The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new health technologies, treatments, and service delivery models, and many innovations in health-care delivery are being developed to meet local needs in low- and middle-income countries. In Kenya, for example, CheckUps Medical Centre has partnered with motorcycle riders in Nairobi to deliver pharmaceuticals and telemedicine services to patients in their homes, while medical center network Penda Health has integrated a COVID-19 decision support tool into its electronic medical records (EMR) system. These kinds of innovations will be crucial in the days and years to come.

However, the global economic crisis brought on by the pandemic also threatens the ecosystem of funders, incubator and accelerator programs, manufacturing and distribution partners, and public and private health systems that help ensure that health-care innovation can thrive and meet emerging and long-standing health needs. In May 2020, Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) members reported that 40 percent of the small and growing businesses (SGBs) they support in East Africa were at risk of failing within the next six months (a June addendum suggests that those numbers have grown as recessions have deepened). Accelerators and incubators are also at risk: in May, 83 percent of capacity development organizations (CDOs) in the ANDE network reported moderate, high, or existential risk of shutting down operations.

At the Duke Global Health Innovation Center and the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke program (SEAD), we’re studying both how accelerators and incubators supporting health innovation in East Africa have been affected by the crisis and how they’ve responded. From interviewing leaders of nine such organizations, we’ve found that the pandemic has both precipitated changes in innovator needs and prompted accelerators to reassess how to support growth. But despite looming risks in the changing landscape, accelerator leaders are optimistic about the future.

Read the full article about accelerators and incubators by Katherine Flowers and Andrea Taylor at Stanford Social Innovation Review.