Off Grid Electric provides pre-paid solar energy at affordable prices to people living off the grid.
Xavier Helgesen had dealt with more than a few unexpected twists since moving to Tanzania after graduating from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School in 2011. But one in particular left him stumped.
The villagers using his company’s solar lighting kits put the brightest lights on the porch, leaving the inside of their homes dark. Nothing he’d studied in Oxford’s venerable classrooms could explain the behavior. So he went back to his customers, primarily poor Tanzanians living without electricity, for an answer.
He learned that the company’s LED lights had become something of a status symbol; leaving them outside was comparable to parking a new car in the driveway. Plus, people tended to spend most of their time outdoors, so it made sense to illuminate their primary living space.
This was one of many lessons Helgesen would learn after co-founding Off Grid Electric in 2011 with fellow Oxford MBA Erica Mackey and Joshua Piece, the company’s CTO. Off Grid Electric provides pre-paid solar energy at affordable prices to people living off the grid, meaning those who aren’t connected to electricity or simply can’t afford it.
For $6, Off Grid Electric will install a home solar kit, which includes solar panels, LED lights, a meter, and a USB charger for cell phones. Customers pay via mobile phone to unlock the energy they need. Off Grid claims their pricing is equal to or less than what customers currently pay for kerosene, batteries, and phone-charging services. In a country where only 15% of the population had access to electricity in 2012, according to the World Bank, the market demand was clear. Getting investors on board was a different story.
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