At the Intersection of Technology and Business

2012-01-31 15:46

For Andrew Mang, the Grand Challenge Scholars Program was a natural fit. “I’ve always seen myself at the intersection of technology and business,” said Mang, a senior double majoring in mechanical engineering and economics and one of Duke’s National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge Scholars. Mang’s interest in such topics has been evident since his first year at Duke, during which he joined a student group dedicated to international development. With the group, he contributed to research on waste management issues in the developing world. In his sophomore year, Mang participated in an assessment trip to Uganda, during which he saw that access to water was a critical issue in rural areas. Clean water was often difficult to find, and malfunctions in wells’ pumping mechanisms—a common event—also exacerbated water scarcity. Mang cited an influential experience from this trip, mentioning an experience when a pump had been unusable for several months, leaving surrounding area without easy access to clean water. After an hour-long process of disassembling and repairing the pump, the source of the malfunction was discovered to be a small pebble that had interfered with the pumping mechanism. Mang called the effort to fix the pump “a hassle” to fix a relatively simple problem: a pebble stuck in the pump mechanism had caused the malfunction. In his junior year, Mang participated in Duke’s Startup Challenge. For the competition, Mang’s team submitted a detailed business plan for a “company that would install and maintain improved hand pumps” in the developing world, particularly Uganda. With this proposal, the team advanced to the semifinal round in the Startup Challenge’s Social Entrepreneurship track, but did not reach the finals. Judges in the competition said it was too early to invest in such a proposal, citing its riskiness: the team had no client and no business partner on the ground. In summer 2011, Mang traveled to Uganda to do technical survey work with an engineering student group. While in Uganda, Mang implemented the business plan he envisioned for the Startup Challenge, stating that he “had come to Uganda with these goals in mind and had the funding.” Applying the feedback his team had received, Mang found a business partner in Uganda, and using funding from the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, Mang and his partner were able to start the company. Over that same summer, Mang was able to use funding provided by the Grand Challenge Scholars Program to attend numerous conferences across the region about water technology and issues. These meetings provided valuable educational and networking opportunities for Mang: in one conference in Kigali, Rwanda, he was able to observe a meeting of Ugandan government officials, including Betty Bigombe, State Minister of Water Resources of Uganda. Mang also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ugandan government, stating that his company would work with them as partners to provide clean water. This year, Mang is working to refine his hand pump design with his advisor, associate professor of mechanical engineering Josiah Knight. For his senior thesis for the Grand Challenge Scholars Program, Mang intends to focus on “engineering modeling of pumping water.” Recalling the “hassle” required to fix the pump his sophomore summer in Uganda, Mang seeks to develop hand pumps that are less likely to malfunction, easier to repair, and generally “less maintenance-intensive,” in Knight’s words. According to Knight, after Mang finishes testing of his hand pump designs, he will concentrate on “deployment aspects and the maintenance side of things.” Knight also stated that the project has been “very interesting and rewarding to work on. Andrew has learned a lot about pumps and fluids, and I’ve learned some as well…about the issues involved.” Mang shared a similar opinion, stating that with his business, he has learned to deal with the issue of “how to take an invention and…use it to help as many people as possible.” Mang is currently finalizing a business plan with his partner in Uganda.