India PM Modi: Tata Center researchers are “changing lives”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with Tata Center researchers at Startup Konnect, applauds efforts in agriculture, housing, and energy.

khethworks modi san jose

Katherine Taylor SM ’15 and Michael Laracy SM ’15 have spent the last two years working to craft solutions to pressing problems in India. For Taylor, that has meant harnessing solar power to drastically improve irrigation systems, while Laracy used industrial waste to create eco-friendly masonry materials. In September in San Jose, CA, they took the results of their research straight to the top: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi was in the San Francisco Bay Area to promote his Digital India initiative, meeting with the heads of Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley giants; delivering a speech before 17,000 people at San Jose’s SAP Center; and presiding over Startup Konnect, an event highlighting entrepreneurs doing high impact work in India.

Taylor and Laracy, alumni of the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, were among 30 entrepreneurs from the U.S. and India invited to participate in Startup Konnect. The event, which was open to the Silicon Valley investment community, “was a great way to meet other people who are putting their life’s work into making a difference for India,” says Taylor.

Taylor was among the five entrepreneurs selected to speak with the prime minister personally. “I got to tell him about what we’re doing. Solar pumping is one of his passion projects, so he was very interested.” Taylor is CEO of Khethworks, an MIT startup that emerged from the Tata Center and that has developed an irrigation pump optimized to serve the 30 million farmers in India’s vast Gangetic Plain.

Later, Modi singled out Taylor’s project in a speech. “MIT Tata Center’s Khethworks is changing the lives of small farmers with solar-based irrigation systems,” he said.

While Modi traveled to New York to meet with President Obama, Taylor and her team returned to Cambridge, where they’re preparing to relocate to India and launch Khethworks into the market. CTO Marcos Esparza ’15 and COO Victor Lesniewski SM ’15 will join her, while Tata Fellow Kevin Simon, a co-founder, will serve as technical advisor while he pursues his PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

Laracy’s research on the Eco-BLAC Brick aimed to solve two problems in India: industrial waste being sent to landfills and carbon emissions from traditional brick making. While Laracy has moved on to become an engineer at Silman, a structural engineering firm, a new Tata Center cohort are working toward implementing an Eco-BLAC Brick pilot plant in the city of Muzaffarnagar, India.

“India is a very exciting place for the startup community,” Taylor said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”

This story originally appeared on Slice of MIT.