Mr. Frykman, the irrigation-gear executive, was part of a group of Stanford University graduate students who in 2008 came up with a method for making drip irrigation systems inexpensively. After testing them in Ethiopia, "we saw that this could help farmers across the world," he says. He put his plan to get an engineering Ph.D. on hold and formed Driptech Inc.
Driptech's story is a great one—in terms of both its product and its objectives (not to mention its journey)—that I've told before (Driptech and the opportunities in distributed production).
The jist of this story is valuable in itself: that even small companies are now able to be multinational. Indeed, many new ventures in the Silicon Valley are pushed to build out their programming workforce in India or Eastern Europe rather than here. But more than just tapping a low cost labor force, companies like DripTech are finding ways to pursue small markets overseas as effectively as chasing down the same markets across the U.S. (or perhaps more so).
In turning green technology research into new ventures and bringing them to market, the best markets may not be the large and established ones in the U.S. and other developed markets. This is particularly true for innovations in agriculture and energy, where 100 years of industrialization have created impenetrable barriers reflecting incumbent corporations, commodity pricing, federal subsidies, and local regulations.
Developing markets, where energy and water are scarce, will put greater value on innovations that provide more sustainable and efficient solutions—but only when these businesses are designed for the local markets. For companies like DripTech, the ability to tap the local knowledge, local management, and local networks in distant markets (rather than just low cost labor) may be the key to accessing the growth markets for green tech.