The “Shark Tank” for Zika Mosquitoes

August 17, 2016 By Sung Lee

While Congress debates additional resources to combat Zika this hot and steamy summer, over 900 entrepreneurs have been competing in a “Shark Tank”-like challenge for funding for new ideas to combat the virus.

From an electric force field that repels mosquitoes to a mobile app that detects whether mosquitoes are carrying the virus, 21 ideas were selected to win over $15 million in grants through USAID’s Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenge.

“Disrupting” global development

Recognizing that new ideas can come from anyone and from anywhere, USAID has been seeking ways to bring innovative solutions to today’s global problems through its Grand Challenges that seek to “disrupt” global development through an open competition for funding for new ideas.

Just ask a wedding designer in Baltimore. Through USAID’s Ebola Grand Challenge, she designed a new protective suit that could save the lives of hundreds of healthcare workers. The new protective suit she helped design is so transformative that DuPont is partnering with USAID and Johns Hopkins University to scale up production against future disease outbreaks.

Innovative partnerships

Public-private partnerships have become a core tenet in our government’s innovative approach to development. “We’ve seen from previous crises that the best way to address a situation of this magnitude is to marshal the resources of everyone to help,” said Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom at the State Department-hosted roundtable event where over 100 public and private sector partners came together to explore the best ways to combat Zika.

The winners of the Zika Grand Challenge, from Abbott’s Ibis Biosciences Business to Michigan State University to Premise Data, demonstrates how a “disruptive” idea – harnessing the creativity and ingenuity of everyone – can help maximize our development impact. Today, robust public-private partnership efforts can be found across U.S. government agencies: USAID’s initial investment of $8.7 million through the Global Development Lab helped generate an additional $48 million from other partners to support innovative enterprises in developing countries; and the State Department’s Global Partnerships Office has leveraged more than $820 million in public and private resources.

Bipartisan support for Innovation

Members of Congress from across the aisle are coming together in support of creative partnerships and the use of innovation to develop science-based solutions to address global development challenges. In the House, Representative Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) are leading the Global Development Lab Act, which has been approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

The legislation will authorize and strengthen USAID’s Global Development Lab to increase the use of innovation and technology to develop new solutions to end poverty. Representative McCaul, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has said the bill “will help foster ingenuity and innovation in a cost-effective manner to improve lives of millions abroad.”

Let’s hope Congress continues to prioritize bills that fuel America’s drive to innovate and transform the world!

Photo: Zika research by Conred Guatemala, CC.