Black Swans and the Future of Energy by Paul Polak and Krish Desai

Energy experts now confidently predict that by 2040, solar and wind will drive no less than 60% of global power; natural gas will replace the lion's share of the burning of coal, and the market for electric cars will soar. Nassim Taleb, on the other hand, questions the ability of experts to predict just about anything. He asserts instead, in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, that the future is consistently shaped by unexpected, high-impact outlier events, which we do our best to rationalize after the fact. Who could have predicted the Black Swan disruptive transformative impact of Henry Ford's Model T…

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The Last 500 Feet

Developing practical and profitable new ways to cross the last 500 feet to the remote rural places where poor families now live and work is the first step towards creating vibrant new markets that serve poor customers. Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to transport 100 kitchen drip kits from Kathmandu to Pokhara on the roof of a bus. The challenge is in getting those kitchen drip kits to the hundred scattered farms in hill villages that are a day’s walk from the nearest road! From anything including drip irrigation kits, oral rehydration salts, penicillin, and disaster relief food, moving goods and services over the last…

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End Poverty or Bust
Paul Polak speaks about commercialization and scale at Cornell University

End Poverty or Bust

Creating a Runway for Profitable New Multinational Businesses to Transform Poverty By Paul Polak Five years ago, Steve Bachar and I decided to create a venture capital fund that would only invest in companies capable of achieving three goals: Transforming the livelihoods of at least 100 million customers living on $2 a day or less; Generating at least $10 billion in annual revenues; and Earning sufficient profits to attract commercial financial investment. There was only one problem. We couldn’t find any companies to invest in that met these criteria. Among social entrepreneurs, design for scale is as rare as hen’s teeth.  So my partners and I…

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The SunWater Project – Advanced Solar Technology for Poor Farmers

In my last article, you heard about SunWater, a project to build a radically affordable solar water pump for $2-a-day farmers that will transform small plot agriculture, create new water markets, and significantly increase incomes that will raise bottom-of-the-pyramid families out of poverty. Our target customers are small-plot farmers in India and Africa. These farmers need a reliable, low-cost water pumping system so that they can grow cash crops to increase their incomes. They also need electric power to add value to their crops (grinding, processing, etc.) and for household use. Current pumping systems cost too much or are unreliable. Solar pumping systems have been…

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Building A Better Mousetrap is Only the Beginning

Paul Polak Responds to Acumen Fund's Lesson #6 - "Great Technology Alone is not the Answer"  Question: If you build a better mousetrap will the world beat a path to your door? Answer: Without superb marketing and distribution nobody beats a path to your door. In my work with a multitude of affordable technologies over the past 30 years, one key feature has become abundantly clear: If you have met the challenge of designing a transformative, radically affordable technology, you’ve successfully solved no more than 10-20% of the problem. The critical other 80% of the solution lies in designing an effective marketing, distribution, and profitable…

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From Concept to Market: How to Design for Impact

Responding to Martin Herrndorf's (@Herrndorf) blog post titled All That Glitters is Good on NextBillion.net "How do we commercialize university and do-it-yourself projects for the Other 90%? Too much sits in research." Paul Polak's video response is below: "The Appropriate Technology movement failed because it was peopled by technocrats rather than hard-headed entrepreneurs, and technologies were designed to solve technological problems rather than being designed for the market." "The same problem exists when technologies are designed in design courses in universities, rather than being designed to fit into markets, and markets that are scalable. In order to make things work with practical impact they have to be designed…

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Affordable Design Comes to Denver – “Design for the Other 90%” – RedLine Gallery

by Kali Friedmann The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt “Design for the Other 90%” exhibit has arrived at RedLine Gallery in downtown Denver, showcasing products designed explicitly to fit the needs and circumstances of the world’s poorest customers - the “other 90%” who are bypassed by current design processes. The exhibit, organized in part by International Development Enterprises (iDE), showcases products from an array of designers, engineers, and organizations focused on development, including Design Revolution (D-REV), the non-profit technology incubator co-founded by Paul Polak. D-REV is an outgrowth of Dr. Polak’s vision of fomenting a revolution in how companies design, price, market, and distribute their products, to produce…

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Death of Appropriate Technology II : How to Design for the Market

by Paul Polak The single biggest reason that the appropriate technology movement died and most technologies for developing countries never reach scale is that nobody seems to know how to design for the market. Over the past 30 years, I’ve looked at hundreds of technologies for developing countries. Some provided elegant solutions for challenging technical problems. Some were big and clumsy. Some  were far too expensive. Some of were beautifully simple and radically affordable. But only a handful were capable of reaching a million or more customers who live on less than two dollars a day. If you succeed, against all odds, in designing a…

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The Death of Appropriate Technology I : If you can’t sell it don’t do it

The appropriate technology movement died peacefully in its sleep ten years ago. Launched in 1973 by Fritz Schumacher and his lovely book, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered in 1973, it inspired politicians as different as Pat Brown in California and Jawarhal Nehru in India, thousands of middle-aged dreamers like me and millions of people from all walks of life around the world. What happened? How could such an inspiring movement with deep spiritual meaning have produced so little in the way of practical impact? The appropriate technology movement died because it was led by well-intentioned tinkerers instead of hard-nosed entrepreneurs designing for the…

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Design for the Other 90% and Wild Blueberries

Many people see design as creating new mechanical tools – better widgets for controlling space, flight, or grinding corn. For me, design is creative problem solving. Designing new mechanical tools is often a critical first step, but far from sufficient for creative problem solving. On our quest to help poor smallholders improve their livelihoods, we created useful tools such as treadle pumps and low cost drip systems. But they only addressed about 25% of the problem. To solve the other 75% of the problem, an effective way to put these tools in the hands of millions of last mile customers had to be designed. This…

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