Stanford brings innovation to developing countries

November 4, 2011 7:32:48 PM PDT
Stanford is bringing economic growth to developing countries thousands of miles away through innovation. It also helps that the university received a $150 million gift to develop and expand those ideas.

This gift is among the largest every received by Stanford. It'll be used to develop and disseminate new ideas, products that will help people who live in poverty in developing countries.

The business lab at Stanford is where innovation is born. For the past eight years, Jim Patell and his staff have taught a course called Entrepreneurial Design for the Extreme Affordability, a big name for big ideas with a noble purpose.

"We have done 70 projects with 18 partners in 11 countries," explained Patell.

Those projects included solar powered portable lights and incubators that have saved babies' lives in developing countries -- all of which have been created by students at Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

One of those students is Peter Frykman who came up with a way to help small plot farmers in rural areas where the water supply is limited.

"They need a way to use their limited water resources more effectively and basically lift themselves out of poverty," said Frykman.

Frykman took his idea and started a company called DripTech. Based in Mountain View, it now serves 1,000 small farmers in India and China.

Unlike most irrigation systems, this one doesn't require filters or electricity -- only a bucket and a way to manually control the flow of water.

"We've made it more affordable," said Frykman. "We've made it simpler to install and maintain. It runs on lower pressure and we can manufacture it locally."

The cost of the irrigation system runs about $150 per half-acre. Most small plot farms have less than five acres.

More projects like these are expected to be developed at the Graduate School of Business in the upcoming years thanks to a $150 million donation from venture capitalist Bob King and his wife Dottie. The money will help launch the Stanford Institute for Innovation in developing economies.

Patell will be its co-director.

"They are trusting us to use their gift to improve the lives of the 1.2 billion people who live on less than a $1.25 a day," said Patell.

With the money, Patell and his staff will also be able to find entrepreneurs in those countries and help them to further develop and expand their own projects.

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