MIT’s inaugural Inclusive Innovation Competition awards $1 million to organizations harnessing technology to create economic opportunities for low-and middle-wage workers 


CAMBRIDGE, Mass., September 27, 2016––The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) today announced the winners of $1 million in prize money in the first-annual Inclusive Innovation Competition. The competition recognizes and celebrates organizations that are inventing a more inclusive, productive, and sustainable future for all by focusing on the use of technology to improve economic opportunity for base- and middle-level income earners. 

A total of 243 applications from around the world were reviewed by a panel of prestigious judges gathered together for the Inclusive Innovation Competition, developed by the MIT IDE in collaboration with MIT Solve. The applicants covered a wide range of business fields, including coding bootcamps, health care innovators, collaborative robotics, farmers innovating in the developing world, and firms using artificial intelligence to empower lower-skilled workers. 

In all, the competition awarded $125,000 to each of the four grand prize winners, and $25,000 each to sixteen runner-ups competing in four main categories:

  • Skills (how employees were re-skilled for new types of jobs);
  • Matching (how qualified people were connected to new types of jobs);
  • Humans + Machines (how technology is used to augment human labor); and
  • New Models (how new operational practices and business models revolutionize labor markets and job opportunities).

Four additional companies received $25,000 Judges Choice Awards.

The grand prize winners are:

-- 99Degrees Custom (Humans + Machines Category): An apparel manufacturer of sewn and bonded sports and activewear that has engineered a partially automated production line to successfully compete with lower-wage overseas manufacturers– even while it pays its trained employees living wages and benefits. They are based in Lawrence, MA, the site of the first Industrial Revolution.

-- Iora Health (New Models Category): A health care organization that gets paid not per sick visit, but for keeping people healthy. Their ‘health coaches’ are hired based on their level of empathy. A custom-built IT system assists health coaches, which has resulted in fewer visits to emergency rooms and with specialists, and better follow-through on doctor-recommended health regimens, resulting in 15-20 percent lower total healthcare costs. Health coaches are paid a living wage while gaining an entry into the health field. Iora Health serves 45,000 patients in 29 locations across 11 cities.

-- Year Up (Skills Category): A non-profit that equips low-income young adults with technology-based experience and skills that allow them to compete for, and obtain, professional jobs with career pathways.  Year Up’s curriculum is market-driven and responds directly to the hiring needs of employers. Based in Boston, they serve students in an additional 16 U.S. cities.

-- Laboratoria (Matching Category): Trains women from low-income backgrounds and helps them land technology jobs, such as coding positions, with Latin American companies. Initially based in Peru, Laboratoria has expanded into Mexico and Chile.

The 20 finalists and Judges Choice Awards winners are

Bottom Line (Matching): Increases the number of career-ready college graduates from low-income communities through a best-in-class mentorship and corporate matching model.

Coding Dojo (Skills): Through coding education, Coding Dojo empower individuals with the skills and training necessary to break through economic barriers. (New Models): A platform for workers to build networks and advocate for themselves in a shifting economy.

Destácame (Judges’ Choice): Allows people and MSMEs to prove, for free, their creditworthiness by using alternative data gathered from credit-like services such as utilities, telecoms, and suppliers.

digitalundivided (Skills): A 12-week accelerator program that fosters economic growth in low resource communities by supporting and training women of color entrepreneurs.

doctHERs (Judges’ Choice): Reintegrates home-based female doctors into the health workforce by connecting them to consumers seeking convenient, affordable, quality healthcare via a nurse-assisted digital health platform.

Duolingo, Inc. (Skills): The world’s most popular online language-learning platform. With it, anyone with internet access can learn a new language at no cost. 

eKutir Global PBC (New Models): Sustainable solutions for smallholders farmers using technology, entrepreneurship, and data.

General Assembly (Skills): Combines accelerated training with best practice youth development principles, strategic partnerships, and thought leadership in skills-based hiring.

Ignitia (Humans + Machines): Has developed the first highly accurate, highly scalable tropical weather forecasting model; sends alerts via SMS so farmers can reduce risk and increase yields.

Jana (Humans + Machines): The largest provider of free internet service in emerging markets. 

LeadGenius (Humans + Machines): Provides underemployed populations around the world with flexible online work at a guaranteed wage, paying out over $5 million annually. 

Rethink Robotics (Humans + Machines): Smart, collaborative robots are reinventing manufacturing productivity through flexibility, adapting to variable environments and performing tasks like humans do.

Rural Sourcing, Inc. (Matching): Creates American IT jobs by opening software Development Centers in smaller cities to provide a cost-effective alternative to offshore outsourcing. 

SAP SE (Judges’ Choice): The largest digital literacy initiative on the continent, Africa Code Week brings coding education to Africa’s youth.

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Matching): Creates talent solutions that meet employers’ hiring needs and moves unemployed/underemployed individuals into jobs through its demand-driven model.

Soko, Inc. (New Models): An ethical fashion brand, catalyzing global supply chain innovation and empowering marginalized artisans to compete in the global fashion market.

StartUp Box (New Models): Offshores entry level Quality Assurance software testing jobs that often go to Eastern Europe or Asia, as a hybrid job creation and education platform.

uAspire (Judges’ Choice): Drives better-informed college affordability decisions for students through two-way, text-based advising to best ensure they enroll, persist, and complete a degree with minimal debt.

Viridis Learning, Inc. (Matching): Connects colleges, students and employers. Leverages existing college data that matches students to work using verified knowledge and skills, making recruiting cost-effective and efficient.

“All of these winners exhibited amazing innovation and a commitment to creating a more inclusive future. They are leveraging technology to improve economic opportunity for the broad middle and base of the income distribution,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT Sloan Professor of Information Technology and Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “Each one is proof that technology can be used as a tool to create jobs and help people – customers, employees, and employers alike.”

“We were highly impressed with the inclusive innovation displayed by so many companies and organizations,” said Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at MIT Sloan and co-Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “With this competition, we’ve uncovered companies that are not using technology to automate and replace workers, but rather to enhance services, products, and the lives of workers.”

The competition was funded with support from Joseph Eastin, Eric and Wendy Schmidt, The Rockefeller Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, and others.

The awards ceremony, an earlier pitch competition, and a panel discussion on Expanding Economic Opportunity in the Digital Age were presented in collaboration with MIT Solve and Boston’s HUBweek. For more on MIT Solve, please visit:  

For more information on IIC winners, its core and champion committee judges, and its mission, please visit      

The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) explores how people and businesses will work, interact, and prosper in an era of profound digital transformation. Working alone and with public and private sector partners, the IDE supports and conducts groundbreaking research in the areas of productivity and employment, big data, new digital business models, and social analytics. The IDE sponsors fellowships; hosts competitions, conferences, and roundtables; and supports other events that inspire new ideas. The IDE believes that challenges posed by the digital economy not only are solvable, but that technology will create new opportunities for people and businesses to thrive. For more information, visit  

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