Volunteers for X-runner. (Photo: X-Runner/Facebook)
Volunteers for X-runner. (Photo: X-Runner/Facebook)

Originally posted on Takepart.com by Esha Chhabra

A few creative, tenacious souls who have been tinkering away at monumental global challenges—clean watersanitationaccess to toiletsenergy—are getting their moment in the spotlight.

This August, they flew from around the globe to California to see if their innovations can scale. Since 2003, Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has invited about 20 social enterprises to its campus every year. The companies and nonprofits don’t receive money; instead, they get 10 months of mentoring from venture capitalists and entrepreneurs on how to scale their innovations.

It’s fruitful not just for the fellows selected but also for the mentors, says Brian Haas, vice president of semiconductor company KLA-Tencor.

“It’s both exhilarating and humbling to work side by side with these entrepreneurs,” he tells TakePart. “We look forward immensely every year to meeting these amazing and talented social entrepreneurs, whose businesses face challenges unheard of in Silicon Valley.”

Companies must be in operation for more than three years to qualify and the focus is on scaling an existing idea to make it more impactful. To date, the center has worked with more than 400 social entrepreneurs from more than 60 countries.

Below, five noteworthy innovations from this year’s cohort:


1. AquaSafi: A Network of 100 Water Stores in 100 Villages

An estimated 97 million people in India do not have access to clean, potable water, and face serious risk of waterborne diseases. AquaSafi is the Indian arm of H20 for Humanity, an American company that focuses on delivering clean water to developing countries. In India, it operates through a network of “water stores”—a small, reverse-osmosis machine at each store can purify 1,300 liters every hour. That water is then sold for around two rupees (about 30 cents) per 20 liters. In one day, AquaSafi serves up to 130,000 villagers through its water stores. A percentage of the revenue from the store is also shared with the community.


2. Banka BioLoo: Portable Bio-toilets

Longtime Bangalore resident Namita Banka was frustrated by the lack of public toilets for women. In India, more than 600 million people—or 100 million households—have no access to toilets, particularly in rural areas. She came across a technology called the “biodigester,” which converts waste into water, carbon dioxide, and methane. The result: Banka BioLoo, which specializes in portable toilets that contain a pot attached to a bacteria-filled biodigester. The start-up has installed more than 3,000 public and private facilities with over 50,000 daily users. Approximately 2 million kilograms of waste is treated per year and 300,000 liters of water saved from contamination daily, Banka BioLoo reports.


3. Empower Generation: A Female-Led Solar Company

Empower Generation, a Nepalese company that trains women to sell solar energy, has provided light and power to more than 200,000 people in Nepal, according to its reports. EG mentors rural women to distribute clean energy solutions; the women then develop their own businesses. Following the earthquake, EG’s entrepreneurs have been serving seven affected districts and distributing lights and mobile and chargers.


4. X-Runner: Dry Toilets in Peru

X-Runner has a hefty goal: Give 3 million people in Peru access to toilets. But water-based toilets are not a practical solution. So X-Runner tested out dry toilets for 60 families living in the slums of Lima in 2012—they paid to have their waste picked up once a week and transported to a facility where it’s turned into compost. More than 90 percent of the families kept the toilets and became paying customers for the start-up. To date, X-Runner has served more than 100 households.


5. Carbon Roots: Agricultural Waste Turned Cooking Fuel

Haitian company Carbon Roots converts agricultural waste biomass into renewable charcoal cooking briquettes. The company has numerous schemes to help locals: Smallholder farmers can earn extra income by carbonizing agricultural waste and women retailers can supplement their income by selling the “green” charcoal in their communities. So far, the company has created more than 150 jobs, paid farmers more than $40,000, and produced more than 200 tons of green charcoal.