The FINANCIAL — Aiming to amplify the societal impact of emerging technology, Microsoft and Accenture (NYSE: ACN) are expanding a joint initiative announced earlier this year to support startups that are focused on solving critical business challenges related to sustainability and skilling. The immersive, hands-on program provides technology support to help startups build scalable solutions and business models that can lead to more tangible and lasting benefits for people around the world.
Initially focused on engaging startups with solutions in the areas of agriculture, education and healthcare, Microsoft and Accenture are now extending the program to include startups with innovative solutions that focus on sustainability and skilling. Through the initiative, Microsoft Research India and Accenture Labs will help social enterprise startups test and validate proof-of-concepts, conduct design thinking sessions to help entrepreneurs re-envision the impact of their solutions, and provide support in exploring and using Microsoft technologies.
Lathika Pai, Country Head – Microsoft for Startups, MENA & SAARC, said, “Startups that are working towards social challenges are creating sustainable positive transformation through their innovative tech solutions. Accelerated by the pandemic, social enterprises are reimagining how they can widen the reach and deepen that impact through technology. Our collaboration with Accenture will help startups scale their solutions quickly and drive meaningful and measurable impact.”
Sanjay Podder, managing director and Technology Innovation lead for ASIAM, Greater China and Japan at Accenture, added, “Accelerating the achievement of sustainable development goals and addressing the skills gap are areas of critical importance for enterprises across industries. By expanding the focus of our joint initiative to encompass startups that have innovative and disruptive solutions in these areas, we can help scale the impact to improve how people live and work.”
Startups applying for the program are required to have deployed their solutions and have early signs of impact. The first cohort of startups in the program focused on overcoming challenges in areas of food safety, livelihood, and education, and were extensively supported by Microsoft and Accenture with technology resources and mentoring to scale their solutions. Notable projects developed by startups in the initial cohort include:
- Centre for Aquatic Livelihood Jaljeevika – An IoT-based aquaculture advisory framework on Microsoft Azure is expected to reduce capital expenditure of small-scale fish farmers. Microsoft and Accenture collaborated to scope out the problems leveraging Jaljeevika’s industrial expertise and helped to build the advisory framework. The reliability of the advisory framework and the integrity and accuracy of sensor data was tested by Dependable IoT technology developed by Microsoft Research. Using Microsoft Azure IoT Hub and PowerApps, the solution employs heuristic models to calculate accurate levels of ammonia in ponds and helps eliminate the need for ammonia sensors. This helps aqua farmers increase the fish yield and reduce operational costs by optimizing the feed through predictions and advisories.
- Akshaya Patra Foundation – Tech startups Syook and Wobot collaborated for a health and safety monitoring system for Akshaya Patra, the world’s largest NGO-run school mid-day meal program. The solution framework, developed by Microsoft and Accenture, includes offerings from both startups and helps build a resilient supply chain while helping to support social distancing and contact tracing for frontline workers in the kitchens. Powered by AI and IoT capabilities of Microsoft Azure, Wobot and Syook, the solution includes a Power BI compliance dashboard that evaluates hygiene levels at the non-profit’s kitchens facilities. Using Azure Digital Twins and powered by Wobot’s video analytics platform, the solution monitors safety attire and activities with automated real-time views of the kitchen areas. Using existing resources like surveillance cameras and ID badges, anomalies in people or processes can be detected and reported immediately.
Startups selected for the program will have the opportunity to be part of Microsoft’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Program, which is designed to empower tech-enabled startups that are focused on social and environmental challenges. Introduced in February 2020, Microsoft’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Program helps deepen the reach of entrepreneurs and startups that are focused on social impact and sustainability. The program supports startups with access to breakthrough technology in Microsoft AI, cloud expertise, go-to-market services, grants (in sustainability, accessibility, as well as skills and employability) and access to customers that facilitate connections on local and global levels.
Microsoft and Accenture’s collaboration is part of their shared vision to amplify the societal impact of emerging technology with the long-term goal of reaching a million lives globally.