World Class from India – From Dream to RealityInnovation | July 20, 2014
Can the next world-changing idea come from India? Can Mumbai,...
Sasi and Santhosh, our fictional characters in this story, are aspiring entrepreneurs. Here, we replay a conversation they have that triggers the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey.
Sasi, a young management consultant, is fiddling with his iPad as the IPL is running in the background. The doorbell rings and Santhosh, Sasi’s classmate from ISB Class of 2006 walks in. Since their MBA days, they’ve discussed several business ideas, but they never really took the plunge. While exchanging notes on how their IPL fantasy teams were doing Santhosh, an engineer-turned-MBA, turns to Sasi:
Santhosh: “C’mon man, let us pursue the solar idea now. The time is right; we have reasonable financial backup, let’s take the plunge.”
The trigger for Santhosh was an article he read in a KPMG report at work about how Solar Power could become affordable to the masses by 2018. Santhosh kept speaking, even as Sasi switched off the IPL and gave him his full attention.
Santhosh: “The idea we had at ISB for a do-it-yourself solar kit can now become a reality. You remember the design we created at the Atrium?”
Sasi: “Of course I do. We even thought of variations of that idea, right? The solar-powered rice cooker, the solar-powered home office and all that. I remember that conversation really well. Tell me, what do you have in mind?”
Santhosh: “Look, I think the time is right to build that rooftop solar start-up for a couple of reasons – One, we’re at an inflection point and in four-five years solar is going to be everywhere. Two, our idea of doing a do-it-yourself solar kit is attracting attention. Mahindra even has an innovation challenge around this idea. We need to move fast.”
Sasi: “I agree. Plus, from a technical standpoint, the prices of solar panels are coming down. Also, solar is attracting the attention of policy makers. I think Narendra Modi even spoke about how Gujarat generates over 900 MW of solar and gets 4 per cent of the state’s energy requirement through this source.” (Borrows Sasi’s iPad and reads…) “Apparently, Germany generates 35 GW of solar power. And, Italy and the US generate about 10 GW from this source. So, the potential for India is huge. Typical ‘big problem-large market’ that potential VCs will love.”
Santhosh: “But you do realise that our idea can potentially be disruptive right? We’re not talking about building a utility-scale solar power plant. We’re talking about building a DIY solar rooftop kit, something that consumers can just buy at any retail store and then, set it up on their own. It is a B2C product.”
Sasi: “I do realise that. The Mahindra Rise Prize actually goes a step further. It says the product should be designed in such a way that it is affordable and small-sized, keeping in mind that a lot of homes in India do not have the space for large solar panels. (Runs a Google search) I see there are two US-based companies in this space –Clarion Power andArmageddon Energy. Wow, Clarion Power also won the GE Consumer Challenge. Their product is not yet available, but their 200W DIY solar product is priced at US $799-$899 and their 1kW product is priced at US $2995-$3995. Okay, let’s research this some more.”
(Sasi’s wife walks in. “What are you guys talking about. Another billion-dollar start-up idea? Just do it guys. I am sure it’ll work out.”)
Santhosh: Man, your wife is too chilled out. Anyway, let me check with my home minister too! (Back on topic) So, the goal of the Mahindra Solar Challenge is to not only build a do-it-yourself kit, but also to make it affordable and small-sized?
Sasi: Okay, let us break this up. One, we need to understand the technical challenges – the solar panels, the micro-inverter and the use of lenses/ mirrors. Two, we need to figure out the packaging and mounting structure, so this one can be retailed, transported and set-up easily.”
Santhosh: “Exactly, my dear Watson. Basically, we need to ask ourselves: How would Steve Jobs approach this challenge?!”
Sasi: “Wait, let me pull up the KPMG report on the solar sector. It is titled The Rising Sun. Apparently today the cost of generating solar power is Rs. 7.4/unit versus Rs. 4.6 per unit for other sources. But by 2018, the report says, solar power will be cheaper at Rs. 5.46 per unit versus Rs. 5.82 for energy from other sources. Of course, these numbers are probably for utility scale power plants. Let us figure out how this feeds into our plan.”
Santhosh: “Okay, next steps…Let us divide up work between us. I’ll research solar panels, usage of lenses and mirrors and dig up some research work done on solar power. If you can work on packaging/mounting ideas and come up with an initial note on that, it’ll be awesome.”
Sasi: Sounds good. Let’s plan to enter Mahindra’s Solar Challenge. If we do this well, it could possibly be our angel funding to set the ball rolling. And like you said, let us put our Steve Jobs hat on!”
So what are you waiting for? Wear that thinking cap, turn on the creativity tap, and get set on the solar road!
I arrived at the PES University Campus in Bangalore on a cloudy Thursday morning. Walking past 20-something teenagers at the college campus, I went up to the fifth floor of the building where the Bangalore edition of the Rise Prize...
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