D-Lab Alumnus Elliot Avila: From Boston to Nigeria to Tanzania

Elliot Avila, D-Lab alumnus (Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, MIT 2014)

Working on the cargo tricycle for Wecylers in Lagos.

Wecyclers colleague at work.

Working with the avocado processing team at IDDS.

Guacamole, anyone?

Working on the MultiCrop Thresher on an earlier trip to Global Cycle Solutions.

Elliot Avila graduated from MIT in 2014 having taken D-Lab: DevelopmentD-Lab:Design, and D-Lab: Cycle Ventures. He traveled with D-Lab to India to work on a solar dryer project as well as natural crayon manufacturing. On a D-Lab trip to Tanzania, he worked on a bicycle-powered corn sheller and a multicrop thresher. He also completed an undergraduate research project and his senior thesis was on a D-Lab project (see below).

In an interview early this year, Elliot said, “When I arrived at MIT, I was interested in science for the sake of science. Now it feels like the problems I work on have much more meaning, and it’s a constant motivator for me to take on new challenges . . . I expected that I would either end up working for a financial firm or at a lab like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or NASA. Now I’m much more interested in how science and technology play a role in people’s every-day lives. D-Lab was a place where I learned the value of my education and the opportunities it affords me."


Thesis to Implementation: Designing a New Cargo Trycicle for Wycyclers in Lagos, Nigeria

My summer officially started after a half-awake walk across MIT’s campus to turn in my undergraduate thesis, which was on the use of computer software to design and analyze a cargo tricycle. I was working with D-lab Scale-ups fellow Bilikiss Abiola, founder of Wecyclers, to try and improve the performance of their cargo tricycle, called the Wecycle.

After packing up my things in Boston, I had the pleasure of traveling to Nigeria with two D-Lab Staff members, Scale-Ups fellowship manager Eric Reynolds and shop manager Jack Whipple, to implement my thesis work. After two weeks, we parted ways, satisfied with leaving behind a gigantic new Wecycle.

Developing a Low-Cost Avocado Oil Extraction Process at IDDS, Tanzania

I left Nigeria to become a participant in this year’s International Development Innovation Summit (IDDS) held in Arusha, Tanzania. My project team included four other participants from Tanzania, Kenya, and India. Together, we investigated ways to increase the value of avocados, eventually settling on developing a low-cost avocado oil extraction process.

The project itself was a fun (and delicious) challenge, but my favorite thing about IDDS is the people. It might seem strange to feel at home with 60 people from around the world in just a week or two, but apparently at IDDS it’s a totally normal feeling. And that’s a wonderful thing.

A New Job: Product Development Engineer at Global Cycle Solutions

By far, the best part of this journey is that it kept going. After IDDS, I stayed in Arusha to start my new job as a product development engineer with Global Cycle Solutions (GCS), founded by MIT alumna and D-Lab Scale-ups fellow Jodie Wu. I see my friends from IDDS daily, and have even made some visits to continue the avocado project and see our community partners.

I’ll continue living in Arusha for at least the next year, at which point I’ll have to figure out whether I should stay or start a new journey. Until then, I’ll be here in Tanzania, patiently awaiting the next avocado harvest season and a visit from this year’s D-lab students.

Read more about Elliot Avila's D-Lab projects in the following blogs:
Scale-Ups Report from Tanzania: Growing the MultiCrop Thresher team, testing prototypes, 08/05/2013 

With help of IDI and UROP, students return to Avani, 11/08/2012