Posts Tagged ‘small businesses’

Rice Husk Power in India: Guest Blogger Samir Shah

Samir Shah, a classmate at Darden, guest blogs today on a visit our class had from Chip Ransler, co-founder of Husk Power Systems, which delivers power to over 50,000 rural Indians in a financially sustainable, scalable, environmentally friendly, and profitable manner. Samir’s post below:

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What stinks?

Look around your immediate location.  Take a second to analyze what’s there, the purposes those things serve, and how they could be made better.  It might be a small issue like the ergonomics of your computer mouse, or something more significant, like the difficulty of keeping documents organized (As you might have guessed, I am looking around my own desk right now).  Take another second to think about how you would fix it, and what you would need to accomplish that fix.

So what stinks?  And how can you make it less stinky?  Chip Ransler, co – founder of Husk Power Systems recently discussed this idea with our Entrepreneurial Thinking class.  He felt that ‘what stunk’ was the fact that 350 million individuals in rural India lived lacking reliable electrical power.  What stunk even more is that these individuals could not be part of the economic revolution currently revitalizing and invigorating much of the country.  Rice, a large agricultural product, produces a waste product, rice husks, which were also being wasted.  That stunk too.

Now what do you do?  You found something that stinks, something that needs a solution.  Ransler and his partners found a way, through technology and the free market, to develop a power system that used rice husks to generate electricity for villages in rural India.  Facing obstacles like working with clients who are not easy to reach, ‘not in tune’ with paying for electricity (read: they usually steal it), a 40% payment default rate, and a corrupt government, Husk Power has grown to reach these rural Indians and provide power solutions to more and more people.

It has been largely successful, and the exact details of their growth story are made clearer on the company website. The story of Husk Power Systems is inspiring and compelling, and Ransler brought forth some key ideas in developing solutions for problems that stink.  So what ideas are relevant for aspiring entrepreneurs and creative thinkers?

  1. Get it done.  Put your feet to the fire and get your idea out there.  You need to have passion that borders on insanity and be willing to go to the mat for your idea and vision.  Be ready to sacrifice (Ransler, along with his partners, lived in rural India for months at a time to get the system running properly), adapt, and give up what is secure.  Finally, talk to people.  Then, talk to more people. After you finish talking to everyone, find some more people to talk to.  Communicate your idea so that you can find a way to put things together.
  2. Know your customer and frame your idea properly.  Husk Power wasn’t giving away electricity, but selling power units to a market that had a demand for energy.  They tailored their product to their market, and made sure it was a sustainable way to earn revenue, grow, and maintain the initial objective of fixing what stinks.
  3. Ransler talked about the concept of second and third right answers.  I probably need more time to digest this idea, but he noted that while developing a power solution was the first right answer, subsequent right answers came from adapting ideas to develop the target market – for HusK Power, this included selling smaller amounts of power, and having customers prepay for power, bringing the default rate from 40% to 0%.  These second and third right answers have helped Husk Power develop and grow, reaching more people in an ever expanding market, which has in turn helped them develop their technology and infrastructure and continue the cycle upward.

Ransler didn’t talk much about the effect of injecting this power system on rural Indians.  I can only imagine how the company has allowed thousands of people to expand their productivity.  He did give us one quote from a local resident, who noted that “We gained independence from England 60 years ago, but it feels like we just gained our independence today”.  I have to admit, this quote choked me up just a little bit – the image of rural Indians being empowered was an inflection point in the presentation being made – things didn’t stink as much for these folks anymore.

Having visited India, and having family who grew up in lower class areas of the country, I can empathize with this quote, and it made me stop thinking about the story of entrepreneurship and start thinking about the power of the free market to fix what stinks.  In what some might call the heart of human poverty, an idea and product have been developed to promote social good and economic development.

So what stinks?  What can you do to fix it?

Samir Shah

Guest Blogger: Brianne Warner of Precision Ads on “Bootstrap Maryland”

Another guest post- this one from Brianne Warner, who you may remember from Dobro Media, the company I profiled from the UVA VC Summit (see a description of Dobro Media Precision Ads here and here).

Brianne was just elected President of the Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship Club at Darden and stays very linked in with events in the area. She wanted to preview a very cool event this coming weekend- Bootstrap Maryland. It takes place April 10 (9-5) at University of Maryland. Brianne’s post below starting at *****

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On April 10, I’ll be back at my alma mater, University of Maryland for a pretty cool entrepreneurial event. A friend and fellow Terp, Jared Goralnick, will be putting on his second Bootstrap Maryland. This day-long event features experienced entrepreneurs who have build companies by listening to their customers and responding to the markets – “bootstrapping” their businesses, rather than relying on a huge influx of VC cash.

Jared bootstrapped his own business, Set Consulting, and then started AwayFind, a web application designed to keep you away from the suck of e-mail and focused on productivity. He speaks at conferences regularly and organizes cool stuff generally. I’ve always found his career path inspiring, and when we chat, I get the sense – as I do when I talk to most entrepreneurs – that the world is full of possibilities if you think things through.

Curious, I asked him a few questions about the April 10th event:

How did Bootstrap Maryland get started? Where did you get the idea?

When I got started, I would’ve benefited a lot from a group of peers to explain the unique needs of a web startup.  And before that I could’ve used advice about starting a small tech business as a 20-something.  Bootstrap Maryland fills those voids for tech companies in the DC area.  For much more on why I started Bootstrap Maryland, see here. (http://www.technotheory.com/2009/03/dc-md-va-entrepreneurs-and-bootstrap-maryland/)

Who should attend? Who shouldn’t attend?

People who are or hope to be building tech companies, particularly on the web.  It doesn’t matter how much experience one has–the topics and activities are not what you’ll learn at a typical business or technology event–they’re nontraditional, often personal lessons-learned from young entrepreneurs.  It’s especially relevant for folks who haven’t seen how tech startups are built outside of this area–we’ll focus on some of the advice and current practices taking places in some of the tech hotbeds like Silicon Valley.

People who are deadset on business plans, and believe there’s a clear line between technology and business are probably not going to enjoy our perspective.

What have you changed since last year and why?

Last year’s event was a bit more Business 101.  This year’s topics are more focused and somewhat more advanced.  We’ll talk a lot about aligning our businesses with our (real) customers…and discuss how software built today can involve customer-learning (or even billing) at the very earliest stages.

Tell us about one or two sessions that you are really looking forward to and why:

I’m excited for Jill Stelfox’s talk on marketing–I spoke alongside her at Founder Institute and she’s both engaging and direct in the way she delivers her nontraditional advice.  She’s sold billion dollar businesses before and yet she knows how to give down-to-earth, practical advice.

The range of speakers and industries (though still focused around web startups) is pretty awesome.  I’m excited that it’s not just geeks talking about blogging–it’s technology people who get business (or the other way around).  One of our speakers has 90 million monthly users, for instance–his company is doing well.

You are an experienced conference-goer, speaker, and maker of lists. What should we bring? Anything we should do to prepare and get the most out of the day?

Research the speakers and attendees, so you know who you want to get to know.  Bring questions.  Stay late.  Feel free to ask for introductions or just introduce yourself–while the panels will be great, make sure you get a chance to build a relationship or two that lasts well past our event.

And just for fun: If we get to College Park early or stay that evening, what are a few spots worth checking out?

Ha.  Try our authentic College Park Diner or enjoy some veggie food at Berwyn Cafe (not so easy to find, closes around 7).  But your best bet is really to walk around the campus, which will be quite lovely at this time of year.

Intrigued? Register at www.bootstrapmaryland.com. $25 for entrepreneurs or a mere $10 for full-time students!

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It sounds pretty damn cool – I’m out of town so can’t make it but drop a comment if any of you are planning on going /go to it, and let us know about it.

Find 30mins and watch this now. Do it.

If you have time to do one thing for yourself tonight, watch “Lemonade.”

It’s only 30 mins long, but it is so pertinent, so on-target right now, and so right for this moment, that I think everyone could take something away from it. Maybe you’ve heard of it- I just did today (via Seth Godin’s Blog), but don’t wait to watch it.

The tag-line is “It’s not a pink slip; it’s a blank page.” A 37-year old copywriter got laid off from a large ad agency and started a blog for other unemployed ad professionals. After it launched, they created this promotional video for the blog featuring the faces and stories of other laid-off execs. I’ll admit some of the “lemon” visuals up front are a little tedious and bang-me-over-the-head-with-your-subtlety, but give it 10 minutes to really get going- once you get to the stories, to the real people opening and sharing stories about their lay-offs, it is absolutely spellbinding.

The stories told by those who were laid off are very moving and at times profound, because each of them was able to discover something they had lost- and they only discovered it by being laid off. Cliched or not, failure is a fear- a limiting fear. Jerry Colonna writes a cool blog called “The Monster in Your Head” – he had a nice post about those fears. When they were laid off, each of these people were able to discover something they had lost because their fear; their fear of mortgage payments, their fear of ridicule; their fear of failure. This movie is so good because each of these people, when faced with that fear, found the way to something they love.

Obviously a lot of this is easy to say because I’m 28 – I don’t have a  mortgage (yet :)). But I’m not saying people should quit their jobs and start a company, “bills be dammed!” I just happen to agree with what one of the speakers said in the movie about finding more time and more ways to integrate the things you love to do into your life. And if you can monetize that and make a living doing it….well, all the more power to you.

It’s amazing to think that, out of the 29MM or so businesses in the US, 21MM of those were self-motivated and without employees-like those in the film. That’s pretty incredible.