who care for them have a better chance at lifelong happiness and success.
The first 1,000 days for a new business or venture is also a critical time – filled with opportunities for learning, connecting and growing. Relationships for new ventures are as important as they are for new humans. This initial period is often said to be the ‘make or break’ period. It’s no wonder a new business is often referred to as one’s baby.
This is the story of our 1st 1,000 days, and our journey towards making a difference to the lives of young children in South Africa.
Established mid-2014, Innovation Edge is a grant-making and investment fund. We focus on unconventional ideas that find solutions to early childhood care and education challenges in under-resourced communities.
We provide a variety of customised strategic, financial and hands-on support to help inventors, innovators, change makers, startups, entrepreneurs and investors turn brilliant ideas into sustainable solutions.
Innovation Edge was founded through a partnership between Omidyar Network and Ilifa Labantwana, an early childhood development-focused South African
Focus on experimentation with sourcing ideas and development of an iterative approach to Proof of Concept (POC).
22 investments in South Africa, all grant funded, 6 successful POCs, four begin transitioning to scale.
30 investments in South Africa and Lesotho. Continued experimentation with ideation and POC with greater emphasis on transition to scale.
New areas of development include exploring innovation beyond South Africa, diversifying funding mechanisms beyond grants and broadening our funder base.
How we do what we do.
We find and nurture ideas that have potential for transformative impact within one or more parts of the early childhood care and eduction ecosystem. We offer a continuum of support – from the early beginnings of an idea, to the point at which it transitions to scale.
Understandably, not all inventive ideas end up being impactful or scalable.
Each of these “failures” provides helpful insights to inform future investments.
Find inventive ideas
Establish proof of concept
Innovate approaches to scale
We understand the early childhood care and education (ECCE) ecosystem in South Africa. This enables us to source, co-create and pivot inventive solutions to challenges.
We actively seek out individuals from outside of the ECCE sector in order to bring new ways of thinking and different expertise to the space.
Experience has shown that it is the combination of deep local knowledge and broad cross-sectoral engagement that sparks innovation.
We have discovered that getting our innovations into the field as quickly as possible is the best way to ensure success.
We offer all our investees a customised combination of financial, hands-on, strategic and networking support.
We design the proof of concept journey around a series of work “sprints” with each sprint focused on unpacking, testing and retesting key assumptions.
Enhancements to Government Systems that enable more cost-effective and efficient administration and funding of ECCE services.
Designing interventions to be grafted onto existing platforms that have already achieved significant scale within targeted communities.
Creating new platforms (often tech-based) to cost effectively enable the scale of multiple impactful innovations.
For-profit business models that are able to deliver on both profit and purpose.
Niche products that provide new or better ways of meeting the needs of service providers and funders.
Top 6 insights.
Innovation happens when we connect unlike minds
However, persuading sector leaders, inventors and entrepreneurs to apply their minds to addressing early years challenges is not an easy task. Many willingly donate to a good cause, but are less open to sharing their business processes, skills and social capital.
Diverse networks are vital
We are historically well networked within the SA development and government sectors. We have, however, had to spend time strengthening our networks in the innovation, accelerator and incubator communities; and in the startup, venture capital, angel and impact investing spaces. Our portfolio now provides important conversation starters, which open doors to interesting cross-sectoral collaboration.
Being multifaceted is challenging
Over the years, we’ve had different people describing us in different ways. We have been alternately ‘labelled’ a grant maker, incubator, accelerator, innovation fund, venture philanthropist, investment vehicle, venture builder and none of these quite fit. What we have realised is that we offer a hybrid-approach without a comfortable label. Finding ways to communicate this in a way that makes sense to all of our various audiences is one of our core challenges.
Even the very best ideas fail without the right people
Throughout the journey from ideation to escalation, ventures with a committed team with common values is critical for success. Finding the champion to lead the team early on is essential, and has become one of the early-stage metrics we gauge.
We need to bridge the investment gap for scale
The pool of resources available for impact investing is much greater than traditional philanthropic funding. With a feeding frenzy in the philanthropy space and a shortage of startups that are able to tap into the massive resource base in impact investing, there is tremendous opportunity for us to help build a pipeline of impactful innovations with revenue potential.
Early Childhood Care and Education needs a home
A fundamental challenge to building systems for scale is the fact that ECCE has no “home” within government. Imagine delivering health services or education without a dedicated Ministry with clear lines of accountability, a consolidated budget and national infrastructure. ECCE needs these frameworks and demands strong inter-sectoral collaboration.
The Investment Funnel
465 applications received
46 applications pitched
30 applications approved
We have seen a x 10 increase in applications from outside of the traditional development sector.
R16 million invested to date
R90 million additional funds leveraged
The Investment Pipeline
30 inventive ideas
7 successful concepts
5 transitioning to scale
12 innovations targeting
parents & children directly
1 of 10
7 innovations for qualified
and motivated human resources
2 of 10
7 innovations to strengthen
access to and use of data
3 of 10
5 innovations to grow
demand for quality services
4 of 10
4 innovations to improve
regulatory and admin systems
5 of 10
3 innovative funding &
6 of 10
4 new platforms &
processes for delivery
7 of 10
8 of 10
9 of 10
10 of 10
By 2020, we aim to have impacted the lives of
700 000 young children living in under-resourced
communities in South Africa.
Brain Architecture Game
Translating the neuroscience of early learning into the simplest possible language – to create ‘aha’ moments that lead to greater investment of human and financial resources.
CareUp is a free mobile app solution designed to improve early literacy through mobile messaging, audio files, activities and resources targeting ECD practitioners and parents of children aged 4-5 years.
Conception to Career fund
The Conception to Career fund seeks to raise significant additional funding for ECCE and to transform the way in which development funding is channelled, to put choice and accountability within the hands of the consumer.
Digital enablement with DApps
Open-source, decentralised applications can transform ECCE administrative systems and change how ECCE services use and own information, making it possible to build an ecosystem of services to fit the needs of every child.
In a win for both businesses and employees, EarlyBird Educare@Work provides high-quality, socially inclusive educare at places of work, and channels new sources of funding into ECCE.
ECD Apps Launch Pad
The ECD Apps Launch Pad seeks to develop an ecosystem of mobile early learning applications that share a common technology infrastructure, with a modular architecture that allows for cost-effective customisation and scale.
ECD Compliance Made Easy
An innovative mobile toolkit that empowers Environmental Health Practitioners to navigate the complexities of ECD centre compliance and pivot their services from a punitive approach to one that enables continued improvements in the most vulnerable communities.
ECD Heroes Challenge
The ECD Heroes Challenge provides an engaging platform for ECD centre teachers to up their skill set, while competing for a range of exciting prizes and public recognition.
ELOM – Early Learning Outcomes Measure
This change-making assessment tool helps educators, government, NGOs, researchers and programme developers measure the effectiveness of early learning interventions.
This fun and stimulating computer game uses playful learning to help kids with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder form new neural pathways, thereby overcoming some of their challenges.
Game Plan gamifies an online ECD data platform, making it easy and fun to use, and providing users with vital information for population-based planning of ECD services and support.
Using affordable, available technology, and specially developed software, HearScreen detects and addresses hearing difficulties in young children before problems become irreversible.
By bringing quality antenatal care straight to women in their communities, iMobiMaMa gives expectant moms and their babies the support and care they need, right from the very beginning.
mHealth Screening Solutions
Building on the hearScreen experience and platform, mHealth Screening Solutions detect and address hearing and vision difficulties in young children using mobile phones and calibrated headsets.
Mothers Matter turns waiting places into engaging learning spaces, using inexpensive cardboard video cards to show new moms just how important a child’s first 1,000 days of life are.
Pivoting Platforms explores the use of established business platforms and excess inventory to produce and distribute learning resources to the communities that need them most.
Slide Guide: Road to Health Booklet Tool
A tool that assists in the correct recording and interpretation of growth chart data in the Road to Health Booklet, to enable early identification of growth faltering in infants and ensure appropriate intervention.
Virtual Reality Teacher Training
Exploring the use of Virtual Reality as a teacher training tool, by providing ECD practitioners with an immersive experience of quality early learning activities, wherever they are.
Factory-style workflow boards provide a visually effective way to identify blockages within the ECD registration system, focusing efforts on the key constraints and creating vastly more efficient processes.
Words Count brings language environment analysis to Southern Africa, providing invaluable data and insight into how the language development of marginalised children can be accelerated.
We’ve reached the stage where there is plenty to share. Many of these learnings will be housed in an open-source online toolkit. We’re also going to be expanding our reach and sharing our expertise in other parts of Africa. We look forward to continuing our adventure in making a difference in the spaces and places it matters most.