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Apr. 17 2009 - 7:55 am | 7 views | 1 recommendation | 1 comment

PowerMundo: Power for the Poor

Rice University is now holding the final leg of its business plan competition. For the first time, it’s also running a competition for social ventures.  Six companies are vying for a $10,000 prize.

One of the six is a company called PowerMundo, which won the top prize at the William James Foundation’s business plan competition last month. It’s very impressive.

The target market is the billions of people around the world without access to electricity, who use kerosene lamps or camp fires for light and, also, have virtually no access to news, except for battery-operated radios (when they can afford batteries).  PowerMundo’s solution is to sell such simple, low-cost products as biomass cook stoves, wind-up radios, and solar lanterns to low-income households, focusing first on the poorest communities in Peru. After that, they’ll expand to other countries in Latin America and Africa.

In a short period of time–perhaps a few months–consumers can recoup their investment. For example, a solar lantern costs $30, but it eliminates the need to shell out $10 a month for kerosene. Plus, it emits less air pollution and CO2. There’s also an economic development part to PowerMundo’s plan, by offering locals the chance to become distributors.

PowerMundo, by the way, sounds a little like D.light, a company funded by the likes of Nexus India Capital, Garage Technology Ventures and Acumen Fund, among others. It also seeks to sell low-cost solar-powered alternatives to kerosene lamps. There was recently a story in Fortune about it and how it grew out of a Stanford University Graduate School of Business course called Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.

Here’s a video about PowerMundo. You get a feel for the process that founder Michael Callahan went through to fine-tune his plan.

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    It's just in the past few years that I've become interested in not-only-for-profit startups and small businesses. In fact, I can remember a time when I thought the concept of "enlightened capitalism" was simply an oxymoron. Now, I see the possibilities. Plus, it combines my own political bent with my long-time coverage of small business for such places as the New York Times, Business Week, CNNMoney.com, Portfolio.com, Harvardbusinessonline, and Fortune. Otherwise, I live with my son, a soccer fanatic, my husband, a journalist and avid rower, in Pelham, NY. My daughter, a former varsity wrestler, is away at college, studying art. You can see more of my work at www.annefieldonline.com. Or follow me on Twitter@annearfannearf.

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