Peter Frykman: the creator of 'big' irrigation solutions for small farmers


Plato once said “Ideas rule the world”. And I think everyone agrees with that. Has a single idea gripped you so much that you were unable to sleep? The excitement giving you a feeling that you can rule the world. But, most of the time, we put this idea away and we never act on it. Plato was partially correct, only having ideas doesn’t help you rule the world, but it is about how much you believe in them, and how well you can execute that dream.Peter Frykman, fits the description of somebody who had an idea, believed in it and then went about executing it. In 5 years he moved from being a college student to becoming a World Economic Forum technology Pioneer. So if you are an aspiring social entrepreneur prepare to take a lot of notes from his extraordinary story.

All the good ideas come from big problems. Peter’s big problem was to help small farmers around the world increase productivity, boost incomes and also waste less water. And his big idea was to design a new irrigation method for small farmers that needed to be very affordable and could have an immediate return on investment for farmers. Irrigation has been addressed by a lot of companies, but they don’t have solutions for small farmers. Peter understood that they have different needs and that a new solution needed to be created for them. So he created an irrigation system that costs 25% of normal drip irrigation system and that could help them boost their field productivity by 40%.

“I graduated from Stanford Univeristy in United States and I was part of a course on Design for Extreme Affordability. Through that program I had the chance to go to Ethiopia and work with small farmers. There I understood their reality, they had limited and scarce water resources and I discovered how normal irrigation system doesn’t fit their needs” says Peter. One of the great quality of Peter is his vision: most people would have open their social enterprise in Ethiopia, but he researched more on the topic and he discovered a bigger impact in China and India “India has more small farmers than all Africa. I wanted to think big, to create my company where there is more need”.

But this great idea needed to find some support. And Peter teaches us that thinking big is one of the first rules to attract investors. No one would like to invest in a small project that is going to impact few people. “We had different people investing in DripTech and all of them were fascinated by our vision to solve a global problem” says Peter. Most of all their investors are entrepreneurs and they are not just investing money, but they are also giving them great advice “ They want us to grow and to be a leader in the market because they believe that we can tackle a global problem. They push us to become a better and greater company,” tells Peter.

Ideas and investments are nothing without customer and daily change. One of the major problems in working with small farmers or people at the bottom of the pyramid is that they are sometimes skeptical. That’s why Peter spent as much time as possible with his customers to understand them better “Farmers always tell me that seeing is believing. So we created a very affordable product able to have a return on investment in just 6 months, to show them an immediate benefit,” affirms Peter.

His new drip irrigation system completely changed the lives of farmers. More than 10000 small farmers bought it and 50,000 people were impacted by it. “Once I asked a farmer who had a very good profit thanks to our product as to what he was going to do with the money. He looked at me and he told me that he will use them to move his children from a rural school to a school where they could learn english, so that they could have a better career and a better future,” says Peter.

Aligned with his vision, Peter understood that he couldn’t just create a good product, but it had to be a scalable one. It’s impossible to think about changing the world with an idea that is not scalable. They did it using their customer as a powerful tool to develop the product according to their needs. “A lot of times social enterprises and non profit organisations are focused on impact, but they completely forget about scalability. That’s what brought us to have a bigger vision, to inspire more people and to have better team members”.

Moreover, this scalability brought Peter to be nominated as one of the top 5 most promising social entrepreneurs by Business Week and a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer in 2012. And that is just a consequence of the great work he did “I think that every social enterprise should define what the company is and what they do to their investors, employees and customer. To have a global recognition you have to focus on a global problem and communicate it very well,” tells Peter.

DripTech is a very well recognized social enterprise that is bringing a change in India and that is seen as a role model in the sector. That’s why it is very important to listen to what Peter advices to any aspiring entrepreneurs “Before starting your company, spend a lot of time identifying your customer. Go to the field, try to understand their behaviour and what’s missing in the market. Don’t create a product that no one needs.” And maybe that’s the most important secret of social enterprises: do something that matters: for yourself, your investors and your customers.

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