"A way needs to be found to level the field a bit. We probably need a nation state or other similar empowered actor involved in the design, they have the resources."
Not necessary. That's the thing about software. Or math. You don't need lots of expensive resources. You just need a sharp mind and some inexpensive commodity resources.
Remember, all software can be "executed" by a human with pencil and paper. Even full .h264 movie decoding could be done by hand on paper, if you give a human the algorithm in English, a stream of paper tape with the raw digits of the encoded movie, and a stream of paper tape to write the decoded frame color values to. It'll be god-awful slow, but it's 100% possible.
Wireless networks can be replaced with people using mechanical means of communication. Displays can be replaced with paint and canvas. Input devices can be replaced with vocal cues or hand gestures. Storage can be replaced with paper or stone. Compases and gyroscopes can be replaced with simple mechanical devices. Even complex electronic interfaces like a GPS can be replaced by an external GPS unit with a digital display read by the human "interpreter" of the code.
This is different than physics, in which the laws and math we are given come not from thought but from observation, with increasingly accurate physics formulas requiring increasing intricate and expensive equipment (like the LHC) to observe things we can't otherwise see.
It's also different than engineering, in which the thoughts cannot be executed by a human. Even if you think up the perfect catapult design, at some point you need to gather the wood and metal and stone to actually build a catapult if you want to launch rocks.
When it comes to software, resources have always been pretty much irrelevant. All you need is the right brilliant person trying to solve the right problem. Software is just math, and like math, the big breakthroughs in software almost never come from governments or megacorps. They come from universities or often even just independent minds working towards an interesting problem that piqued their interest.
When it comes to manufacturing chips and devices that encode software, you need resources. That ceases to be pure CS/math and becomes engineering. If the world simply needs new algorithms and protocols and designs that run over existing wireless hardware to get these new mesh networks, though, then the engineers don't need to get involved, nothing but commodity hardware needs to be paid for, and big resources cease to be relevant.