6 development startups you should know about

FarGreen organizes a training workshop for farmers in Vietnam. The startup has won several awards, including the grand prizes for the 2014 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and 2014 CSU Blue Ocean Business Competition collegiate track. Photo by: Echoing Green NYC / CC BY-NC-SA

Synonymous to innovation, startups — organizations not more than 2 years in existence — are known for their flexible and dynamic work culture and ability to grow, though oftentimes they operate with limited resources.

In global development, many startups begin as projects that have won funding from donors and investors, and recognition for their cutting-edge solutions to challenges faced by people in the developing world.

Based on research, outreach and your input on LinkedIn, here’s the first in our series of global development startups you should know about.


Founded: 2014
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., USA

A diaspora-led organization, it affirms “a strong commitment to reversing the brain drain into brain gain for Africans.” This nonprofit is known for helping spearhead #BringBackOurGirls, a global movement that demands the return of dozens of Nigerian girls held captive by militant group Boko Haram. It’s been hosting a chat series on Twitter called #Act4Reform to discuss how the next Nigerian leader would tackle human security, the economy and other issues.


Founded: 2013
Headquarters: Kigali, Rwanda

EarthEnable seeks to improve health outcomes among most Rwandans and billions around the globe who live every day and sleep every night on dirty floors. It produces impermeable, easy-to-clean and polished floors made of compressed gravel, sand, clay and proprietary sealing oil, and trains local masons to install them in homes. Co-founder Gayatri Datar — who has worked with the World Bank, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Liberian finance ministry — is a 2014 global fellow of Echoing Green.


Founded: 2013
Headquarters: Hanoi, Vietnam

Fargreen aims to be “the leading premium brand which provides eco-friendly and socially responsible gourmet mushroom products in Vietnam” in five years. It taps a network of farmers to collect rice straw — deemed agricultural waste that is typically burned — and use this to grow mushrooms. Apart from an Echoing Green climate fellowship for its CEO, Trang Tran, this social enterprise has won several awards, including the grand prizes for the 2014 Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition and 2014 CSU Blue Ocean Business Competition collegiate track.


Founded: 2014
Headquarters: Hong Kong

This social enterprise performs research, program and fund design, monitoring and evaluation, integration of technology, and implementation of projects in tough environments, with a focus on conflict, justice and migration.

Farsight has assisted the Danish foreign affairs ministry in developing its 2015-2018 country program for Somalia. It has worked with Saferworld as well to evaluate its efforts supporting civil society engagement to help democratize police and security issues in Central Asia. Further, the organization provided the monitoring, evaluation and learning team, as well as designed and maintained the management information system for The Asia Foundation project on social inclusion in Indonesia.

Its CEO, Jacob Townsend, was a featured contributor of the World Bank blog on migration in December 2014.

First Mile Geo

Founded: 2014
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., USA

First Mile Geo is a technology company that offers users the ability to collect, visualize and monitor data “in any language and on the fly.” Washington, D.C.-based strategy and design firm Caerus has used the First Mile Geo software in what may be the most detailed assessment of the security, humanitarian and political conditions inside conflict-torn Aleppo, Syria. The technology and study have attracted headlines, including coverage by Reuters, Wired and The Daily Beast.

Hello Tractor

Founded: 2014
Headquarters: Washington, D.C., USA

The company pairs owners of its “smart tractors” — low-cost, two-wheeled tractors that come with attachments like GPS to track data on use, location, uptake and market trends — with small farmers in Africa, who would text to rent out the machines and pay the service via mobile money.

Hello Tractor has won several awards, including bagging first place in the first Diaspora Demo Day competition as well as in the University of Chicago’s Social New Venture Challenge competition, and winning the Points of Light Civic Accelerator contest. It currently operates in Nigeria, but may expand to Cameroon at some point, if its blog entry about the meeting between founder Jehiel Oliver and Cameroonian Minister of Agriculture Essimi Menye at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was of any indication.

Do you know any notable global development startups, i.e. companies or NGOs not more than 2 years old? We’d like to highlight them. So let us know through the comment section below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

You can help shape our coverage on global development innovations by emailing news@devex.com or tweeting #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

Join the Discussion