Internet connectivity is an increasingly critical part of accessing a better education, jobs and health care, and in participating in the 21st century economy. Yet, with more than half of the world’s population lacking internet connectivity, often in rural and other underserved communities, there is still a long road ahead of us.
That’s why we’re pleased to announce that today Microsoft has opened its third annual call for applications to the Microsoft Airband Grant Fund. The grant fund seeks to spark innovation to overcome barriers to affordable internet access, through supporting high-potential, early-stage startups creating innovative new technologies, services and business models. Grantees receive cash investments, access to technology, business development support, mentoring and great networking opportunities. This year we’re taking a keen interest in solutions enabling key verticals such as agriculture, education, healthcare and small business.
The grant fund is an integral part of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which aims to extend broadband access across the United States and, ultimately, connectivity around the globe. To that end, we are collaborating with internet access and off-grid energy access providers, as well as other private and public-sector entities, on practical, high-impact and scalable approaches to help close the digital divide. The grant fund complements, and feeds into these efforts, as we know that innovation happens at every level – from the largest corporations to an early stage startup with an idea.
Over the past two years we have awarded grants to 22 companies located in 18 countries, and we are proud of the incredible work we’ve seen from previous fund winners:
- Virginia Broadband (VABB) is a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) that delivers affordable high-speed internet using fixed wireless technology in both the unlicensed and licensed frequency ranges, to both unserved and underserved rural communities within central and eastern Virginia. Last year’s grant helped VABB install utility poles in rural areas in Virginia equipped with Microspot wireless internet deployments, aimed at bridging America’s digital divide and homework gap.
- TEAM PicoSoft in Nepal is using TV white spaces spectrum (i.e., unused broadcast frequencies) to provide affordable, high-speed internet access services in rural areas, where distances and difficult geography makes it exceedingly challenging to deliver broadband through traditional means. TV white space technology is uniquely suited to navigate difficult terrain and travel long distances to deliver connectivity. In addition to connecting consumers and small businesses, TEAM PicoSoft has used TV white space technology in disaster recovery efforts and is working with the Nepali government to bring internet access to rural primary and secondary schools.
- Electric Vine is the first and only smart-grid operator in Indonesia to integrate local payment and messaging gateway Electric Vine aims to bring sustainable energy access to households throughout Southeast Asia that don’t yet have electricity, which is fundamental to bringing internet access and income generation opportunities to these communities.
Through our Microsoft Airband Grant Fund, we hope to nurture, grow and scale more local entrepreneurs with promising, locally relevant solutions that deliver outsized socioeconomic impact to underserved populations. Applicants must be commercial organizations with at least two full-time employees, have a prototype of a working solution and have preferably paying customers. These solutions ideally combine new cloud services and applications, low-cost forms of internet connectivity, and new payment mechanisms designed for consumers and smaller businesses in underserved markets. Applications may be submitted through midnight Jan. 31, 2018 U.S. Pacific Standard Time.