February 2010

Cycle Ventures: The Rickshaw Bank Partnership

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009 - $46,200

Cycle Ventures, one of nine “D-Lab” classes at MIT, has a specific focus on creating pedal-powered innovations for international development. The Rickshaw Bank (TRB), formed in 2004, is a micro-credit organization in India that lets people lease-to-own rickshaws, usually in one to two years. This grant will fund a partnership between Cycle Ventures and TRB, with the goal of making TRB’s rickshaws cheaper, easier for the driver to pedal, and more attractive to customers. The team has identified three technical areas to focus on: the overall rickshaw structure; adding a suspension element to the frame; and improving the drive train. Over the course of two years the team will conduct overlapping waves of site visits, design, prototyping, and implementation.

Sustainable Venture Accelerator

Colorado State University, 2009 - $48,825

Student entrepreneurs in Colorado State University’s Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program build sustainable ventures with a focus on an integrated bottom line. But, since these types of ventures can require a lot of time to develop before securing financial support, several of the program’s ventures have ceased to exist due to financial, time and other development pressures. In order to help sustainability-focused student ventures actually become successful businesses or organizations as students complete their studies, this grant will help launch the Sustainable Venture Accelerator (SVA) at Colorado State University. SVA’s three main objectives are to: engage outside specialists as Entrepreneurs in Residence to mentor SVA businesses; develop a network to help advance ventures; and provide space and resources. The long-term goal is for SVA to be sustained by taking equity interest in the student start-ups it supports.

Improved Rural Health Care Through Low-Cost Telecommunication in Waslala, Nicaragua

Villanova University, 2009 - $44,625

Accessing quality health care in rugged, mountainous areas like the communities surrounding Waslala, Nicaragua is a difficult challenge. About 10,000 people live in the town of Waslala itself, while 35,000 live in the 85 isolated rural communities surrounding it. While the town has a small hospital with full-time staff, residents of the rural areas can obtain health care only at clinic outposts from lay health workers with minimal experience and few supplies. If there is an emergency, the hospital is hours away on poor roads.

In order to make quality health care more accessible in the Waslala region, this team of students and faculty is developing cell phone-based technology for transmitting basic patient data in the form of coded text messaging from a rural health care worker to a central clinic for a trained health care provider to review. The doctor or nurse can then text back treatment suggestions for the health care worker to implement.

Pico-hydro Electric Power for Isolated Villages

Dartmouth College, 2009 - $36,900

With most of sub-Saharan Africa’s population spread over remote rural areas, the difficulty and high cost of running transmission lines to individual homes makes it impossible for much of the population to tie into electric grids. Local, decentralized solutions are the answer, and this team is taking that approach with the development of locally manufacturable, pico-hydropower technology. The team designed a novel, mechanical, low cost pico-hydro system that runs off of small amounts of water diverted from a river or stream into a holding tank. Water is piped down to a turbine from the holding tank, rotating a wheel connected to a standard automotive alternator that generates electricity.

The team has implemented its low cost system in Rwanda, and a profitable business has developed around it in which people pay to have batteries recharged at the station. This grant supports the installation of a system at a second site and the development of a replicable, scalable business model for local ownership and operation.

The Human-Powered Nebulizer in Central America

Marquette University, 2009 - $41,974

A nebulizer is a device that delivers aerosolized liquid medicine deep into the lungs. Commercial nebulizers use electric compressors to maintain a constant rate of airflow, and while this is effective, it presents a problem in the developing world where electricity is often unavailable and unreliable. At the same time, chronic respiratory diseases and acute lower respiratory infections are the third major cause of morbidity and mortality in the developing world.

This team is developing a human-powered nebulizer (HPN) that replaces the electric compressor with a leg-powered source of airflow. The HPN is a two-piston system, with each piston connected to a pedal. Stepping on the pedal generates airflow from the pistons. The idea has been tested and confirmed as a workable, low cost alternative to traditional compressor-based nebulizers. The team will develop a scalable prototype, test it under field conditions, and develop a business model for broad implementation.


Cooper Union, 2009 - $43,200

In 2006, Cooper Union began working with rural communities in northern Ghana on a solar lantern project, called SocialLite. Supported in part by a 2008 NCIIA E-Team grant, they have developed several generations of prototypes, put several dozen lanterns into use, and attracted interest/inquiries from twenty-six countries. Part of the reason for the success to date is an approach in which the end-user assumes significant responsibility for system implementation and maintenance.

The team is now looking for funding to streamline the SociaLite systems engineering from the assembly stage all the way to long-term maintenance in order to meet demand, continue developing the business model, and establish satellite distribution centers in East and West Africa. The ultimate goal is the creation of an affordable, widely distributed, solar-powered lantern made from local materials and sold by local entrepreneurs.

Inventors Digest Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge!


NCIIA's media partner, Inventors Digest magazine, is hosting the national 2010 Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge.

2010 Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge - Saving Our World One Kilowatt at a Time. will award cash and other prizes for the most innovative low-cost, alternative energy-related technology, product, solution or service. All U.S. college and college-bound students are eligible to enter.

Click here to find out more about the Challenge, and to register for 10 free posters to announce the event for your campus.




Inventors Digest Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge


NCIIA's media partner, Inventors Digest, is hosting the national 2010 Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge.

We'd like to ship you 10 free posters announcing the event for your campus. High-resolution PDF versions also are available.

Simply provide your contact information and shipping address here.

We'll do the rest. That's it - no cost to you.

About the contest:

Who: All U.S. college and college-bound students are eligible.

What: 2010 Collegiate Alt-Energy Challenge - Saving Our World One Kilowatt at a Time. The contest will award cash and other prizes for the most innovative low-cost, alternative energy-related technology, product, solution or service.

Why: A quarter of the world's population lives without any form of electricity. Lack of access to electricity or power contributes to poverty, malnutrition, disease and death. It's a vicious cycle, and one that can be alleviated through innovation and creative use of low-cost technology.

When: Contest launches March 26, 2010

Where: Exploratorium | The museum of science, art and human perception
at the Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

How: Students will submit videos - 3-minute "elevator pitches" - through our Web 2.0 platform at EdisonNation.com, ensuring IP protection and preserving potential licensing opportunities. (Winners will be announced during National Inventors Month in August 2010. Winners must agree to have their videos posted on InventorsDigest.com.)

More details will be announced at NCIIA's March Madness for the Mind event in San Francisco and at www.inventorsdigest.com. Contact Inventors Digest Editor Mike Drummond at 704.405.0712 or e-mail mike.drummond@inventorsdigest.com.

*Note: The poster as shown is a prototype. Sponsors listed are for placement only.

Steve Blank

Steve Blank is the author of the marketing book Four Steps to the Epiphany. Steve started eight high-tech companies during the boom time in Silicon Valley from 1978-1999; he's since taught entrepreneurship at Berkeley, Stanford University and the Columbia University/Berkeley Joint Executive MBA program. The “Customer Development” model that Steve developed in his book is one of the core themes in these classes.