Archive for the 'entrepreneurship' Category

Mass Customization in Prosthetic Care

We’ve been up to a lot here at The BETH Project. Thanks in part to the support of the IDEAS Global Challenge and MIT Public Service Center, we’ve been busy prototyping, testing and talking to patients and prosthetists.

The BETH Project team first  came together at a MIT H@cking Medicine conference in early 2012, gathering around Asa’s proposal to leverage desktop 3D printing technology to respond to the need of low cost prosthesis in developing countries. Early on we identified that the challenges in providing prosthetic could not be simply solved by reducing existing device cost to increase availability. We began to investigate how the system of care was limiting affordable healthcare and mobility solutions for the global population.

A central problem to addressing the developing world was the lack of trained prosthetists, which essentially creates a bottleneck to meeting the demand for prosthetic care. Even today’s most advanced sockets are made using a half-century old iterative artisanal process that can take weeks and requires expensive specialized machinery.  The limited labor force in combination with the overhead costs results in care facility consolidation making it even more challenging for patient with limited mobility to access the care they need. The World Health Organization estimates there is a shortage of 40,000 prosthetists in the world today and at the current rate it will take 50 years to train another 17,000. This insight led us to design our solution from the ground up instead of trying to attach our ideas onto the existing fabrication and care paradigm.

As with many personal medical devices, understanding the challenges requires getting up close and personal with the problem. Unless you are close to a loved one who wears a prosthesis or you work in the industry, you would not be aware of the daily routines and maintenance that comes with using an artificial limb. After speaking with amputees who have worn prostheses from anywhere from a few months to sixty years, the one concern that came up over and over again was comfort. The difference between comfortable and uncomfortable is quite subtle and a common means to adjust for greater comfort is to grind the hard socket as shown in the image below.



The socket is the core component to a comfortable fitting prosthesis because forms a crucial interface between an amputee’s residual limb and his or her prosthesis. Structurally sockets are unique in that they are required to carry heavy loads and function as an  extension of our skeletal structure, but at the same time provide a comfortable interface where contact is made with an amputee’s soft muscle and skin tissue. Our goal of providing a comfortable fit with a simple fitting process led us to explore socket material alternatives. Conventionally, this is the rigid composite receptacle that is attached to the top of lower-limb prostheses. Unlike the rest of the prosthetic limb, which is generally a standardization part, the socket must be custom fabricated for each individual then painstakingly fitted, adjusted and replaced over time. Ill-fitting sockets are common because of the natural volume changes in our bodies which leads to and uncomfortable fit and if not adjusted, sores that can lead to infections that ultimately compromise amputee health and mobility.


The BETH Project is focused on addressing these challenges with an adjustable socket design that provides the ability to accommodate natural volume changes and reduce pressure on sensitive areas to promote faster healing of sores while extending the usability of a prosthetic limb. Our chosen material provides the opportunity to tap the benefits of mass manufacturing rather than local fabrication, thus lowering costs for all care providers and creating a consistent quality standard for sockets. In places where trained personal and facilities are a premium we hope to relieve care providers from the complexities of socket fabrication, and in some cases providing the opportunity for physical therapists who have transferable skills to fit and provide rehabilitative care to amputees.

Tackling the Global Education Crisis, One Innovation at a Time

Whether it’s helping Mexican university students bridge the gap between industry and academia, or providing Ugandan children with basic health education programs, many teams this year have chosen to tackle the difficult problems facing the global education sector.

In recent years, social innovators have joined the ranks of talented teachers and school administrators in rethinking traditional school models, finding creative ways to improve educational quality and access.

A new policy paper by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation might be of interest to those pursuing projects related to educational reform.

How Social Entrepreneurship is Helping to Improve Education Worldwide (available online) highlights the distinct contributions of social innovators in helping to improve early childhood education in low-income communities, creating alternate channels for funding, and providing basic skills to at-risk populations across the globe.

Author Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, draws from several interesting case studies that illustrate the potential for social enterprise to solve issues ranging from poor educational access to the growing achievement gap. The key to the success of these enterprises, Scofield writes, lies in their ability to effectively utilize business practices emphasizing sustainability and scalability – two important attributes of any winning IDEAS Challenge project! Here are a few examples:

In the Bronx, the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) not only runs multiple afterschool programs and summer camps, but has also created hundreds of revenue-generating businesses within the community, helping to ensure the continued success and long-term sustainability of its programs.

In India, where harsh inequities prevail and 90 million women remain illiterate, the Mann Deshi Foundation provides vocational training and financial literacy to women in impoverished communities. It also runs the Mann Deshi Business School, which delivers microbusiness courses in mobile classrooms, and the Mann Deshi Mahlia Bank, which provides loans for its business school graduates to start microenterprises.

DonorsChoose.org is a charitable marketplace where teachers can make simple classroom requests, from pencils to microscope slides, for their students. As of August 2011, the website has generated $85 million benefitting more than 5 million schoolchildren in the U.S. The website notably allows individual donors to contribute to its overhead costs (with 76% choosing to do so), and has established diverse funding streams that include multiple corporate sponsors.

We hope that these examples of powerful — and sustainable — social innovations offer a bit of inspiration for those joining the education cause!

Good (Legal) News for Social Entrepreneurs

Good ideas are hard to come by; so, too, are funds for start-ups and investor-friendly regulations, especially in a struggling economy.

Luckily for budding entrepreneurs, two recent legislative developments might make it easier for you to get your innovative project off the ground.

Last month, the House passed the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, enabling entrepreneurs to crowd source online up to $1 million per year (or $2 million with the provision of audited financial statements).  The bill, which is backed by the White House, would cap shareholder investments at $10,000 or 10% of annual income, whichever is less.

So how exactly would a new law, if enacted, shake things up for social entrepreneurs?

Scott Edward Walker offers several enlightening FAQs on the VentureBeat blog, pointing out some key opportunities and potential risks involved with crowd-funding.

While the finer details are yet to be resolved, one thing is certain: the Act would lift current federal securities laws that prohibit solicitation for investments through crowd-funding websites or social networks like Facebook and Twitter (note that in some cases, e.g. Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, donations are allowed).

This is exciting news for projects that might benefit from local investing, or “locavesting” as coined by Amy Cortese in her popular book of the same name. In a recent interview, Cortese described her frustration with regulations that favor wealthy investors and hinder investments in local companies. The new legislation would effectively replace current SEC laws (which, believe it or not, have been in place since the 1930s), and may be the key to unlocking new funding possibilities for social innovators across the U.S. It will offer an alternative to venture capital and other sophisticated investment models, and may appeal particularly to those interested in empowering communities and building local businesses from the ground up.

Let’s hope that the companion legislation, now awaiting mark-up on the Senate floor, is promptly passed.

In a second interesting development, multiple bills have been introduced (and in some states, enacted) to authorize new legal structures that span across the spectrum from 501c3s to for-profit organizations. In a Wall Street Journal guest column, Kyle Westaway describes these models, including:

  • The low-profit limited liability company (L3C), which operates primarily to achieve a charitable purpose and secondarily for profit,
  • The benefit corporation, which creates a general benefit for society as well as its shareholders, and must report on its social and environmental performance, and
  • The flexible-purpose corporation, which strives to achieve a specifically-designated purpose in addition to profit.

For those mission-driven organizations that are also interested in creating sustainable value (as, we know, all in the MIT IDEAS community are!), these innovative legal structures could offer some great options.

Low-cost energy storage devices for developing countries

The race to create low-cost energy storage devices has spurred many start-up companies like Ballast Energy, a company founded by MIT graduates Bryan Ho (PhD, 2011) and Bryan Ng (SM, 2008) earlier this year.  I had the opportunity to pick their brains about the challenges and potential impact of energy storage devices, their technology, and their experience as entrepreneurs.

1. What are the main problems with the electrical grid now?

Currently there is very little energy storage on the grid in the U.S.  Fundamentally, that means that electricity must be consumed immediately as it’s being generated.  This leads to a lot of synchronization problems and results in a very inefficient grid.  The U.S. has even built additional power plants to account for the occasional spike in energy use during peak hours.  These expansive power plants are needed very infrequently and are very expensive to fire up.

Developing countries face the same problem, but the challenges are exacerbated because their electrical grids are not as robust as those in the U.S., and there are many issues associated with local grid access, particularly in remote villages.  Furthermore, there often are not enough generators to provide energy during peak hours, so the power just goes out when energy demand is high.

2. What is an energy storage device and how does it help?

The purpose of an energy storage device is to provide a layer of buffering between energy generation and consumption, allowing people to use electricity in a manner that is much more efficient.  For the U.S., this means that we don’t need to continue building power plants that are rarely used and expensive to fire up.  Furthermore, electricity can be cheaper because it can be stored during low-demand times to be used during times of peak demand.  The development of energy storage devices is also critical alongside the ongoing development of renewable energy sources, since energy storage can smooth out intermittencies in solar and wind generation.  In developing countries, energy storage devices mean fewer power outages where there is a grid, and more efficient power usage in remote villages that can generate their own electricity through renewable energy.

3. What kinds of technologies are used for energy storage devices and how does your technology fit in?

Energy storage devices can be categorized by their energy storage mechanisms.  There are pumped hydro devices that pump water to be run through a turbine when energy is needed.  It requires a lot of space and there hasn’t been a new installation in decades. Secondly, there are compressed air devices, which can operate both below and above ground.  The concept is similar to that of pumped hydro but it’s done with air instead of water.  Third, there are electrochemical batteries, which can be divided into static and flow batteries, including lead-acid, Li-ion, Na-ion, liquid metal, etc.  There are many more, including devices based on gravity, flywheels, and capacitors.

One major problem with large-scale energy storage devices is the cost.  Current options for large-scale lithium-ion batteries involve stringing together a tractor-trailer full of smaller batteries to construct one large battery.  These methods are inefficient and expensive due to packing material costs.  Ballast Energy is looking into redesigning and reengineering electrochemical batteries specifically for the grid.

4.  What criteria do energy storage devices have to have to be used in the U.S. and in developing countries?

Depending on the application and mission of for the storage, the criteria for energy storage devices may vary.  Furthermore, commercial applications in urban areas have many of the same criteria as anything we’d purchase in the U.S.  Often what people have in mind when thinking of “applications in the developing world,” are off-grid applications in slums or rural areas.  In that case, the batteries need to be stable (doesn’t need a lot of maintenance and are more tolerant to less strictly controlled environments), inexpensive, distributable, and ideally have a long lifetime.

5. Can you put “low-cost” in context?

It depends on the type of application because not all types of power or energy usages are priced equally.  For the market that we’re targeting, which is energy or bulk storage where the charge/discharge rate is 1-6 hours, batteries currently cost $600+ per kilowatt-hour (kWh).  The price will go down over time, but Ballast is targeting $200-$250 kWh immediately.

6. Do you have any advice for aspiring MIT entrepreneurs?

MIT has a tremendous amount of resources, including intelligent and passionate people, competitions like the $100K or IDEAS, equipment, and programs/classes/clubs like iTeams, VMS, Ventureships, and Energy Ventures.  There are many opportunities for students to get involved with start-up companies and ventures, and vice versa.  Take advantage of these resources and don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.

Throw it Against the IDEAS Wall

Last night we hosted our first Throw it Against the IDEAS Wall. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking around how do you create entry points for people to start new projects that deliver social impact and work to effectively solve a problem. This was experiment number one of the year.

We had around 100 students, alums, staff, community members and many others there. Some stayed for three hours discussing areas like energy and environment, healthcare and water. The energy buzzed! Our goal was to create an environment where people could talk around the futures worth building, the problems worth solving and the ideas worth creating.

We’re hoping those projects can carry forward as potential IDEAS Global Challenge entries, MIT $100k entries, and new ventures. This weekend we’re part of the team organizing t=0, a festival of entrepreneurship happening here at MIT (check out the line-up!). Throw it Against the IDEAS Wall was a kick-off event in its launch.

Tomorrow I’ll share more about what came out of last night’s work. In the meantime, here’s how we started:

IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact

Thanks to all the teams that recently providing some exciting information about the progress you’ve made over the last year to tackle barriers to well-being in communities around the world. Here’s a round-up of some of the good stuff we’ve learned:

6Dot (Braille Labeler)

· Milestones. In the spring of 2011 6Dot moved into new offices of the Stanford student venture incubator, SSE Labs. 6Dot has gained awareness through participation in three major conferences and expos, including the Stanford Cool Projects Expo, the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEVBI) conference and the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Diabilities Conference.

· Impact. 6Dot has begun low-volume production up to 250 of their Braille labeling devices for market. As of April 2011 they had secured more than 70 pre-sale commitments.

· Income. In May 2011 6Dot won $10,000 in the Stanford Product Showcase.

· Press. The 6dot Braille labeler was featured in a TV report by ivanhoe.com, which features “Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science.”

BLISS

· Milestones. On May 11 BLISS introduced the Sozankaar collection of bags. Sozankaar means, “skilled with the needle” in Dari. BLISS has operationalized its partnership with Boston-based charity Barakat to provide its curriculum and training program in participating schools in Pakistan. On September 7, BLISS founder Saba Gul and BLISS were commended by the U.S. State Department in a gathering that featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. BLISS raised $8k as a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute marketplace, earning a coveted spot in their summer Institute.

· Income. $8,000 Unreasonable Institute;

· Press. BLISS founder Saba Gul (SM ’09) featured in the March/April edition of MIT’s Technology Review.
Founder Saba Gul’s International Women’s Day post for ThinkChangePakistan.

EmpleoListo! (AssuredLabor)

  • Milestones. Launched in Nicaragua and Mexico, AssuredLabor/EmpleoListo! has signed up over 100,000 job seekers. More than 40 prestigious employers, from Philip Morris International to Alcatel-Lucent to MacDonalds and Wal*Mart as well as numerous national and local businesses use the service to recruit candidates. Now has 14 full-time employees based in 4 countries, including: Nicaragua, Mexico, Pakistan and the United States. In October 2010 won the Omidyar Fastpitch Competition.

· Impact. Hundreds of successful job matches made.

  • Income. Raised $1M from prestigious angel investors and Venture Capital funds across 3 continents.

· Press. Recently profiled for their work with MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development by the MIT News Office; featured in Fast Company, “Text Here for a New Job”; and VentureBeat, “A Mobile LinkedIn for the Developing World”.

Continue reading ‘IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact’

Farmhack@MIT Ignite! Pitches

Farmhack@MIT

Pitch Kitchen at MIT

AQUA PitchThere is a growing ecology of resources at MIT that support student ventures – from grounded ideation in programs like D-Lab to launch mechanisms like the $100k business plan competition. The idea behind Pitch Kitchen is to create an informal environment where students can trial their venture pitches in from of a mixed audience – representatives across these resources – and receive helpful feedback that sets them up for success down the road.

We had our first Pitch Kitchen in February 16. Peter Kang of Team AQUA presented the idea and business model for his project – an online game that is one part education tool and another part charity platform. In the room were representatives from $100k Emerging Markets Track, the Entrepreneurship Center, a communications expert from CSAIL, and yours truly from IDEAS/GC.

Kudos to Peter for his stamina – after presenting his 8-minute pitch he endured nearly a solid hour of intense questioning from panelists – all with the intent of helping Peter and team AQUA sharpen their message around a few key areas:

  • Community connection and impact
  • Transparency and accountability in income and expenditures
  • Representing communities without exploiting ie “gamifying” communities
  • Business and sustainability model
  • Translation of online income into on-the-ground impact

Interested in experiencing the crucible? Join us for the next Pitch Kitchen on Wednesday, 3/16 from 5:00-7:00pm in 4-145. Questions? Email lhtorres at mit dot edu.

Press Release: MIT Global Challenge will Launch to Worldwide Community January 7, 2011

Contact: Lars Hasselblad Torres
617-999-5294
lhtorres@mit.edu

Be A Part of ItCambridge, MA — The MIT Global Challenge, a new initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Public Service Center, will launch on January 7, 2011 as the Institute celebrates 150 years of service to the world. It is anticipated that more than 30 MIT-based teams will compete for a total of $150,000 in awards with up to $25,000 per team that enable winning teams to implement novel solutions to some of the world’s urgent challenges.

The MIT Global Challenge is an online platform that connects and awards teams of public service innovators led by full-time MIT students. The website will unite students, the worldwide MIT community, and their collaborators in identifying barriers to well being in communities around the world, encouraging teams to work together to develop and pilot innovative solutions to those problems.

Sally Susnowitz, Director of the MIT Public Service Center, has described the MIT community as, “a community of ingenious problem solvers who enjoy solving challenging problems.” The MIT Global Challenge, she says, “invites and supports the entire MIT community worldwide in applying their creativity and knowledge to help people in need throughout the world by working with them to create innovative and effective solutions to their problems.”

Continue reading ‘Press Release: MIT Global Challenge will Launch to Worldwide Community January 7, 2011′

And the winner is…

Congratulations to IDEAS 2010 team Sanergy for your winning entry into the IDEAS and Global Challenge video pitch contest! Judges voted Sanergy’s pitch the best for the clear connection between your team’s accomplishment and the resources offered through IDEAS and the Global Challenge. Most importantly, the video did a wonderful job emphasizing a multidisciplinary team drawn from across the MIT community and a deep connection to community and MIT resources on the ground, like FabLab. Here’s the vid:

Sanergy from Ani Vallabhaneni on Vimeo.

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Thanks so much to all of the teams that entered a video into the pitch contest – the range of projects represented is amazing, and I hope that through the MIT Public Service Center we’ll continue to find ways to support your work. View all of the entries here.