Emergent Ventures

After the first two drives, I realized that people don’t have working phones lying around. If the phone is working, It is exchanged for the next purchase. If they have a device, it is usually because they have some damage or aren’t working at all. My Idea for drive 3 was to collect damaged phones, repair them and then donate them.

Repairing phones cost money, so the next logical step for Screens For The Unscreened was to collect funds. I wasn’t sure who, if anyone, would fund something like this. My father suggested applying to Emergent Ventures.

Emergent Ventures from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University was started by Tyler Cowen back in 2018 and funded by Peter Thiel. It supports ideas for improving society.

“Think of the goal of Emergent Ventures as supporting new ideas and projects that are too difficult, too hard to measure, too unusual, too foreign, too small, or…too something to make their way through the usual foundation and philanthropic process.”

I looked up previous awardees and didn’t think my idea was of the same caliber. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was dreading a long application process with multiple forms, but to my surprise, this was very different. I basically just had to write an essay explaining my idea and answer a few questions. after finishing the process; I hit ‘submit’ with a trembling hand. Another surprise: I was on a call speaking with Dr. Rajagopalan within a few days.

My conversation with Dr. Rajagopalan was eye-opening. She pointed out that my current approach was not a sustainable one. I would always be scrounging for funds for each drive. Secondly, I would only be helping a few students at a time. Finally, EV was looking for “moonshot” ideas which Screens For The Unscreened in its current form was not. With this in mind, I went back to the drawing board to this about scale and effectiveness, which I will write about shortly. My next application was approved! 

I celebrated with my favorite dessert- Jalebi. 

Beyond the EV grant for Screens For The Unscreened, I have taken the Ideas of scale and looking at the bigger picture to heart and have applied them to multiple opportunities. This has helped me come up with ideas that I would not have otherwise dreamed up!