USAID is incubating start-ups to tackle poverty problems

Monday, September 15, 2014


With his nifty PowerPoint slides and carefully crafted pitch, Yashraj Khaitan might be mistaken for any other fast-talking, code-savvy Bay Area millennial boasting that he has hit on the idea to solve a vexing world problem.

Yet, in Khaitan’s case, some very influential people in Washington think he may be right.

The federal government agency charged with easing world hunger and poverty has bet a million dollars on Khaitan’s tiny start-up. It is among a handful of companies that the US Agency for International Development is looking to as it seeks to upend the way aid agencies go about trying to improve living conditions in some of the world’s most deeply impoverished places.

Their firm, Gram Power, is scrambling to erect clusters of solar panels that transmit modest amounts of energy to homes through sophisticated, hyper-efficient electricity meters the firm invented. In many households, that clean electricity is replacing kerosene lamps, which emit toxic fumes that can lead to sickness and also accelerate global warming.

“I never wanted to go work for a big corporation to build the next big app or do things like that,” said Khaitan, a native of India who dropped out of his master’s program at Berkeley after USAID invested in Gram Power, spurring others to put money into the company. “I wanted to use technology to work on something high impact.”

Source: The Los Angeles Times (link opens in a new window)