Peter Thiel, a highly regarded Silicon Valley investor recently expressed his concern regarding the lack of innovation. His view was that real and deep innovation is not taking place in today’s market, instead startups are focusing on solving small problems and not on truly innovating. Only a few companies are addressing real, world-changing problems.
While that may be true of startups in the technology space, it is certainly not true of those gathered at the Social Capital Market (SOCAP) conference in San Francisco last week. SOCAP provides a platform to social startups from around the globe to pitch their business ideas and showcase their products to the world. Social startups are those that are creating solutions to solve real world problems around survival, health, environment, education and overall well being of the untapped and emerging markets.
While each of the 25 startups that demoed their product at the ‘SOCAP Innovation Showcase’ were clearly unique and solving some real hard problems, I picked five of the most interesting, simply because I was so wow-ed by the ingenuity of their innovation and the need they were filling. Here they are in no particular order.
Biosense, India: Has developed a devise called ToucHb which has made screening and monitoring of anemia really simple. TouchHb is a low-cost handheld diagnostic devise which provides prick-free (non-invasive) testing of anemia. There isn’t a non-prick testing technology that exist currently and secondly the devise has greatly enabled doctors and heath care workers in rural, low-resource areas to proactively screen for anemia right at the doorsteps of pregnant women.
Anemia (caused by iron deficiency) if untreated specially during pregnancy, can be life threatening to both the mother and the child. The cure for anemia is known, the medicine is widely available but still 1 million children and pregnant women die of this completely preventable condition because there is no affordable, point of care test available.
Wello, India: Wello is addressing the problem of water transportation. In most areas in developing world people do not have access to water at home and have to travel for miles to fetch water. Travelling for water everyday and carrying it back home is not only a tedious, time consuming process but is also dangerous for women and young girls who generally perform this task. Carrying a 5 gallon (20 liter) water bucket on the head – can severely damage the spine, causing severe pain and even leading to complications during childbirth. Wello has developed a simple solution, called WaterWheel that enables these women to roll the water instead of carrying it on their head. In additionm WaterWheel makes it possible to collect 25 gallons (90 liters) of water- five times the amount possible using traditional methods – in less time and much more easily. The WaterWheel’s innovative design allows water to be placed inside its “wheel,” transforming 200 pounds (90 kg) of water to an effective weight of just 22 pounds (10 kg). This means that almost anyone can easily manage a full roller over most types of terrain. Wello has piloted the solution in Rajasthan, the dry, drought prone state of India and is now ready to scale, looking for investments and partners.
NETRA, US: Developed by MIT media lab, NETRA is an affordable, handy eye diagnostic devise. NETRA is a clip on eye piece (costing only a dollar) that goes on top of cell phone (smart phones only), allowing anyone to quickly examine their own eyes and get a prescription for glasses as well as a diagnosis for cataracts, with minimal instruction. Though NETRA has made determining eye prescription easy for everyone, the technology comes really handy in developing countries which lacks sophisticated eye diagnostic tools and trained professionals to perform the diagnosis. With the do it yourself accurate and affordable eye care, NETRA has the potential to transform the lives of millions who would otherwise suffer from undetected blurry vision and thus lower productivity.
re:char, Kenya: Offers farmers an alternative to expensive, dirty fertilizers. They design and deploy systems that produces biochar (fuel charcoal), which is gold for farmers as it dramatically increases their crop production. re:char systems enable farmers to actually generate their own biochar using their crop waste. The biochar not only improves crop yields by holding on to water and nutrients, but it even improves soil quality by bringing pH back to healthy levels, undoing the damages caused by prolonged fertilizer use. re:char farmers have experienced up to 200% improvement over traditional fertilizers in as little as one planting season!
Barefoot Power, Australia: Offering low-cost solar lighting and phone charging products to off the grid people. Many rural areas in developing countries still do not have access to electricity or suffer from frequent power outage and end up using kerosene lamps for light. Kerosene oil is not only expensive but also pollutes the air and the light generated is not sufficient to carry out various activities post sunset. Barefoot Power has developed a line of solar light solutions which also double up as phone chargers, from desk lamps to solutions to power the entire house for as long as 90hrs. As their products use solar to charge and are designed and priced keeping the low-income population in mind, their solutions have become an instant hit in Africa and are reaching out everyday to more households without electricity.
You can reach the author, Deepa Chaudhary via Twitter