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Essex County, Mass., Offering $10K for Ideas to Ease the Digital Divide

The Digital Equity Challenge invites individuals with ideas that address the Internet divide to enter the annual pitch contest, which will award $10,000 in cash prizes to the most promising solutions.

A word cloud featuring the words "digital divide" and related terms.
(TNS) — About 20% of Essex County residents lack access to internet services and computers, along with an understanding of how to use digital devices.

The Digital Equity Challenge invites individuals with ideas that address the internet divide to enter the annual pitch contest, which will award $10,000 in cash prizes to the most promising solutions.

"We're encouraging the community to use entrepreneurial thinking to develop innovative solutions to the challenges of digital literacy, access and digital equity," said Stephanie Guyotte, associate director of UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub Haverhill. "After two successful years launching projects, we're excited to see what is created through the 2024 contest."

Now in its third year, the contest fosters ideas to increase digital literacy, improve access to devices and technology, and help ensure digital resources and opportunities are available to county residents of all racial backgrounds.

Projects, businesses or non-profit solutions are encouraged to enter the challenge if they target increasing digital literacy, access to devices and technology, or elevating racial equity in digital resources and opportunities.

"We look forward to hearing from this year's contestants about their visions for increasing access to the digital resources needed to navigate life today," said Kate Machet, director of strategic initiatives and government relations at the Essex County Community Foundation.

Applications are due by Friday, March 29, at 5 p.m. through the online portal at

Last year's winner, the nonprofit Computers 4 People, refurbishes donated computers to provide to people in need.

Haverhill Promise, an initiative to help ensure elementary students in the city become proficient readers by third grade, won second place in 2023. The organization launched and expanded its kindergarten readiness summer program through the challenge's funding.

"Due to the program's success, it garnered even more support through our community partners and Essex County Community Foundation," said Jessica Kallin, executive director of Haverhill Promise. "We scaled up to a year-long program to continue to address the intersection of early learning, family empowerment, grade-level reading, racial equity, and digital access, citywide."

The Digital Equity Challenge has also supported an internet connectivity program in Haverhill as well as a digital literacy program for seniors in Lynn. The initiative has also funded a county-wide device refurbishment program.

The challenge is a collaboration between the Essex County Community Foundation and UMass Lowell. It is also sponsored by the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, Pentucket Bank and Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll).

"EforAll Merrimack Valley is happy to partner with the Innovation Hub once again for the 2024 Digital Equity Challenge," said Sophan Smith, executive director. "Digital literacy and equity are important in today's interconnected world and are essential for navigating the digital landscape effectively, participating in the digital economy, and fully realizing the opportunities presented by technology."

The six finalists will be announced in April. They will pitch their ideas then at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub in Haverhill, 2 Merrimack St., on May 2. Winners will share in $10,000 awarded to help make their ideas a reality.

© 2024 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.