Innovate Now, Africa’s first AT accelerator reignited as Norwegian government backs African innovation

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Innovate Now, Africa’s first Assistive Technology accelerator is recruiting the most promising innovators in a cutting edge move to boost Kenya’s momentum as an assistive technology powerhouse.

NAIROBI – 2nd March, 2022: 

A new partnership between Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), ICT Norway and Norad, indicates a new wave of momentum in the African innovation space. Allowing Innovate Now, Africa’s first Assistive Technology accelerator, to begin recruiting the next generation of cutting-edge disability innovators to establish Africa as a technology powerhouse. With this new grant from Norad, under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the accelerator, led by GDI Hub, will create sustainable mechanisms to increase digital AT access, something that is desperately needed and under-recognized as part of the solution to fulfilling international obligations and maximising human potential. 

The partnership marks the launch of Innovate Now’s fifth cohort of entrepreneurs, as it calls for applications from innovators across the African continent to develop digital assistive products, services and solutions. This comes shortly after the Global Disability Summit 2022, hosted by the Norwegian Government, which highlighted there is still much to do to address the needs of over 1.2 billion people globally with a disability – 80% of which are in the global south. The significance of this partnership can therefore not be underestimated as human rights, climate resilience, financial insecurity and disability inclusion continue to rise up the political agenda.

Increasingly AT is digital, or requires digital capabilities. Digital AT are frontier technologies supporting the full inclusion of persons with disabilities across education, healthcare, livelihoods and information services. Investment in locally relevant digital solutions both changes lives and builds wider, more resilient AT ecosystems.  Throughout COVID-19 people with disabilities have been disproportionately excluded. In low and –middle income countries global supply chains have been disrupted, affecting both access to AT and service provision. 

That’s why GDI Hub’s unique approach to increasing the likelihood of success for start-ups uses a combination of catalytic funding alongside the support of a multidisciplinary team that provides technical assistance. Powered by research excellence and global leadership within the field, GDI Hub brings its unique knowledge base, delivery experience and research insights to rapidly accelerate product development and market penetration.

Innovate Now will continue with this approach by fostering entrepreneurship through capacity building and scale support. IKT-Norge, Norway’s Industry Association for the digital businesses, joins the partnership to create and grow linkages between Innovate Now and the Norwegian community of investors, AT, business and healchare experts, whilst Kilimanjaro Blind trust is the new host and lead implementing partner for Innovate Now, providing localised support and expanding the live labs network in East Africa.

To date, Innovate Now has provided user, market, product and business model validation to ignited 21 promising African AT ventures. Over the next two years Innovate now will use the unique skill set provided by this new partnership to increase the pipeline for assistive technology ventures, mentors and investors.

Bernard Chiira, Director of Innovate Now, 

“We must open the digital age to persons with disabilities and ensure that once they are there, they can thrive equally to those with no disabilities. Assistive Technology (AT)is the gateway to bridging the digital divide for persons with disabilities today and into the future. It is critical that we ensure persons with disabilities in Africa can access the assistive technology they need to thrive in all sectors of our rapidly digitising economies. I am grateful to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and Norad for backing our ambition of driving ATassistive technology for all that need it through the power of disability innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Cathy Holloway, Head of Innovation and Academic Director, Global Disability Innovation Hub 

“We are thrilled that Norad, through funding Innovate Now, has recognised the role of disability innovation in finding solutions to some of the future’s biggest questions on disability inclusion. We will continue to work with local and international partners to share learning, drive acceleration in this space, and to ensure the story of disability innovation, all those behind it, and particularly those in need of it, will not be left behind”

Ms. Bjørg Sandkjæ, Secretary of State for Norway

“Preparing people from all walks of life for today’s digital economy demands new ways of thinking. Companies and private investors have an important role to play. Norway supports accelerators and incubators that stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship, and establishment of start-up businesses within all areas….Assistive technologies have a tremendous potential to transform the lives of people living with disability, and the commercial potential of many of the inventions are also promising. We cannot reach the Sustainable Development Goals without utilizing the potential of digital technologies and without including marginalized groups.” 

Additional Details

Digital AT and Entrepreneurship cohort call 

Innovate Now are looking for startups that offer persons with disabilities digital assistive technology solutions or that leverage digital platforms to help persons with disabilities access education, healthcare, livelihood and other sectors. Beginning on 2nd May 2022 for 12 weeks, the accelerator will provide a hands-on approach, delivering the Innovate Now curriculum, expert mentorship, user research through a Live Labs network and investor linkages to accelerate scalable assistive technologies to market. 

Innovators across Africa with ventures that provide digital assistive technology solutions are encouraged to apply at the web address www.atinnovatenow/apply 

Innovate Now 

Innovate Now was launched in 2019 as part of the £40 million, UK Aid funded, AT2030 program, which is led by Global Disability Innovation Hub. It is implemented through a consortium of partners including Amref Health Africa (lead implementing partner 2019-2021) and Kilimanjaro Blind Trust (Live Labs implementing partner and new lead implementing partner). 

Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) 

GDI Hub is an academic research centre and community interest company driving disability innovation for a fairer world. Operational in 41 countries, and with more than 70 partners, delivering projects across a portfolio of £50m, GDI Hub has reached 23 million since 2016. GDI Hub has been leading the £40 million, UK aid funded, AT2030 programme, designed to test ‘what works’ to get AT to those that need it, and is also the first and only World Health Organisation Collaboration Centre for Assistive Technology.


“Norad is the Norwegian government agency for development assistance. The Agency is a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Norad’s main task is to ensure that Norwegian development aid funds are spent in the best possible way, contributing to poverty reduction and other SDGs.