Team Insight

UNICEF Innovation Fund Blockchain Cohort Onboarding Workshops

Sep 29 , 2021
Rumsan team interacting with potential users
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8 startups building solutions towards financial inclusion share experiences, learn from mentors and forge connections.  


The UNICEF Innovation Fund’s latest blockchain cohort commenced the investment period with a workshop program to help chart pertinent needs and connect the companies to relevant technical assistance. Over the course of 8 weeks, the cohort attended sessions centered on five distinct themes: blockchain technology, business strategy, Open Source development, product design and communications and media support.  


About the Cohort  


The UNICEF Innovation Fund and CryptoFund have invested in 8 startups across 7 countries across the world, including Kenya, Argentina, India, Mexico, Rwanda, Iran, and Nepal. This cohort of blockchain investments are building solutions toward financial inclusion.


Globally, 1.7 billion people lack access to financial services, which would help facilitate investments in health and education, encourage savings and even protect vulnerable groups against emergencies such as job loss. These services have proven to be especially important in the face of COVID-19 economic hardships and expected compounding impacts. With mobile penetration rising, digital financial services coupled with innovation have the potential to close these disparities.


To achieve this, startups within this cohort are building applications including but not limited to decentralized decision-making tools, loan and investment services for unserved communities, remittances, cross-border transfers and digital cash vouchers and assistance solutions. For example, portfolio company Leaf Global Fintech in Rwanda, is developing a digital wallet accessible on feature phones and smart phones where users can store money in one or more currencies; and portfolio company BX Smart Labs from Mexico is building a decentralized application for saving circles. Read more on the cohort here.

Screenshot of zoom meeting

Blockchain Technology Sprint: What was on the agenda?


The aim of the blockchain technology sprint was to gain an understanding of the startups’ technical needs and match them to relevant support for the course of the investment. Prior to the commencement of the sprint, the Innovation Fund team requests startups to complete an in-depth needs assessment to identify primary areas of technical assistance demands, gathering insights toward structuring the content of the workshops and ensuring participation from relevant subject experts. Based off the inputs from the needs assessment, there were certain blockchain trends identified across the cohort, including: Security, Wallets, Smart Contracts, Tokens, Deployments/Fees/Optimization, Payments, DAOs, and guidance on building accessible solutions.


Digital infrastructures are needed to increase efficiencies in Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, cut transaction costs, simplify the transaction process as well as ease person-to-person transactions. Using blockchain technology, this cohort is developing these digital infrastructures through decentralized finance protocols to facilitate permissionless access to services such as borrowing or even using blockchain to permanently store transactions, creating transparency.

To build these backends, the teams will need to take into consideration issues pertaining to security, interoperability, and the developer communities with stake in the success of these solutions.  For example, community-first models when building blockchain products have proven to be crucial to its sustainability and traction; portfolio companies had the opportunity to hear from Ethereum Foundation on strategies to expand their respective communities.  Other sessions included one-on-one mentoring sessions with Sebastien Borget (Co-Founder & COO, The Sandbox) focused on gamification and Dan Guido’s (Co-Founder & CEO, Trail of Bits) session on security audits where cohort companies gained resources ranging from development to deployment to ensure the startups understand and mitigate risk.


Our special thanks to the following mentors that delivered sessions during the blockchain technology workshop series:


  • Barry Whitehat 

  • Dan Guido, Co-Founder and CEO, Trail of Bits 

  • Emily Hobbs, Ethereum Foundation

  • Kenneth Ng, Ethereum Foundation

  • Brett Brody, Chainlink  Labs

  • Zak Ayesh, Chainlink Labs

  • Sebastien Borget , Co-Founder and COO, The Sandbox

  • Mehran Hydary, UNICEF Blockchain Developer

  • Alexander Sherbuck, UNICEF Blockchain Developer

“Learning and experiencing all about security with Dan Guido was an extremely useful session. Helping us keep security in mind from the get go. Moreover, seeing the test cases and tools used to find the vulnerabilities in the renowned application was big for a startup like us.” - Raktim Shrestha, Project Manager-Rumsan

Technical Assistance Program


Throughout the investment, portfolio companies are offered access to tailored one-to-one mentoring programs with a business and Open Source mentor. These respective programs were commenced during the workshop series.


The Open Source Mentorship programme includes five modules about Open-Source intellectual property and communities delivered across twelve months. Fund investees will work with Open Source Technical Advisor Justin W. Flory who will guide them through the modules. Read more on the Open-Source mentorship here.  In addition to this, companies will engage in a 3–6-month business mentorship program delivered by Philippa Martinelli that concentrates on topics such as revenue models, sales and marketing, as well as financial and growth plans that ensure the product’s market readiness.  


The cohort will also be provided with need-based consultations with UNICEF communications and design experts, to help bring visibility of their solutions and improve upon the UX/UI components of their products. To support the portfolio companies in their journey to becoming potential digital public goods, the cohort will also have access to the Innovation Funds growing pool of mentors, including, but not limited mentors with expertise in data security and privacy, evidence of impact frameworks, and software development.


What’s Next?  


Throughout the investment, UNICEF leverages its vast network to connect these companies to UNICEF’s work in their respective countries and provides tailored technical support from our in-house blockchain experts. Startups will also work with their Portfolio Manager, Meghan Warner, who will connect them with relevant resources, monitor that they are on track with their project, and explore follow-up funding and partnership opportunities.

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