Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA has always been known for its innovative technologies which have transformed the world. But through this article, we wanted to explore the impact of MIT alumni and students in creating a more equitable world. Amongst the several initiatives on its campus in this direction, D-Labs and Media labs are two of the prominent ones. Every year, MIT D-Lab recognises, incubates and seed funds innovative ideas which can reduce poverty whereas MIT Media Lab is a research lab which focuses on projects related to technology, art, multimedia, science and design. Many successful projects of MIT Media Lab have been converted into products. Though their impact has been spread globally, in our exploration here, we have restricted ourselves to the few Indian social enterprises which have emerged from MIT.
Target Problem: India is an energy poverty-stricken country. About 306 million people live without access to electricity in India, making it, the largest country without the access to electricity.
Product: Smart Joules aims to eliminate the wastage of electricity. They replace products which cause power wastage with products which can reduce electricity consumption by 20% or more. They have this concept of JoulePAYS (Pay-As-You -Save) wherein they charge as a percentage of the savings resulting from efficiency gains.Their flagship technology, DeJoule consists JouleBox (IoT Controller), Joule Track (cloud computing platform) and JouleMind (data analytics engine).
MIT Story: It is a venture started by MIT alumnus, Arjun P Gupta who did his Master’s in Engineering Systems at MIT.
Target Problem: It is often argued that the benefits of the advances in ICTs have been slow to reach the people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Product: Dimagi provides last mile mobile solutions. Through its flagship product, Commcare, anybody can develop a mobile application in low-resource settings. To reach the remote Indian mass, in 2010, Dimagi had launched CommCare-ASHA project to promote Commcare in the market.
MIT Story: It is a software-based social enterprise which has emerged out of MIT Media Lab.
Target Problem: Problem-solving technologies are innovated in the world but the problem lies in their accessibility and awareness. An innovation is of hardly any use if it doesn’t reach its targeted consumers.
Product: Essmart brings sustainable products like solar lanterns, solar cookstoves, water filters etc to the rural retailers so that the world’s backward sections can access and afford them. Hence, bridging the gap between the eco-friendly technologies and the rural mass.
MIT Story: It is a venture started by MIT graduates who were interested in the field of technology-for-development. Jackie Stenson, co-founder of Essmart was one among the D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows.
Target Problem: Prosthetic leg gives a second chance to the people who have lost their leg(s) to stand up again in their life. Prosthetic legs available in the market are expensive and are of poor quality.
Product: Rise Legs has come up with prosthetic legs which are light-weighted, flexible and cost-effective. The USP lies in the material by which the prosthetic legs have been made. Rise Legs manufactures the prosthetic legs with cane. These prosthetic legs allow an amputee to walk, run, play, dance and even work for longer hours.
MIT Story: Arun Cherian, founder of Rise Legs was one among the 2016 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows.
Target Problem: Plastic is non-biodegradable and is choking the earth. Waste pickers in India usually can not afford the machines which can recycle the plastics collected by them. So, they sell these collected plastics to the recycling companies. Hence, they are unable to maximize the profit from the garbage they collect.
Product: Protoprint provides a low-cost device which converts HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) plastics into eco-friendly 3D printer filament. Protoprint works in collaboration with urban waste pickers. 3D printer filaments are made from the wastes picked up by the waste pickers. Hence, Protoprint serves the twin purposes of empowering the urban waste pickers and saving the planet from plastics.
MIT Story: Sidhant Pai, a graduate from Environmental Engineering and Developmental Economics, MIT (2014) is the co-founder of Protoprint. Sidhant was also a D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellow in 2014. He had also won MIT IDEAS Global Challenge.
Target Problem: Not all have access to safe drinking water. According to WHO, about 1.5 million people die annually because of water-borne diseases.
Product: Zimba provides safe drinking water solution. Zimba mixes chlorine automatically in water at the point of collection irrespective of the rate of the water flow. It is a low-cost product so that it can reach the needy lot.
MIT Story: It has originated from MIT’s D-Lab. Suprio Das, founder of Zimba was one among the 2013 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows.
Target Problem: Science and technology are progressing at a rapid pace and not all students are prepared for it. The current education system is quite conflict-free which is not enough to ready the students for the future entrepreneurial challenges.
Product: Camp K-12 thrives on building technical skills among the students since standard IV. They are striving to prepare the next generation to be young innovators and entrepreneurs. Amongst other things, this camp helps students to understand the making of an android application, graphic designing, drone technology etc. They are making coding easier for students. They make it easier for the students to handle school and camp by running it during the weekends or vacations.
MIT Story: Anshul Bhagi was a Computer Science student at MIT who later ventured Camp K-12.
Target Problem: Our planet is choking because of pollution. and Vehicular traffic is one of the leading causes of pollution.
Product: Graviky Labs’ flagship product, Kaalink is an air filter that comes in-between the exhaust pipe of the automobile and the environment. The team claims that Kaalink traps 95% of the air pollutants (like soot) gushing out of the automobile. Later, carbon is filtered out from the soot and mixed with different kinds of oil and solutions, hence, producing AirInk. This airink is later used for varied purposes like stationery products.
MIT Story: Graviky Labs is a result of the group of graduates from MIT Media Lab.
- Seed Jarna Pump
Target Problem: Agriculture is the backbone of India. In Jarna district of Maharashtra, farmers pay a heavy amount of money for water for irrigation. Moreover, they use heavy diesel pumps for irrigation.
Product: Seed Jarna pump is a lightweight and portable diesel irrigation pump which is made up of 35 kilograms of aluminium. It can extract water from about 30 feet below the ground. It consumes only 3 horsepower of fuel at approx 0.70 litre/hour, hence, making it fuel-efficient.
MIT Story: Mitesh Gala, founder of Seed Jarna Pump was one among the 2014 D-Lab Scale-Ups Fellows.
Target Problem: It takes around 500-800 years for the currently popularly used sanitary napkins in the market to degrade. As a result, about 150k tonnes of sanitary waste is annually accumulated in India. Moreover, only 12% of 335 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins in India. Lack of awareness, accessibility and affordability are the major issues faced by the menstruating women of India.
Product: Saathi Pads has come up with affordable pads which are made of ultra-soft absorbent which is extracted from the banana fibres. These banana pads are 100% biodegradable. Hence, Saathi Pads not only saves the environment but also provides women with pads which are free from chemicals, irritation and infection.
MIT Story: They were the winner of MIT IDEAS in spring 2010. They have emerged from the MIT D-Lab.