Monday, April 23, 2012
I love Entrepreneurs
Segway creator Dean Kamen unveils his next act. He wants to put entrepreneurs to work, bringing electricity and clean water to the world's poor.
By de Andréa
This is a human interest story about capitalism, basic simple economics, free-enterprise, and entrepenurealship, the bottom line… progress, freedom, and prosperity.
It’s the well known story of - give a person a fish everyday, and he will become dependant on you for his fish each day, something the liberal socialists want. However, if you teach a person to fish he will have his fish everyday but he will be independent and have enough fish leftover to sell.
Keep it simple stupid
Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.6 billion people in the world do not have electricity, and an estimated 1.1 billion people ‘don’t even’ have access to clean drinking water. Those figures add up to a big problem for the world—but for Dean Kamen, he sees it as an equally big opportunity for capitalizing entrepreneurs and expanding the economy, a true American entrepreneurial enterprise.
To solve the problem, he's created two portable devices, each less than the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages across third world countries. "More than 50 percent of all the diseases you could name - would be wiped out if you just gave people access to clean water," says Kamen. "One of my water purifier machines makes 1,000 liters of ‘clean pure’ water a day, and we don't care what goes into it, from salt water to raw sewage. And the power generator makes a kilowatt from anything that burns."
A Light in the darkness
Kamen is not alone in his quest though. He's been joined by Iqbal Quadir, the founder of Grameen Phone Company, the largest cell phone company in Bangladesh. Last year, Quadir took prototypes of Kamen's portable power generating machines to two villages in his home country for a six-month field trial. The trial, which ended last September, sold Quadir on the technology.
So, what do telephones have to do with clean water? It’s not the telephones - it’s the model, he will distribute electricity and water the same way the phone service is distributed…
So much so in fact that Quadir's startup, Cambridge, Mass.-based Emergence Energy, is negotiating with Kamen's Deka Research and Development to license the technology. Quadir then hopes to raise $30 million in venture capital to start producing the power machines.
The electric generator is powered by an easily-obtained local fuel: cow dung. Each machine continuously outputs a kilowatt of electricity. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to light 70 energy-efficient light bulbs. As Kamen puts it, "If you judiciously use a kilowatt, each villager can have a nighttime."
A satellite picture of the earth at night shows swaths of darkness across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. For the people living there, a simple light bulb would mean an extension of both their economic productivity and their leisure times.
The real invention here though, may be the economic model that Kamen and Quadir hope to use to distribute the machines. It is fashioned after Grameen Phone's business, where village entrepreneurs (mostly women) are given micro-loans to purchase a cell phone and service. The women, in turn, charge other villagers to make calls. "We have 200,000 rural entrepreneurs who are selling telephone services in their communities," notes Quadir. "The vision is to replicate that same model with the generator and his new clean water machine called the Slingshot."
During the test in Bangladesh, Kamen's Sterling power machines created three entrepreneurs in each village: one to run the machine and sell the electricity, one to collect dung from local farmers and sell it to the first entrepreneur, and a third to lease out light bulbs (and in the future, other appliances) to the villagers.
Kamen thinks the same approach can work with his water-cleaning machine. While the Slingshot water cleaning machine wasn't part of Quadir's trial in Bangladesh, Kamen thinks it can be distributed the same way. "In the 21st century, water will be delivered by an entrepreneur," he predicts.
The Slingshot works by taking in contaminated water – even raw sewage -- and separating out the clean water by vaporizing it. It then shoots the remaining sludge back out a plastic tube which can also be used intern to power the generator, just add water, the dirtier the better.
Compared to building ‘big’ power and water plants, Kamen's approach has the virtue of instant simplicity. He even created an instruction sheet to go with each Slingshot. It contains just one step: add water, any water. If there was a second step it might be; add an entrepreneur. "Not required are engineers, pipelines, epidemiologists, microbiologists, environmentalists, or impact study engineers," says Kamen. "You don't need any –ologists of any kind. You don't need any building permits, bribery, or bureaucracies either."
The price of freedom
Kamen's goal is to produce machines that cost $1,000 to $2,000 each. Quadir is going to try and see if the machines can be produced by a factory in Bangladesh. If the numbers work out, not only does he think that distributing them in a decentralized fashion will be good business – but he also thinks it will be good public policy. Instead of putting up a 500-megawatt power plant in a developing country he argues, it would be much better to place 500,000 one-kilowatt power plants in villages all over the place, because then you would create 500,000 entrepreneurs as well.
Watch a video of Dean Kamen explaining his new Slingshot clean-water maker.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Now that’s capitalism, and that’s freedom, and that is ‘real’ democracy. There’s a shortage of freedom and democracy in the world today. If you strengthen the economic hands of the people, you will foster real freedom and prosperity.
And unlike the un-American socialistic “free hand-out” answer to everything --- this kind of Lights and water, is freedom, and is free-enterprise, very entrepreneurial and very American…