Skip to main content

Startup Case Studies

Have a startup in mind that developed a Digital Public Good? Feel free to suggest an issue or make a pull request to this page.

Accessible Kazakhstan – Becoming a DPG supported by UNICEF and an Accelerator (Astana Hub)​

Accessible Kazakhstan is a crowdsourced map of accessible public spaces, buildings and businesses for people with disabilities. So far, 4000 places have been mapped across 20 different regions in Kazakhstan. By the end of 2021, the map will be endorsed as a DPG ready for scale to new countries and languages. The UNICEF DPG team has been supporting Astana Hub to create a pipeline of local DPGs. UNICEF has been working with Astana Hub to strengthen the alignment between the Hub’s graduates and UNICEF Kazakhstan’s programme priorities.

Below are notes taken from an interview with Alexandra Sharonova Founder and CEO of Accessible Kazakhstan:​

What stage of a startup were you at before UNICEF supported you?​

We have had a website, but we were not satisfied with its design and the lack of statistical data on the website. This depended on a lack of funding.

How does Accessible Kazakhstan’s business model operate?​

Initially the project was designed as a social non-profit one. The information and educational components available on our website are free of charge.

What traction or previous funding did you have prior to becoming a DPG?​

The “Accessible Kazakhstan” project is being implemented only with funding from international donors. Accessible Kazakhstan was financed by the European Union. In addition to administrative costs, the project included training for regional representatives (offline and online), developing an online training course (publicly available on the Stepik LMS platform), and distributing smaller size grants to regional representatives to monitor public facilities and make an interactive map via adding the info about the facilities.

We had several smaller size grants for the translation of educational materials from German into Kazakh and Russian; for conducting a final international conference; for making videos in Kazakh and Russian; for adding the “Accessibility and safety of children under 7” part to the checklist.

When we received funding from UNICEF, we improved the information system “Accessible Kazakhstan”: design, statistics block, personal account block, etc.; producing two videos, two webinars, an online training course on organizing children's zones in public facilities.

Were you open source previously?​

No. Within the framework of the first agreement with UNICEF, only the “Accessibility and safety of children under 7” part was made open source.

What convinced you to go open source? Describe your open source journey.​

We were offered to improve the information system and make it an open source software. We were interested in such an offer, as we are always open to something new, especially since it is to help someone and share our knowledge and our products. We agreed immediately. We found programmers, finalized the project, and applied for DPG status. Now we are waiting for the consideration of the DPG application (October 2021).

How is your team structured?​

At the moment, the project manager is Belfer Aleksandra Sergeevna. There are two assistants with disabilities. Since the project functions in all 14 regions of the Republic of Kazakhstan, each region has coordinators (they work in NGOs or with initiative groups, and more than half of them have disabilities). We hire the rest of the specialists if necessary, and we have been cooperating with most of them for several years.

What was the most helpful support you received from UNICEF or Astana Hub?​

Our project manager, Belfer Aleksandra Sergeevna completed a 3-month training at Astana Hub and obtained a lot of new and necessary knowledge that was used in our everyday work. We had daily and close contact with Astana Hub managers who helped to quickly and efficiently resolve any issues that appeared. We had several meetings with UNICEF representatives where we received the necessary assistance for DPG nomination and meeting funding milestones.

Are you looking for private investment?​

Yes, we would like to develop a training course in Kazakh and Russian for government agencies and property owners on how to meet standards of public facilities regarding their accessibility. There is no such course in Kazakhstan, and it is a necessary one. We have plans to use artificial intelligence in the “Accessible Kazakhstan” information system. We would like to open a resource center for voluntary certification and training for accessibility experts.

What are the most enticing aspects of becoming a DPG?​

The most enticing aspect is helping foreign NGOs (for example, in Central Asia) to create a similar product, but using our experience, saving time and financial resources.

Bisa Health – Becoming a DPG supported by UNICEF Startup Labs and MEST Accelerator (Ghana)​​

Why Bisa Health got started​

In 2014, Raindolf Owusu, Founder and CEO of Bisa Health, had some very bad stomach pains. He decided to go to the hospital to get medication. Raindolf had to sit in a long queue for hours, and in doing so, reflected on how Ghana's conservative society can prevent people from speaking freely about their health, particularly sexual reproductive health. In 2016, he decided to create an online communication platform, now called Bisa, a telehealth application, where patients can ask questions freely to doctors from the comfort of their homes.

What stage of a startup were you at before UNICEF supported you?​​

In 2020, we were still testing the application and getting users to understand the market. Now in 2022, we are in the scaling phase, where we have developed a prototype.

What is the business model of Bisa App?​

The application is open source now and available for others to build a telehealth application using the software code. The current application is free for users. At first, when a patient (free app user) sends a question, it takes 2-5 hours for a doctor to respond, sometimes up to 48 hours. For those that need quicker responses, the users pay a fee of about 5 Ghana Cedi for instant communication/ messenger, which is done all within the Bisa App. Alternatively, those who want a video or face to face consultation, the cost is 50 Ghana Cedi.

What traction or previous funding did you have prior to becoming a DPG?​

We were supported by a foundation where we received equity free funding, which is how we were able to sustain ourselves in the beginning. When we joined UNICEF's StartupLab in Ghana, we began to be self-sustaining and are now rolling out the premium model.

Were you open source previously?​​

No, when we were initially building Bisa, we didn’t consider making it open source. Then, when we heard about becoming a digital public good, we immediately thought it was a great idea. This gives an opportunity for other people to come on board and help us build our technology better. It's also easily scalable to other countries.

What convinced you to go open source? Describe your open source journey.​​

Our team has developed open source projects before, and as a company we have tested a few things. Open source gives us a platform to go bigger and build a better product. For us, with open source, there is always a way to commercialize aspects such as support services. It wasn't a difficult decision and we were excited to give more people access to such a platform and scale it to other countries.

How is your team structured?​​

Raindolf Owusu, Founder and CEO of Bisa Health has a background in computer science. There is a team of 12 as of March 2022, including software engineers, business development representatives, medical doctors, public health experts, and marketers.

What was the most helpful support you received from UNICEF?​

The biggest support we received was mentorship on our business model. At first, it was very difficult to monetize Bisa. It took months, but now we have a value for the public to pay for.

Are you looking for private investment?​​

One of the biggest challenges was how the business model generated revenue. Now we are in the process of commercializing it. Once we are able to test the market, we will look to scale Bisa and potentially need additional funding.

What are the most enticing aspects of becoming a DPG?​​

As a software developer, I'm most interested in how we get connected to potential partners who can help contribute to the software. Being a part of UNICEF's network and affiliation has helped with credibility and gives a lot of recognition and validation. There was an article on UNICEF's website and that helped us get recognized as well.

What kind of support does Bisa Health need?​

  • Funding to help market Bisa to help spread information about Bisa to people in Ghana and about the great doctors who work on their platform.

  • Help putting together an AI Strategy. If Bisa can build an AI or Chatbot for FAQ, it could take the load of questions from patients. In addition, technology partners who can come onboard to help build the platform and to hire a Data Scientist to help make insights out of the data.