Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

At UNICEF Innovation we are seeking to document a set of business models for open-source startups that would provide value back to both the makers and investors, while also creating global public goods in the process.

To further this goal, we gathered leading minds in the fields of open-source, business, legal, and global entrepreneurship to explore the questions as well as conditions that are critical to operate in the open-source space.  

The roundtable took place on 30 July from 9am — 12:30pm at UNICEF HQ and was attended by representatives of Kaltura, Kickstarter, RedHat, Rochester Institute of Technology, the Tikkun Olam Makerspace, Union Square Ventures, and USAID Global Development Lab. Topics of discussion included:  

  1. Different models have different DNA. A successful open source hardware model needs a lot of different things compared to a successful open source software model. Further research is required to explore how to create tailored models that satisfy the particularities of hardware, software, content, and data open source business models as well as the necessary level of customisation and production.
  2. Fame, fortune, or function? Another interesting topic that came up is how many of us are investing in startup projects where the motivations of the inventors are quite different. Some creators have a keen interest in making change, others in making profit, and others in expanding their networks and becoming famous. We will need to understand what motivates — and demotivates — these makers in order for new open source models to work.
  3. Community trumps technology. One of the big questions raised in the meeting was: what is the necessary balance between the unique attributes of the technology being built and the community who is using the open source tool? To paraphrase Alexis Bonnell from USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab: “Many startups think that tech is their ‘secret sauce,’ but it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the community that develops around the tech is really the ‘secret sauce.’

We want to know what you think about all of this. At this link, there is a Google form with questions for you and your network to answer that will help us hear from leaders in this space as we continue to document a set of business models for open-source startups in software, hardware, content, and data spaces.

The UNICEF Innovation Unit is also looking to hire a research consultant to investigate these and other questions (Research TOR and application details), so if you have anyone you’d like us to contact for this position, please include their name and email in the Google form.