The problem: Better and less expensive technologies exist to support people in their basic needs. In the case of SolarWorks! these basic needs are mostly related to the use of energy.
The opportunity: Solar energy (and sustainable technologies in general) can help to fill in needs, but only when the offer is better than the existing solution. For instance, a solar lamp is a solution to the need for light. However, so is a candle and in the perception of the end user a candel is cheap, affordable on a daily basis and always works (even when it rains for three weeks straight). In this case, the solar lamp should offer a better solution compared to the use of a candle.
The mission: To find solutions to bacis needs that require energy in countries with limited or no access to electricity.
The strategy: SolarWorks! makes good choices considering: (1) starting from the consumer need rather than technology; (2) product portfolio; (3) regions and especially the expansion regions; (4) route to market, reaching the consumer profitably; (5) generating recurrent sales; and (6) good after sales through local presence.
The status: SolarWorks! is growing. The product portfolio is in place. At the moment there are three products. The first one is a solar light that also charges the battery of every mobile phone possible (first Nokia to smartphone) and the product can be charged by any source of electricity if needed. The second product is a theft proof light for indoor use that can be fixed to a roof. Thirdly, the Solar Home System was launched recently and focuses on so-called ‘low cost houses’. The light can be charged by the sun or any other power source.
The focus is on Southern Africa for now, because of the available infrastructure and the different tiers that are represented in this region. The advantage of the latter is that beside the target customer, higher tier customers that these target customers associate themselves with are also present.
It is becoming clear how to get the products on the market and generate recurrent sales. SolarWorks! does not build its own retail system, but uses existing distribution infrastructures. There are many of these infrastructures available, but it is a long learning path to find the right ones. Since 2013 there has been a focus on local presence and selling products through local partners that are in direct contact with the end consumers, realising spectacular growth in the last year.
The entrepreneur: Arnoud de Vroomen and Bernard Hulshof are the founders of SolarWorks!. Their enterprise started from a wish to make a (positive) difference through running a commercial business. Arnoud is an econometrician, but already since 1995 an active entrepreneur in emerging markets with a focus on Africa. His vision on this continent is portrayed in the documentary ‘Vroom Vroom Africa‘*. Bernard has a technical background and, using his expertise, he believes that through SolarWorks! he can combine the best of both worlds: a commercial approach for social returns.
* This is the trailer, for the full documentary please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (highly recommended!)
Social enterprise according to Arnoud and Bernard: ‘An enterprise with in its objectives not ónly financial return for shareholders.’