After checking out the Delta waste facility with John Caven, Malhotra and iCAST project manager Jedd head back to Caven's office, a converted trailer along a state highway. Malhotra listens as Caven runs through a few options he found on the Internet. Over the next few months, Malhotra analyzes their benefits and costs with help from chemical engineering students. Ultimately, they determine that the high price of a promising piece of equipment probably doesn't fit Caven's small-scale business. Malhotra suggests a similar technology that should slash his hauling trips and transportation costs. The center could eventually help finance equipment through a grant or loan, and Malhotra hopes to bring the findings to other septic haulers and industry groups.

Caven, who describes himself as both "so conservative" and "far green," is pleased. In an era of political polarization and government stagnancy, Ravi Malhotra is a doer, he says. Indeed, after a decade of "doing," Malhotra and iCAST say they've directed $5 million in investments, grants and iCAST services to small businesses and other initiatives, while generating another $25 million in economic benefits to communities through those projects.

"Nobody's going to have that larger conversation unless we can show some results," Malhotra says. "We're not here to tell anyone we're here to save their community. It's more: 'Here's what we bring to the table, and here's what's of interest to you.' And eventually the conversation gets around to the bigger picture" -- the energy savings, waste reduction, and more diversified local economies that come from this brand of job creation and business development.

It's not a discussion every rural citizen or economic-development board is interested in having, but Malhotra has found his niche. As far as facing prejudice as an Indian working among mostly pale-faced Westerners, Malhotra says: "It hasn't been so much that I'm not from around 'these parts,' (meaning) the U.S., or that I have a weird or Indian accent. But there's definitely: 'You're not from around these parts ... you're from Denver.' "