The UNICEF Funding Opportunity for Drone Startups

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make up to $100K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity through the use of drones.

UNICEF has a 70-year history of innovating for children. They believe that new approaches, partnerships, and technologies that support realizing children’s rights are critical to improving their lives.

The Office of Innovation is a creative, interactive, and agile team in UNICEF. In a sentence, they sit at a unique intersection, where an organization that works on huge global issues meets the startup thinking, the technology, and the partners that turn this energy into scalable solutions.

If you’ve got a start-up registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries and have a working, open-source drone prototype or service (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you.

Benefits of UNICEF Funding Opportunity for Drone Startups

  • Seed funding. The Fund provides $50- $100,000 in equity-free seed funding. The money is intended for prototype testing and validation, and to get it to a stage where the company has proof that the solution works.
  • Product and technology development. Selected startups will receive technical assistance from the UNICEF Ventures team to help validate and improve their solutions.
  • Business Growth. The Fund taps into a network of mentors who help startup teams develop their business model and strategy to grow their company and ultimately profit.
  • Networks and platforms. UNICEF Ventures has a Drones lead and data science team with access to corporate and academic partnerships and use cases that selected drones start-ups can benefit from.
  • Maximize impact. As the world’s leading organization for children, UNICEF has a network of experts and partners across its Country Offices who can provide geographically localized advice and partnerships needed to reach more users.
  • Drone Corridor. Selected start-ups will have access to the UNICEF Drone corridor in Malawi providing the physical space for testing their solutions. Data from peer companies testing in the three drone corridors where UNICEF is present will be made available.


UNICEF is looking to invest in a group of companies developing drone solutions. Examples of these include, but are not limited to:

1) Software to collect, share and analyse data from UAVs (for low-connectivity areas)

  • Remote transfer or processing of visual data over low bandwidth networks
  • AI / Machine learning / Deep learning algorithms for feature detection and counting
  • Data management portal/stakeholder access protocol management

**Of particular interest software applications that work in low-connectivity areas

2) Software to manage flight and delivery operations

  • Manage supply chain payments and quality of assets for sensitive products
  • Load, delivery or flight navigation optimization
  • Digital management of delivery execution
  • Feature detection to land or drop deliveries autonomously on landing pads

3) Business models and sustainable drone services in emerging markets

  • Develop new services through the use of existing third-party drones for transport, image capturing and analysis (e.g. to support health care, crop disease detection, risk  mapping, search and rescue, disaster preparedness, etc.)
  • Explore ways to combine existing services into multi-role service applications

4) Air Safety, risk management tools and Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Systems

  • Simulation or predictive tools for managing altitude, navigation deconfliction, schedules, routings, or fleet management
  • Use case specific risk assessment tools (integrate with ICAO, EASA, NASA or other internationally recognized frameworks in development)
  • APP for field operations and decision-making process management
  • Machine-to-machine / V2V anti-collision software, neural networks

Pushing technology forward

There are numerous possible drone solutions in development and this call is not necessarily limited to the above descriptions. UNICEF is interested in companies that are working with easily replicable business solutions that can take advantage of the platforms we have.

*While they left out hardware solutions in the above focus areas, if you are working on open source, modular hardware that has a clear path to profit, they encourage you to submit an application.

How to apply?

Check the general eligibility criteria:

  • You must be registered as a private company in a UNICEF programme country;
  • You are working on open source technology solutions or willing to be open-source under the following licenses or their equivalent: BSD (software), CERN (hardware), or CC-BY (content);
  • You have an existing prototype of the solution with promising results from initial pilots;
  • Your solution has the potential to positively impact the lives of children.

If your company and project meet the eligibility criteria and is aligned with the tech use cases we have outlined above, visit our site to read more about the application process and submit an application.

Deadline: 22nd July 2018


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