The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently funded startup programs aiming to address global poverty at several universities. The agency hopes investments will promote innovative projects that will be economically sustainable once start-up dollars run dry.
“The old model was we need something built, we hire a contractor,” USAID head Rajiv Shah said. “The new model is solve these huge and challenging problems with innovators and entrepreneurs who can come together and create the kind of solutions that can scale up to reach tens of millions of households.”
Development labs at seven major universities so far have received funding from USAID. The labs are field-testing a variety of new products, ranging from hand-held medical diagnostic technology to sanitation devices.
While diverse, all products are consistently cheap enough to dispense broadly and efficiently, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.
Most recently, the agency granted Kansas State University $50 million towards their Feed the Future Initiative.
“With four Feed the Future Innovation Labs now hosted by the College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension,” said dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State University, John Floros. “USAID is making a nearly $100 million investment in Kansas State University’s ability to provide leadership to the global food systems research, teaching and extension efforts.”
Feed the Future works to promote research and innovation, expand proven workable technologies, and expand nutritional programs for global food producers and their families. Last year alone, the campaign expanded new technologies and management to more than 7 million farmers
Another project endorsed by USAID is Gram Power, an entrepreneurial firm considered a pioneer in off-grid renewable energy in India. This project was kickstarted by Yashraj Khaitan, a UC Berkeley student originally from India.
“I wanted to use technology to work on something high impact,” said Khaitan.
The firm’s model is projected to vastly expand electrical power to Indian homes, according to vice president of infrastructure at Google and guide to the Gram Power effort, Eric Brewer.
“We are looking for ways to find more Gram Power type projects,” said Ticora Jones, director of university-based projects for USAID. “We want to populate a pipeline of innovators.”
– Gabrielle Sennett