This Oxford B‑School Solar Startup Is Lighting Up East Africa

February 9, 2016



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.

To read the full arti­cle, vis­it For­tune.