Create the Future. Today

For homeless people, asking for a drink or food is incredibly demoralizing, especially since most individuals react negatively. Small businesses are often able to help in some ways but have previously had no way of communicating that with nearby people in need. Now, shops and cafes in one area of Paris have formed a network called The Carillon, which lets the poor know what services they offer via pictograms in their windows.

The Carillon is a network of traders in the 11th district in Paris. Participating businesses put small icons in their windows — denoting their willingness to donate products or services. These include a glass of water, toilet facilities, a hot drink, a laptop or some food. This way, those in need know who to ask without fear of rejection or unpleasant responses.

We have previously seen stickers used by Pumpipumpe to facilitate neighborhood sharing in Switzerland. Could either of these systems work in other cities?

Paywalls have proved a successful business model for some publishers, but the all-or-nothing approach doesn’t work for all products and audiences. Offering solutions are flexible tools, such as this platform that enable businesses to let readers choose how they pay for their content, or a Spotify for journalism offering pay-per-article functions. Now, Composer from Piano is another variable payment system, which enables media providers to adapt their business model whenever they want, without any coding.

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To begin, publishers use Composer’s back end to find out about their various audiences. The platform analyses attributes about the different visitors, such as the frequency of their visits, whether they are coming from Facebook, whether they use adblockers and whether they are on mobile. Then, the publisher can view that metadata on a simple management interface, define each audience segment and tailor their payment offers to them, all without any coding. For example, an offer might be triggered after a visitor has viewed a set number of pages or videos, or tried to access a specific piece of content. Composer will then complete the subscription, getting recurring payment information, newsletter signup and any other desired transactions.

How else could online publishers vary their product for different audiences?

According to the World Bank, there are two million people in the world without a bank account. More than half of adults in 40 percent of the poorest households in developing countries don’t have access to formal banking. What’s more, out of these so-called “unbanked” people, the gender gap in account ownership is growing. But with the emergence of financial technology, entrepreneurs are finding ways to democratize the services that let people save, run businesses and get access to loans. In doing so, many startups are redefining and expanding the idea of finance, making it more inclusive through existing and innovative technology.

This shift is largely propelled by the democratization of mobile phones and access to internet, the growing legitimacy of self-regulated platforms such as social networks, the expansion of peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding, as well as the increased usage of deregulated currencies such as Bitcoin.

As mobile phones become more widespread, users in lower economic situations are geared with a new way of proving their financial credibility. From Kenya, branchless banking service M-Pesa is perhaps one of the most successful companies using technology to facilitate financial inclusion. Its mobile banking infrastructure enables users to deposit, withdraw and transfer money just by using their mobile phones. But getting a loan can still be a hurdle for small business owners. That’s why, Greenshoe developed an app that integrates with M-Pesa, and uses phone data as a tool for measuring credit rating. Information such as how regularly a user tops up and their data usage says a lot about their income cycle and how much they earn, which enables Greenshoe to calculate a maximum loan amount for the user.

Another avenue for alternative credit rating comes from social media. As giant social platforms such as Facebook become more integrated in everyday lives, users are releasing a lot of personal data to these companies. Although privacy concerns are not to be dismissed, this data can be used for good. In the Philippines, Lenddo is a financial lender that takes into account customers’ social network activity when determining their credit score. Similarly, Happy Mango will analyze social network testimonials and employment histories to give customers a fair credit rating. Another startup is Vouch, which uses social media to crowdsource small financial guarantees (from USD 25 per person) from a user’s friends and family.

In a similar vein, peer-to-peer lending has become a more robust, formalized way for users to gain financial support. Startups like Wayniloans, which was a finalist for BBVA’s Open Talent last year, enables users to loan each other money through Bitcoin. Aflore is another finalist from 2015, which focuses on bankless peer-to-peer lending by providing a network of informal financial advisors who people already know and trust in their community.

Lastly, crowdfunding through peers is another way low-income individuals can now get a head start. For many young people today, the housing market is increasingly out of reach, especially if they have student loans that hold them back financially. But a startup called Landed is now helping first time buyers crowdfund their down payment with the help of neighbors, bosses and colleagues, who receive equity on their first home in exchange. There is also WeFinance, another finalist of BBVA’s Open Talent in 2015, which let borrowers create loan listings describing themselves and their needs, such as paying for university tuition, and gain help through the social-first platform.

The BBVA Financial Inclusion Award, which occurs in conjunction with the company’s Open Talent competition, focuses especially on digital financial solutions for low-income customers or small businesses. The startups for consideration provide products and services for users in lower economic situations, empowering them and activating their financial goals. Winners will be able to participate in the immersion program with the rest of the Open Talent finalists in London and Mexico City, and interact with the local networks and BBVA executives.

Startups can now register for and learn more about BBVA’s Open Talent event this year.

We have recently seen a whole host of devices designed to help the visually impaired navigate the world around them via haptic feedback. There are vibrating belts and clip-on ultrasound wearables, and now, Samsung Electronics and creative agency Cheil Spain have created a vibrating swimming hat, especially for blind swimmers competing in the Paralympics.

The Blind Cap is a high-tech bluetooth cap that vibrates when the swimmer approaches the edge of the pool, to tell them to change direction. The hat was designed to be used during the blind swimming competition at the upcoming Paralympics. Blind swimming races have been part of the games since 1960 but previously, the swimmers would be tapped on the head by a long pole by their coach as they approached the end of their length. Now, coaches will simply be able to click a button to let the competitor know that it is time to turn.

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Could the Blind Cap be adapted to inform the swimmer automatically, meaning it could be used without a coach?

We’ve seen how an intelligent assistant app lets users decide who sees their shopping habits, and now a new platform is giving businesses access to customers’ receipts, by incentivizing shoppers with rewards.

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InfoScout has developed a series of apps that let businesses gain insight into consumer preferences. Customers first upload pictures of receipts immediately after shopping (which InfoScout automatically digitizes via character-recognition) and gain rewards in the form of school donations or credits towards free lottery tickets. Alongside access to accurate user geographic and ethnicity data, industry partners can also deploy targeted surveys to consumers for feedback after shopping. What’s more, through a shopping list app, InfoScout mines insight on purchasing routines and impulse buys across a range of competitor stores.

By enabling users to participate in their data collection, InfoScout lessens the mistrust consumers can feel at having their habits monitored. Could other industries benefit from incentivized user data apps?

Sharing economies already cover clothing, luxury travel, appliances and storage space. Now, unwanted food no longer has to go to waste thanks to NYC-based Transfernation. The app links corporate events with local volunteers in real-time, and is perfect for those with limited time in their day to volunteer.

Realizing that obstacles to feeding the hungry are more often logistical than a lack of willingness, Transfernation’s founders solved one of the main problems in reducing food waste — they’re making donating food no more difficult than throwing it away. Companies wanting to give away leftovers often don’t know where to take it and how to get it there. Now, event planners only have to log a few details with the app. When a registered event is nearing conclusion, notifications are sent out to potential volunteers. Whoever is available then manages the pickup, transport and delivery of the leftover food to nearby shelters and food banks.

The founders may consider replicating the app for cities that are more dependent on public transit. What other logistic problems of donation could the sharing economy help solve?

Learning to play a musical instrument is a reward in itself, and recent studies have proven that it can also help with children’s academic achievement. However, music programs are often the first to go when schools need to make savings, and the cost of private lessons and instruments can make it unaffordable to many families. Offering an alternative is Teach-U VR, a virtual reality system created by participants at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon.

Teach-U VR is an immersive environment that enables children to learn piano and drums virtually by engaging their muscle memory on virtual instruments. To begin, the child and their teacher each put on a Google Cardboard headset and connect to wifi. They are then immersed in a split screen virtual environment, with one piano or drum kit on each side. The participants can then ‘play’ the virtual instruments physically with hand gestures. The system can be used for lessons, practice or collaborations.

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Could other physical skills such as cooking or crafting be taught and practiced using VR?

Personalizing healthcare with apps and smart devices, such as medication reminders and Bluetooth-linked toothbrushes, help make the industry more sustainable, but not always more accessible. Engineering and computer science researchers from the University of Washington created SpiroCall, which enables anyone to remotely analyze their respiratory health from any phone, anywhere.

The tool builds on technology developed in 2012, which measured lung health via an app and the smartphone’s microphone. Scientists adjusted the machine learning algorithms to provide equivalent checks via standard phone audio, rather than sound files transferred over the internet. Users of SpiroCall dial a 1-800 number and when prompted, exhale as fast and hard as possible and the phone transmits the sound and pressure results to a central server for data conversion and review.

SpiroCall’s accuracy is within the industry requirements of five to ten percent variation from the results of commercial spirometers used in hospitals and by doctors. The team will focus future development on increasing the accuracy of readings and finding the best ways to communicate results to patients.

Millions of people around the world who have access to a phone use an old flip phone or a village landline, not the latest smartphone technology. Where else could technology be used to retrofit pre-digital devices?

As a species, we are constantly looking for ways to be faster and more efficient. We have already seen tools that enable people to train themselves to read and even listen quicker. Now, researchers at the University of Waterloo have created a patent-pending keyboard shortcut system that could help people type significantly faster.

The system enables typers to trigger different shortcut commands by pressing the same keyboard key using different fingers, hands or postures. It was created by MA student Jingjie Zheng and Professor Daniel Vogel, who have tailored it to suit the general preferences of computer users. For example, users generally type with their index finger and thumb and have their other fingers closed; people rarely use their ring finger and middle finger while closing the rest of their hand. These insights and more were used to create a system that people will be able to adopt, in order to type more efficiently, without altering their natural typing patterns.

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How else could physical behavior and actions be used to improve human interaction with computers?

Consumer preferences are shifting towards eco-conscious habits, and more and more are prioritizing sustainability over price and convenience. We have already seen an app that helps diners find local restaurants that share their values, now Farmcation is going a step further and connecting those wanting a stronger connection with the source of their food with the passionate, knowledgeable farmers who produce it. Farmcation’s founders know that even when a labor of love, farming is difficult work.

Despite sales of local food more than doubling in the past few years, most small farmers continue to struggle financially on an average net income of USD 20,000 per year. Many small-scale farms already seek to supplement their livelihood through market stalls and pick-your-own produce. At the same time, interest in the locavore movement continues to grow. Farmcation’s founders saw an opportunity to bring the two together in a way that would increase local sustainability and create stronger communities.

Farmcation works with both hosts and guests, matching up interests with specialty knowledge. Activities include farm tours; fruit picking; canning, jamming, pickling and cooking workshops; cheesemaking classes; and farm-to-table meals. Development plans for the company will focus on increasing support for farmers who want to participate but have too little time to develop their offerings. “We want to scale thoughtfully and patiently,” says the company.

A number of companies have begun operating in the space between food producers and consumers, creating a sustainable local food chain, such as this an online marketplace designed to connect producers with local buyers. How else can startups foster stronger local supply chains?