‘Gupshup,’ a smart messaging platform, won the $100,000 Grand Challenge for building a payments solution for feature phones in India. The challenge was launched in November 2019 by CIIE.CO, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The challenge ran through November 2019 – April 2020 calling upon innovators from around the world to submit ideas and solutions toward a payments system for feature phone users in India. This would potentially help half a billion people to transact easily and securely via their feature phones.
The solution provided by ‘Gupshup’ uses APIs or Encrypted SMS to enable UPI payments through BillPay SMS, QR Code, or contacts. The solution by the first runner up ‘Minkville’ operates via a unique Missed call-based payment solution by the name of mSikkay. The second runner up ‘ToneTag’ has developed a sound-wave communication technology platform enabling payments on any device.
The Grand Challenge received more than 750 applications from across the world. The applicants included banks, telecom companies, original equipment manufacturers, and startups. After multiple rounds of deliberation and shortlisting by an esteemed panel of experts, 9 companies were selected. On April 16, the selected 9 presented their solutions to the jury consisting of Praveena Rai, COO, NPCI; PawanBakhshi, India Lead, Financial Services for the poor, BMGF; Anand Raman, CGAP; and Sanjay Jain, CIO, CIIE.CO. The jury selected Gupshup, Minkville Technologies, and ToneTag as the winners on the basis of universal application and usage, security and fraud prevention, and the ability to scale.
Talking about the initiative, Priyanka Chopra, COO, CIIE.CO said – “The need for flexible and easy-to-use contactless payment solutions for users across all segments has become even more salient in today’s environment. It was heartening to see the diversity and simplicity of solutions looking to tackle this problem. We are very excited about their potential to enable digital payments for feature phone users at scale.”
Praveena Rai, COO at NPCI said, “We would like to congratulate the winners of the Grand Challenge. We believe these winners, with the help of CIIE.CO, BMFG and NPCI would provide a new dimension to digital payments space with feature phone users getting an opportunity to perform safe and secure digital transactions. We believe once feature phones are equipped with the latest technology for payments, the country would be witnessing redefined customers’ behavior towards digital payments”.
Dr PawanBakhshi, India Lead, Financial Services for the poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shared “The grand challenge supports the foundation’s continuous effort to ensure that the poor have access to the relevant formal financial products & services which they can use to build more prosperous and secure lives for themselves and their communities. The winning technologies have the potential to provide secure, easy to use payment services to over 400-500 million people using feature phones in India.”
The winners received cash prizes of USD 50000, 30,000, and 20,000 respectively. They will now receive pilot support in India from NPCI. They will also receive support from CIIE.CO’s Bharat Inclusion Initiative which provides a continuum of support across incubation, acceleration and seed-funding to innovators leveraging technology to build inclusive businesses.