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Harnessing the Impact Potential of Technology Entrepreneurs

FSG’s newest office, located in Mumbai, houses our inclusive markets team, which works to develop and scale inclusive business models to create new opportunities and better lives for the global poor. Learn more about our inclusive markets approach.

Over the past century, some countries have made huge strides toward meeting the recently established Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as access to clean water and sanitation, while many others have significant work ahead of them to make these goals a reality.

One of the greatest opportunities for accelerating progress on the SDGs is creating greater access to hardware technology across the globe. In numerous countries, many people’s lives are supported by basic technological solutions from the moment they wake up—from turning on lights, flushing toilets, and grabbing fresh milk from the refrigerator for their morning tea or coffee, made with safe drinking water from the tap. Not only has technology made these people’s lives more comfortable, but it has also had remarkable impact on their health, lifespan, and productivity.

While flush toilets and sewerage systems have existed for hundreds of years, they remain inaccessible to 2.4 billion people around the world. The lack of sanitation infrastructure leads to water contamination and the spread of disease, often with fatal consequences: water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery claim 3.4 million lives every year.

“Hardware pioneers” is a term used for those who are working to change that by bringing hardware models such as toilets, milk chilling machines, solar lanterns, and more to benefit people living in extreme poverty.

These pioneers face many of the same challenges of any entrepreneur but with the added burdens of developing and scaling hardware in remote areas with scarce resources.

In 2012, our team explored the challenges pioneers face while working in developing countries and identified the pioneer gap, a critical void in support for promising inclusive business models. To close the gap, our team called for greater levels of enterprise philanthropy—catalytic, early-stage donor funding to establish pioneer models, into which return-seeking capital can then be invested to drive scale.

In 2014, our team examined the barriers these pioneers must overcome in order to achieve scale and introduced industry facilitators, actors who can play a vital role in resolving these barriers for the benefit of many pioneers, moving the whole industry forward.

In our new report, Hardware Pioneers: Harnessing the Impact Potential of Technology Entrepreneurs, funded by The Lemelson Foundation, we investigate the obstacles specific to hardware pioneers—from accessing the right equipment to gaining both the technical skills and business knowhow to thrive; from securing suppliers and manufacturers to servicing the hardware after installation. These firms and individuals face a great degree of challenge and risk and need support from individuals and industries across sectors to bring these transformative technologies to the billions of people who need them.

In Hardware Pioneers, we offer actionable steps to funders, incubators, accelerators, nonprofits, corporates, impact investors, and universities to begin sparking future pioneers; nurturing pioneers through challenges; scaling-up models; and amplifying the impact of their ideas. By sharing our findings, we hope to help us all move a step closer to realizing the immense potential of technology to improve people’s lives everywhere.

Download Hardware Pioneers >

Harvey Koh

Managing Director

Nidhi Hegde

Former Associate Director, FSG

Chandrima Das

Associate Director