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Call for applications; UNICEF Venture Fund for Startups to improve the Health, Nutrition, and Mental Health of Children

The UNICEF Venture Fund is looking to invest in Open Source frontier technology solutions that have the potential to create radical change in children’s health, nutrition, and mental health. We are offering up to US$100K in equity-free funding for early stage, for-profit technology start-ups that can improve the lives of children.

If your company is leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data science (DS), drones, blockchain, or extended reality (XR), we want to hear from you! We are specifically seeking companies registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries that have impressive working prototypes and a commitment to Open Source licensing.


UNICEF’s Venture Fund has been specifically designed to finance early stage, Open Source technology that can benefit children. The core motivation of the Venture Fund is to identify “clusters” or portfolios of initiatives around emerging technology  so that UNICEF can both shape markets and learn about and guide these technologies for children. We invest in solutions clustered around $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces such as blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.  

The Venture Fund is particularly seeking solutions that:      

  • Address challenges to accelerate results for children.    
  • Are optimized for low-resource environments (e.g. low connectivity, limited mobile access).    
  • Focus on reducing, rather than widening, inequalities.    
  • Are able to deliver in multiple languages, including smaller languages.   

At UNICEF, we prioritize solutions that not only leverage advanced technologies but also uphold strict data protection measures and safeguarding principles to prioritize individuals’ privacy and wellbeing. Additionally, we value a comprehensive approach that strengthens systems and services, recognizing the importance of building resilient and sustainable infrastructure to effectively support health and mental health initiatives, to achieve lasting positive outcomes in the long run.

Female and youth-led/founded startups are encouraged to apply. If you’re ready to make a global impact, reach out! 

Application Deadline: 20 October 2023


The Challenge

Every child has the right to survive and thrive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on global health, nutrition and mental health indicators for children. It has also amplified the persistent inequities in access to quality healthcare, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Factors such as where a child is born, their gender and their household’s socio-economic status greatly influence their survival and overall wellbeing. Challenges like distance, cost, trust and lack of medical supplies or trained personnel also make it difficult to access quality care.

As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s crucial to enhance the skills and capacity of frontline workers, especially in fragile contexts and vulnerable populations to strengthen health (including immunization), nutrition and mental health.  

  • Every child, regardless of their abilities, socioeconomic status, or circumstances, deserves the care and support necessary for their growth and wellbeing. However, millions of children do not have access to essential health services, particularly in regions where health systems are not adequately equipped. Shockingly, one out of every five children in low- and middle-income countries remain vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases, with a disproportionate number coming from the poorest and most marginalized communities.  
  • Nutrition-related non-communicable diseases account for nearly half of all deaths and disability in low- and middle-income countries. The triple burden of malnutrition also remains unsolved. For example, childhood overweight and obesity now co-exist with other forms of malnutrition and disproportionately affect those whose households have lower socio-economic statuses worldwide. As a result, health systems are overburdened from entirely preventable diseases and families encounter further economic strain as a result of poor health. 
  • Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the need for better access to mental health services. Today, it is estimated that 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental health conditions, and 1 in 4 children have a parent with a mental illness. Factors such as poverty, violence and crises further jeopardize children’s well-being, and persistent stigma and discrimination exacerbate suffering. Globally, suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents. Urgent action to increase investment, improve access, and foster compassionate societies is needed. 

Despite these challenges, the pandemic has also opened up opportunities for innovation in health, nutrition and mental health programmes using digital solutions. Though the Venture Fund is actively seeking to invest in digital solutions as they have enormous potential, we encourage applicants to consider how these same tools may also increase children’s exposure to online risks and harms. For UNICEF, it is crucial to ensure child online safety given that digital technologies are becoming increasingly integrated in young peoples’ lives.   

What we’re looking for

UNICEF’s innovation portfolio approach prioritizes addressing the most challenging problems faced by children and young people through nine thematic portfolios, including maternal, newborn, child & adolescent health, nutrition, mental health, youth, and humanitarian response to reach the most vulnerable populations. These portfolios prioritize solutions that strengthen systems in remote and low or no connectivity areas, improve access to data, skills and services, and empower and actively engage young people. 

UNICEF’s Venture Fund is currently looking to invest in companies that are developing software solutions using frontier technologies such as blockchain, drones, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, or extended reality to strengthen systems for health, including mental health.

Some of our most pressing questions include, but are not limited to:   

Area 1: How might we improve equity and access to services for health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support for children and their families? 

Area 2: How might we improve data generation and analysis for health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support for children and their families?  

Area 3: How might we strengthen workforce capacity, especially in fragile contexts and vulnerable populations for improving health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support? 

We are not limited to the funding options mentioned. We are actively seeking companies that push the boundaries with frontier technologies in innovative and scalable ways with global relevance.  

If you think you meet the UNICEF Venture Fund criteria, we want to hear from you! CLICK HERE TO APPLY

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