Students at table on laptops

Save the Date for the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge

Wednesday, April 26, 2023 at 6 p.m.
Innovation Hub Haverhill
2 Merrimack St., 3rd Floor, Haverhill, MA 01830

Striving for Digital Equity

Presentation at Digital Equity Challenge

Help expand digital access with your entrepreneurial ideas and solutions. Enter the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge pitch contest!

The Digital Equity Challenge is presented by the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub Haverhill and Essex County Community Foundation.

The Issue

Across Essex County, one out of every five households lacks a basic computer. A similar number — 59,000 households, with around 160,000 people — live without fixed broadband. (Source: ECCF, Striving for Digital Equity, 2020)

Essex County Community Foundation launched its Digital Equity Initiative in 2021 to ensure that all residents can effectively access and use the digital tools on which we rely daily. While there has been progress in the past year, inequities remain, particularly around access to computers, underutilization of federal programs, and profound racial disparities. (Source: ECCF, Making Progress on Digital Equity, 2022)

The Challenge

Through the 2023 Digital Equity Challenge – our second year hosting this event – we are tapping into your entrepreneurial spirit to find and cultivate creative solutions to these digital equity challenges.

Learn more about our 2022 Digital Equity Challenge winners

Your Solution

Enter the Challenge and win prize money and support to advance your business or nonprofit idea.

We are seeking solutions, business models and new ventures (for profit or non-profit) that address one or more of the following key areas:

  • Racial Inequities in Digital Access

    Race and ethnicity is a vital predictor of digital equity. Black and Hispanic residents have more limited access to digital resources, even after adjusting for differences in income and education. On average, non-white families earning $100,000 have lower access to broadband than white families earning $50,000. (Source: ECCF, Making Progress on Digital Equity 2022)

    There continues to be barriers to digital access for people of color and new supports would be especially valuable to non-white families in Essex County. This becomes even more vital as the 2020 census data shows that the share of non-white residents in Essex County has grown from 24 percent to 34 percent, with increased diversity in the cities and the suburbs. We are seeking solutions and ideas that work to close these gaps.

  • Access to Devices

    How do we put more computers into local homes?

    Too often, people in our communities have only a cell phone to connect to the digital world. Relying on just a cell phone means things like job applications and filling out forms can be difficult to complete.  It means young people can’t fully do remote or online schoolwork and seniors can’t easily access telehealth services.

    Additionally, we need a better way to get refurbished devices to people who need them and create a larger workforce that has the skill to refurbish devices.

    We are looking for innovative ways to:

    • Refurbish and repurpose old devices so they can be reused and deployed around the county as quickly as possible.
    • Ensure equal access to equipment and fixed-line broadband, whether through computer recycling programs, public Wi-Fi, or broadband subsidies. For example, the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides qualified residents with low cost internet – but it has not been widely utilized by those who could benefit.  We are seeking ideas across cities and towns that would amplify the impact of these federal subsides.  
    • Develop online resources that are culturally competent, phone-friendly, and that reach people in ways they are most comfortable.  We are seeking tools, apps, and communications that prioritize cell phone experience add/or apps such as WhatsApp, in a way that makes vital information accessible for all residents (ECCF, report page 6)

  • Digital Literacy

    With so many residents relying only on cell phones for digital communications and access, they lack skills and capabilities to fully participate in the digital world.  We are interested in ideas and projects that build skills and confidence, particularly among diverse populations and all ages. For example, computer literacy classes, teens teaching seniors how to use mobile apps, youth engagement around digital health and safety, and more!

The Digital Equity Challenge is presented by

  • Innovation Hub logo
  • Essex County Community Foundation logo
    Presenting Sponsor
  • UML Rist DifferenceMaker Institute logo
  • Pentucket Bank Logo
    Supporting Sponsor
  • EforAll Lowell logo