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Interviewing Catapult Design Co-Founder: Affordable Design for Low-income Consumers

Daniel Epstein December 10, 2009

“What good is a water filtration product if no one wants it, uses it, or will pay for it?” According to Catapult Design, a non-profit design firm engineering affordable products that meet the needs of the world’s poorest customers, absolutely none. Consumers who earn between $1-$2/day have long been ignored by design firms and don’t have access to basic amenities like clean water and energy. Catapult’s job is to address these needs through design. I had the good fortune of hopping on Skype with Tyler Valiquette, the firm’s Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer, who patiently answered a barrage of my questions. Listen in on our conversation below!

Video Interview Table of Contents:

  1. What is Catapult Design in 30 seconds? (0:01-0:34)
  2. How do you go from identifying a problem to developing a design? (0:35-1:53)
  3. What is the key to designing affordable products for low-income end-users? (1:54-3:34)
  4. How do you ensure your end-users know how to use your product? (3:35-5:30)
  5. What’s an example of a Catapult Design project? (5:31-7:42)
  6. What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs? (7:43-9:29)

Catapult’s 4-Step Design Process. Catapult’s design process incorporates four steps, that can be offered to for-profit or non-profit social ventures in sequence or independently. The first step in this process is assessing what needs exist in the target community and what technical solutions may exist to these needs. The second part of the process is designing a product that meets agreed-upon specifications to address the assessed needs of the target community. The product is then introduced to the target community in the implementation stage and its impact is evaluated with field data and scientific metrics.
Catapult’s Projects. Catapult is currently working on three projects. The first is a $100 wind-turbine that produces 10-20 Watts of power, which can be used to charge car batteries and provide electricity for charing cell phones, radios, and lights to off-the-grid consumers in Guatemala. The second is helping dissigno, a project development company creating energy enterprises in emerging markets, to technically evaluate LED lighting systems currently on the market in Tanzania. And Catapult’s third endeavor is outfitting health clinics run by the Ihangane Project in Rwanda with photovoltaic systems that give these clinics the electricity they need to distribute HIV medication.
A little bit about Tyler Valiquette. Living and working in Latin America for several years inspired Tyler to dedicate his career to addressing inequality and environmental degradation, leading him to join Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in 2007. Through his involvement with EWB, Tyler led the development of the wind turbine project in Guatemala, which inspired him to co-found Catapult Design along with Heather Fleming. In the past, Tyler has worked as a mechanical engineer for Chevron and for a commercial construction company in San Francisco.
written by: Teju Ravilochan (Unreasonable Institute)

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