Visit D-Prize.org and your bound to do a double take when posed with the question:

“If you were awarded $20,000, how would you fight poverty?”

I had a chance to learn about this innovative program that identifies and funds promising social ventures that are still at an idea phase through a conversation with Nicholas Fusso. Nicholas serves as Program Director of D-Prize.

Q & A with Nicholas Fusso, Program Director of D-Prize

Nicholas FussoWhat is D-Prize?

[Nicholas Fusso] D-prize is a competition program to identify top social entrepreneurs focused on innovative initiatives for distribution.

It was launched by Andrew Youn, of One Acre Fund. Andrew has been working with African farmers to help them become more sustainable. Since One Acre fund started in 2006 it has expanded in scope and scale, now serving over a 100K families.

Through his work at One Acre Fund, Andrew became increasingly frustrated because he saw easy solutions to major problems but they were not being scaled & distributed effectively. He and a few co-founders launched D-Prize to focus on the distribution end of the social enterprise equation. The “D” in D-Prize stands for “distribution equals development”.

How does D-Prize work? Is it an accelerator program?

[Nicholas] D-prize is not necessarily an accelerator program. It is a mechanism to fund ventures that are at the idea stage.  Entrants are considered based on: (1) distribution-focused venture; 2) that can radically scale up (i.e. create massive amounts of impact). Ideal candidate will read the description and come up with concept that meets (1) and (2) and then can apply for D-Prize.

D-prize applications are generally accepted on a rolling basis. Our first round of applications was due April 30, 2013, and we received over 300 applications.  The next deadline for applications for the Fall 2013 cohort will be November 30, 2013.

What are the requirements for candidates? U.S.-based? Proven Model?

[Nicholas] There is no geographic requirement, however, solutions have to be launched in developing areas. The organizations that D-Prize looks to fund are generally highly proven, and just need innovative methods of scaling and distributing solutions. The other skill we look for is the ability of the founders to listen and find out what people need in the area.

How is D-Prize funded?

[Nicholas] By the co-founders & colleagues.

How is D-Prize structured?

[Nicholas] It has applied for non-profit status.

Tell us a little about yourself

[Nicholas] I have been in the role of Program Director since February 2013. When I started, D-Prize had already  published and launched the first competition program, and interested applicants had about 5 weeks to submit an idea. We had an aggressive schedule but were able to identify entrepreneurs in that space.

A little about me…I studied political economics in college and had a lot of friends with idealistic goals pursue nonprofit and ngo-work. I was one of the few to go into business. My first social enterprise was right out of college, called “Sustainable of Sexy.” The mission was to educate people of coffee-drinking habits, especially sustainability of coffee-related goods, such as coffee cups. We took the problem on from a business perspective, trying to show how reusable coffee cups could be better for business all-around. We had a blog, and received some great press coverage. The whole experience really excited me about entrepreneurship. D-Prize was a great fit and has been an exciting experience.

What do you see as the connection between enterprise and impact?

[Nicholas] I see entrepreneurship as the surest path to sustainable development.

How is funding disbursed?

[Nicholas] People submit a 1st round application, then if its a good fit will invite them to a final round. Selected finalists will receive $10-20K funding. Payment method will be Lump sum or in parts, based on what makes more sense for the concept and work. It’s important to determine what type of venture to figure out how to fund. (i.e. build website, market, etc.). D-Prize does not necessarily take an equity stake. The amount of funding is partially based on the budget that applicants must include as part of the final application.

What are you looking for in D-Prize candidates?

[Nicholas] Measurable impact, and lots of it. Whether applicants are non-profit or for-profit, we look at whether they are committed to creating responsible change—that it part of their core business, and not just a consideration. Finally, we are look for ideas that are transformational in their approach to meeting the distribution challenge.

How does a team apply?

Visit the D-Prize competition page for deadlines, etc. and download the application packet.

[Note: This post has been updated to reflect that D-Prize may not necessarily take equity stake in startups.]

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