This semester I’m cross-enrolling at the one and only Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. The course I’m taking, Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship, is co-taught by Babson and Olin faculty. The course is basically Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship 2.0 aside from the fact that our entire “firm” is made up of only twenty people and those twenty people are further broken up into project teams and instead of focusing on creating a for profit business that will run for three months before harvesting the venture our four project teams are looking to solve social issues in three sites around the world through engineering and business innovations.

Two of our project teams will be traveling to Greensboro, Alabama to work on projects focusing around income generation and daily needs. The teams are currently working on designing affordable wheelchair ramps out of local materials (Greensboro’s population has a high percentage of diabetics, many of which who have had amputations and are wheelchair bound), creating insulation from bamboo to help offset the high cost of heating in many of Greensboro’s mobile homes, and developing an efficient method of pecan butter processing and packaging to fulfill Whole Foods’ need for a pecan butter supplier in the South.

Another one of our project teams is working with the Center for Rural Development in Guwahati, India to offer their engineering expertise to the Center’s Rickshaw Bank division. The team is currently exploring designs for a power assist feature (a small motorized gear box) to help rickshaw pullers during portions of routes that are particularly difficult on their knees, such as traveling uphill and starting the rickshaw after stopping at traffic lights. They’re also working on a redesign of a rickshaw to allow for use by trained rickshaw pullers to provide medical check-up services in rural portions of India where it is difficult for members of the community to get to a doctor.

My project team will be traveling to Kumasi, Ghana to work with faculty members at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology on several different projects. The areas of need in the Kumasi region include tomato spoilage rates, local cassava processing, and product design for local beekeepers. Ghana’s tomato farmers have had incredibly high rates of spoilage and are looking for ways to minimize these issues, we’re currently looking at several alternatives to alleviate this issue. These include processing the tomatoes into a paste in order to increase its shelf-life, as well as redesigning the current crates used by transporters to minimize the amount of pressure on tomatoes at the bottom of the crates to reduce bruising which leads to spoilage. There are also large opportunities to help Ghanaians by making the processing of cassava (a staple crop in Africa) a more convenient task. We’re looking to do this through by redesigning current cassava graters and by designing a cassava peeler to make the lives of inhabitants of rural villages easier. Finally, we hope to develop different products for Ghanaian bee keepers to produce to help them to make more money off each individual hive they own.