How can social impact startups influence global change?

Around the world, people are grappling with the impact of climate change at an unprecedented level, with natural disasters and air pollution making the need for action more apparent every day. At the same time, as the global population grows, novel ideas are needed to ensure everyone has equal access to potentially life-changing healthcare solutions.

With their technological smarts, agility, and passion to drive change, social impact startups are key to dreaming up innovative new ways to tackle the biggest problems facing our planet and society. However, as we covered previously, the barrier from idea to impact is high as social impact founders face unique challenges when it comes to gaining funding, building a network and challenging the status quo.

For this reason, one of the best strategies for founders is to team up with a globally-recognized brand that can provide the guidance (for example in developing their ideas into products for a larger audience), visibility, and opportunities needed to get their idea off the ground. Whether that’s by joining an accelerator programme or entering a startup challenge, there are a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of competition.

This is why the OPPO Research Institute created the Inspiration Challenge, to equip tech entrepreneurs with the necessary support required to bring their innovative solutions to life and promote a better future.

So far, startups like TangTangQuan, which won the top 10 in 2022, returned to the stage this year to demonstrate the results of its partnership with OPPO promoting a blood glucose monitoring function for the OPPO Watch 4 Pro. Using the customised smart watch interface, diabetes patients can monitor their blood glucose levels in real-time when pairing their OPPO Watch with a CGM device.

Understanding the need for progressive methods of detecting Alzheimer’s Disease, the Center for Clinical Epidemiology at Peking University Third Hospital is also making the most of its 2022 win with ongoing plans to release the Chinese version of the Multimodal Brief Neurocognitive Test Battery for ancillary screening on OPPO’s Research app. This will greatly help increase the screening rate of Alzheimer’s among patients.

In many ways, bringing these solutions to the commercial world can help build a better future. Here’s why it’s important for social impact startups to partner with major brands.

Perfecting the product

The ability to create innovative solutions goes a long way, but in the competitive social impact sector, building visibility is key to making a significant impact.

For Firouza Eshonova, founder and CEO of EZspeech, disrupting the tech market meant more than launching self-driving cars or self-checkout stores. Her goal was to create a widely-known self-training speech therapy app that could help speech development centres, rehabs, and hospitals introduce hybrid methods of treatment for individuals in rural or underserved areas.

There are over 100 million people worldwide with various speech disorders, but as Eshonova explains, there is a lack of speech therapists, coupled with long waiting lists and high costs which lots of families cannot afford.

Our mission is to democratise one of the most needed services for people, give them a chance for better well-being and reduce inequality. But as an early-stage startup, we’re facing a lot of challenges, from funding to market access.

To create opportunities for networking and scaling, EZspeech joined the OPPO Inspiration Challenge. EZspeech hopes to apply OPPO’s technologies to enhance the performance of its mobile app, specifically increase the stability and quality of the video, reduce network load and increase the quality of AI performance, as well as optimise processing of input data and delivery of output on mobile devices.

From Laboratory to industrialisation level

With their out-of-the-box thinking and ability to move fast, impact-focused startups are key in the world’s transition toward sustainable development.

Bluepha is one example. The startup is developing a natural alternative to plastic known as the Bluepha® PHA (Polyhydroxyalkanoates), a natural polymer produced from annually renewable feedstock such as scratches, plant oils, and starch, providing a sustainable way to tackle the plastic crisis and reduce carbon footprint.

Despite this breakthrough, there is still a long way to go for a new material to be adopted by industries. Time, funding, and industrial partners are all needed to scale up.

“Previously, we had faced challenges on strain optimization, processing development, and material optimization. To solve the issue we had a group of experts with multiple scientific backgrounds work together. However, to introduce the novel material into an existing industry value chain, we need brands such as OPPO for further co-creation, collaboration, and industrialization,” explains Alex Yu, Marketing Director of Bluepha.

This is why Bluepha entered the OPPO Inspiration Challenge, to facilitate the path to the industrial value chain. “With increasing capacity and a steady expansion plan, we are dedicated to setting up a reliable supply chain to fulfil global market demands,” says Yu.

Since taking part in the initiative, Bluepha has aligned with OPPO’s 2050 carbon neutrality target and their 2023 plan for plastic reduction in the European market. The smart device brand is also looking to incorporate Bluepha’s biodegradable materials into product packaging, to replace the existing plastic trays within mobile phone boxes. Bluepha presented a prototype of the watch packaging at the Inspiration Challenge’s final demo event, providing a glimpse of the emerging partnership in action. Yu adds:

In addition to collaborative packaging development, we could join forces to delve deeper into sustainable practices within our green office initiative. This could include reducing plastic usage in the office and eliminating bottled water consumption to achieve higher ESG goals. We hope this could be a role model for other companies in the future.

Showcasing impact-focused innovation

The OPPO Inspiration Challenge 2023 kickstarted on May 8th, with the goal to bring innovative solutions to life and create a better future in the two categories of ‘Inspiration for People’ and ‘Inspiration for the Planet.’

In addition to Bluepha and EZspeech, some of the other innovative social impact startups that made it to this year’s Global Top 15 include: Flint, which invented a sustainable paper battery; Ixana, which invented a secure, non-radiative wireless connection, and Impulse, which designed an affordable, non-Surgical cochlear implant.

On demo day, these finalists demonstrated their solutions and answered questions about the wider global impact they could have if selected. Of course, the main attraction was a sizable art display developed by OPPO and Bluepha, to raise awareness of plastic pollution.

In the end, leaders from the OPPO Research Institute, OPPO’s investment department, as well as experts from the Temasek International, Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), and Fidelity International selected the final five winners of the Inspiration Challenge. The proposals were evaluated based on the four criteria of Feasibility, Technological Innovation, Long-term Potential and Social Values.

Global Top 5 Winners OPPO Inspiration Challenge 2023