The Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability class has launched several internationally known start-ups (including Embrace, Driptech and D.Light.) But main route for student teams to get their life-changing products into the hands of people in the developing world is by working with NGO partner organizations.
Working with partners is the quickest way to market: it eliminates the need to create a business model and distribution infrastructure, so that students can focus on getting the best possible product to people who need it.
Professor Jim Patel, who founded the class, and Erica Estrada, who teaches the class and directs our Social Entrepreneurship Lab, discuss why this is such a critical route-to-market for students in the class:
One team that’s in the process of handing off its product to a partner for distribution is Drinkwell, a team from the 2009 Extreme class. They worked on how to add micronutrients to food, an unsolved challenge in places where food is processed in tiny batches without standardized equipment. Their partner, Project Healthy Children, was interested in enriching grain with some of the same essential micronutrients that are used in the U.S. and Europe.
The Drinkwell team went to Rwanda for a needfinding trip during their class to look for a place—like a local grain mill—where they might be able to add micronutrients to the food supply. But they found that the small grain mills, often run by a single person in a hut, used varied equipment and didn’t lend themselves to a standardized delivery of nutrients. In order to find another way they might intersect with the lives of people in the village, the students spent days with a woman from the village, noting where she went and what she did every day. They created a sort of a heat map where she spent time, and found that every day she made two trips to the village well. “That got us thinking that we might be able to do something with water,” said Brian Ng, a member of the team.