Award Winning Social Enterprise Uses Bikes to Power Utilities
Monday, January 3, 2011
Every year, Echoing Green selects a handful of social entrepreneurs to participate in a two-year fellowship. Echoing Green fellows receive start-up capital and technical assistance to build their fledgling social enterprises. Perhaps the most interesting Echoing Green fellow this year is 23-year-old Jodie Wu, founder of Global Cycle Solutions.
Based in Arusha, Tanzania, Global Cycle Solutions is innovative from both an engineering and entrepreneurial perspective. The company creates devices that are powered by pedaling bicycles. Attach one of Global Cycle Solution’s products to a bike, and it will transform into a corn sheller or a cell phone charger, to name just two examples.
Only 10 percent of Tanzania’s 40 million people have access to electricity. In rural areas, that figure drops to one percent, a staggeringly low number considering that about four out of every five Tanzanians are farmers. Bicycles, on the other hand, are in high supply. “Hundreds of thousands of Tanzanians have bicycles,” observed Wu in a recent interview. “The reason for doing technology on the bicycle rather than other things,” she continued, “it’s the idea that anywhere around the world you can run these technologies off a bicycle.”
For a country with plenty of farmers but a scarcity of electricity, bicycle-powered agricultural utilities would seem a perfect fit. So Wu, a mechanical engineering graduate of MIT, invented a maize sheller that affixes to a bike through a special interface. The machine shells maize 40 times faster than by hand. Instead of having to repeatedly wallop a corn-filled bag with a stick, all you’ve got to do is pedal.