Irrigation shouldn’t be a problem for the 30 million small
farms in the water-rich Ganges River basin in eastern
India. But today most farmers
have to choose between cultivating a single crop each year
during the monsoon rains and
spending up to 90 percent of
their profits to hire diesel or
kerosene pumps during the
dry seasons to access the plentiful, shallow groundwater.
Most plots stay uncultivated; to make up the income,
farmers often resort to dangerous and demeaning migratory labor in diamond mines
or clothing factories, leaving
their families for months at
This is what motivated
engineer Katherine Taylor
to uproot her life in the U.S.
and move to India to found
Khethworks, which builds an
a;ordable solar-powered irrigation system that lets farmers cultivate year-round.
“Sometimes I get asked if
I would have wanted a job at
a high-tech company instead.
But this was never a sacrifice
for me, it was always the goal,”
says Taylor. “The potential
for keeping families together,
for having people doing work
they feel is dignified—it’s
those kinds of stories we want
Originally, as part of the
mechanical engineering mas-
ter’s program at MIT, Taylor
focused on developing low-
pressure drip irrigation sys-
tems, but during a visit to
India, farmers helped her spot
the real gap in the market.
“They said, look, drip is great,
but what we need is an a;ord-
able pump,” she says. “Who
cares about drip if we can’t
a;ord to irrigate year-round?”
In response, she and
Victor Lesniewski and Kevin
Simon designed a centrifu-
gal pump with triple the e;-
ciency of similar-size pumps.
That meant it could be powered by one-third as many
photovoltaic panels—by far
the most expensive component. This reduces the cost
and makes the system portable so farmers can rent it out.
Taylor and Lesniewski
moved to Pune in 2016 and
will ship their first commercial product next spring.
Not that it’s been easy.
Endless red tape has been
frustrating, she says, and
they’ve had to adapt to a
business culture with a dif-
ferent attitude toward dead-
lines. “The most important
thing is having a good sense
of humor,” she says. But
Taylor nevertheless believes
it’s “absurd” that bigger play-
ers haven’t been designing for
Going after these cus-
tomers means Taylor and her
cofounders haven’t been able
to stick to the standard advice
for startups to focus on core
competencies. It’s likely they’ll
have to do everything from
engineering to developing dis-
tribution models. “You don’t
necessarily have the luxury of
doing exactly what you think
you’re best at,” says Taylor.
T CH LOG R I
TE GY I
VO . ;; | N INNOVATORS UNDER ;;
Problem: Sometimes the di;erence between
life and death is a quick and accurate diagnosis. With sepsis, a life-threatening reaction
to an infection, there’s no definitive single test
doctors can use to diagnose the condition.
Solution: Suchi Saria, an assistant professor
at Johns Hopkins University, wondered: what
if existing medical information could be used
to predict which patients would be most at risk
for sepsis? Algorithms that she subsequently
created to analyze patient data correctly predicted septic shock in 85 percent of cases, by
an average of more than a day before onset.
That is a 60 percent improvement over existing
screening tests. —Emily Mullin
EXISTING MEDICAL DATA IS PUT TO
WORK TO PREDICT SEPSIS RISK.
In the video, two flat black bags resembling
large hot-water bottles expand slowly, gradually
lifting a collapsed concrete-and-rebar wall and
creating a space between the wall and a mound
of rocks beneath. The film shows a test of a
design by Eyad Janneh and his team at non-
profit Field Ready that is now being deployed in
Syria, where it is used to lift heavy debris during
searches for civilians following bomb attacks.
Janneh was raised in Syria but left in 2010
and now works in Istanbul. His team designs
and tests tools that can be made locally from
available materials. The airbags, for example,
are made from a polyester fabric with a rubber
sheet cover and some binding accessories—
repurposing materials already being used as
covers for cargo trucks. In April one of these
airbags was used in Syria to help rescue two
people trapped in rubble. —Nanette Byrnes
RESCUING ENDANGERED CIVILIANS
IN SYRIA, USING LOCAL MATERIALS.