Emerging Markets, Think Outside the Rhombus

January 31, 2015

If you yelled "it's a box!" you may be hampered by cliché thinking. Think in new ways, don't embrace the old. Consider overseas employment? Emerging markets offer amazing careers for engineers. Why? These countries do not have the burden of huge investments in yesterday’s technology.

startup emergin markets

Emerging markets jump from Alexander Graham Bell to smartphones in one evolutionary leap. They call “come here young, creative engineer we need you.” How would it feel to create a meaningful agricultural app rather than a frivolous two-day fad app? How about designing affordable housing models to support emerging market populations who are urbanizing?

Cell towers and satellite dishes are first-generation technology for these countries. They seek more creative, more efficient solutions because the implementation of great new ideas does not require trashing billions of dollars of antiquated, but working infrastructure. You build a career solving your pet problem, in a job you create.

Banking and transactions in markets with poor physical infrastructure, like no highways or transportation, challenges business people. Electronic fund transfer (EFT) safety and efficiency is a global priority. Resolving these issues in remote, non-technology savvy areas is an ongoing investigation.

Something as important as medicine delivery offers challenges in emerging markets. Consider populations subject to diseases like AIDS which do not have a history of western time urgency. Delivering medicines remotely is a tough task. Once there, getting the patient to take the medication on a timely basis requires education from fundamentally telling time, to keeping a calendar. Can you deliver a solution to that problem?
Civil engineering infrastructure: road building, a desperately needed service, begins with the grid design because in many areas, there simply are no highways or roads. Think of the creative possibilities. The road surface can be the newer solar panel designs, once perfected, and you can create an energy grid at the same time.

Emerging markets offer great opportunities to rethink everyday applications and create better solutions.
In my field, bioremediation, the detoxification and degrading of chemicals using biological agents, the typical western application requires pumps, drill rigs, extensive sampling and testing, and electronic equipment. These items are not readily available or easy to transport into emerging market sites. All borings are hand advanced. Basic physics must rule the applications: gravity feeds, broad thermodynamic balance (scattershot, not specifically targeted), and faith in the process because sampling periods must be longer. Of course, this approach brings positive results slower. Safe drinking water and efficient sanitary systems for remote communities reward exponentially more than the next two-day fad gizmo.
For bioremediation, the bottom line is getting microbes to the contaminant in a sustainable environment. Everything else is a luxury. The challenge is to use what is available or importable. Or, to rethink the entire process to unburden the western way. Urgency is a luxury these markets cannot afford; you will have time to design and implement projects.

Accept this challenge. What mark do you want to leave on the world? What services or products are not available in emerging markets? Why? Do some research on a company and academic websites. What needs to change or be reinvented or redesigned to make the world work better?

Look for the specific emerging market where your idea can be of most value. Find a company with some of the same vision. Now make that marriage work. In many ways, working in underdeveloped areas is a leap of faith, perfect for the big idea engineer with an idealist's heart.

Be inspired, inspirational and extraordinary in your idea. The beauty of emerging markets: you have an opportunity to take a blank canvas and create.

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