12 Exceptional Business Innovators Vie for North American IIC Award

Everyone On aims to provide affordable Internet services to residential users.

By Paula Klein

The word exceptional is often overused. In the case of the 12 North American finalists in the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC), however, it’s a perfect description.

It means thinking way outside the box and stretching boundaries to get results. Consider a business that aims to transform survivors of human trafficking into software professionals helping them sustain a lifetime free from exploitation. That’s what AnnieCannons does.

Or think of ULTRA Testing, an onshore IT startup that is unlocking the potential of autistic talent by proving that neurodiversity can be a competitive advantage in business.

Maybe, exceptional firms simply think about very basic needs in new ways. Many entrepreneurs may want to bypass coding altogether and bootstrap a new business app like those at Apps Without Code have done. Or, perhaps the goal is to make sure that low-resource urban residents in the United States have Internet access. The Detroit Community Technology Project increases wireless adoption while creating pathways for marginalized residents to join the digital economy.

These are just a few of the exceptional organizations named as finalists August 16 by the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) and its North America Region Collaborator, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. The MIT IIC was launched three years ago to recognize and celebrate organizations around the world that are using technology to solve a grand challenge of our time: to create more broadly shared prosperity by reinventing the future of work in the digital era. Exceptional finalists from four other regions — Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe — have also been selected.

“The MIT Challenge is a great opportunity to spark a deeper dialogue around what the future of work can look like in our communities,” said Lavea Brachman, VP of Programs at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “We look forward to lifting up these finalists and their innovative solutions, while also exploring the ways Detroit and the surrounding region are addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing workforce landscape and evolving training needs.”

The North America Challenge will be hosted in Detroit on September 27 by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation giving local attendees a chance to hear from finalists that are using technology to improve economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income earners. The 12 finalists will compete for $120,000 and four regional winners then proceed to MIT IIC Global Grand Prize Gala on November 8, where $1 million will be awarded.

More than 130 expert judges from across North America selected the 12 MIT IIC regional finalists. Following is the list of finalists in each category.

Income growth and job creation

 AnnieCannons helps survivors of sex trafficking learn marketable software skills.

 Bak USA designs and builds computers in the United States.

ULTRA Testing
 ULTRA Testing employs people with autism for software testing services.

Skills development and opportunity matching

 CareAcademy provides online courses for caregivers.


Centro de los Derechos Del Migrante
 Centro de los Derechos Del Migrante provides advocacy and training for Mexico-based migrant laborers coming to work in the America.

 PAIRIN provides workforce training courses, with an emphasis on soft skills.

Technology access
 Apps Without Code

 Apps Without Code teaches entrepreneurs how to develop business applications without the need for code-writing skills.

Detroit Community Technology Project
 The Detroit Community Technology Project builds wireless networks in low-resource areas of Detroit.

 EveryoneOn is a nonprofit that works with internet service providers to offer affordable home internet packages to low-income households.

Financial inclusion
 Fig Tech

 Fig Tech partners with nonprofits to offer loans.

 Forge offers a digital platform for a company to manage its work schedule.

The Financial Clinic
 The Financial Clinic offers advice and strategies to poor people to build financial security.

The Financial Clinic

During the regional event, North America finalists will pitch to a 12-member Selection Panel, as well as a local audience of 300-plus members of the economic growth, education, and entrepreneurship community. The Selection Panel will announce which four of these innovators wins $20,000 each and will progress to the Global Grand Prize Gala at MIT on November 8. The eight remaining finalists will each win $5,000.

Guests will also hear keynote speaker Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of the NYT best-selling book The Second Machine Age, after which he will moderate a group of panelists from southeast Michigan practicing inclusive innovation in the region. “The grand challenge of our era is to use digital technologies to create not only prosperity, but shared prosperity,” said Brynjolfsson. “The 12 IIC North America Finalists are addressing this Challenge head on with innovative, scalable solutions.”

The MIT IIC North America Celebration will be live streamed beginning at 6 p.m. EST September 27, on the MIT IIC’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MITInclusiveInnovationChallenge/ .

The MIT IIC Global Grand Prize Gala will be hosted at MIT in Cambridge, MA on November 8 in conjunction with a two-day Future of Work Congress on November 8 and 9. One million dollars in prize money will be awarded to four Global Grand Prize Winners, selected from Regional Winners from IIC finalists from Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America.