Tech firms set sail to solve world’s problems through innovation

By Richa Malhotra – SciDev.Net  
Eleven start-up firms with novel technologies for solving social and environmental problems have set off on a voyage around the world to find new markets where their innovations could improve people’s lives.
The entrepreneurs will sail to 13 countries, including stops in China, Ghana, India, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, South Africa and Vietnam, as part of the mentor-driven Unreasonable at Sea programme that aims to support a select group of technology companies and their founding members.
Along the way, the companies will be presented to local businesspeople, government officials and investors, and receive mentoring from 20 established entrepreneurs and investors.
Several technology companies from the developing world are also on board MV Explorer, which set sail last month (9 January) from San Diego, United States.
The founder of the project, Daniel Epstein, tells SciDev.Net that the 13 countries being visited during the 100-day voyage are booming entrepreneurial hubs or have underdeveloped markets.
His objective is to help scale up technologies dedicated to solving social and environmental challenges.
“On the environmental side, we have the world’s most-efficient solar concentrator on the ship, the world’s most-efficient charcoal cooking stove in emerging markets, a company that is currently providing clean drinking water to more than 300,000 people every day across five countries and another that is using nanotechnology to profitably sequester carbon out of the atmosphere,” Epstein tells SciDev.Net.
Deaftronics is one of the 11 firms on board. The Botswana-based company manufactures solar-powered hearing aids, called Solar Ears.
Tendekayi Katsiga, the firm’s co-founder tells SciDev.Net that he likes the idea of having entrepreneurs involved in the project, which he sees as a platform to exchange ideas.
“It is giving us an international exposure on how to run a self-sustainable business. Added to that are networking, marketing and distribution, and an opportunity to establish international relations and investments. It will help scale up our operations,” Katsiga tells SciDev.Net.
Damascus Fortune, based in Mumbai, India, is another company that was selected for the voyage.
The firm’s technology converts carbon emissions from industry and vehicles into carbon nanostructures that can be used to construct cars, buildings, laptops and mobile phones.
“It’s an excellent experience because we are interacting with mentors who help us design our business models,” Venkatesan K. R., the company’s chief operating officer, tells SciDev.Net.
The project is a collaboration between the Unreasonable Institute, which provides residential support to potentially world-changing entrepreneurs; the Institute of Design at Stanford University in the United States; and the Semester at Sea programme, a study-abroad initiative run on a ship as it sails around the world.
Link to the Unreasonable at Sea project