Sunday, December 17, 2006

Stoves Project in India

The following is an email from Chaun Sims, who, along with engineering student Sachin Joshi, is working on our project in India. This business plan started in a CSU class last year when Chaun was a senior business major and Sach took the class as part of his PhD studies.
The cook stove uses a thermo electric generator to produce electricity which can then be stored to run lights or a radio. The stove replaces a cook fire inside the home. Beyond the light, it uses less than half as much wood, and vents the smoke outside the home. The stoves protoypes are being made by Jaynix in Nashik, and then transported to Ahmedabad. We were introduced to Jaynix by Vinod Parekh, an amazing man who coaches entrepreneurs in India, along with his wife Kamala. I met Vinod through a Rotarian, when he had hosted a student from CSU in 2005 who was studying microfinanced projects nearby. We are working with SEWA Bank and SELCO on this project on user and technical suport side. This project is being funded in part by the NCIIA and the CSU Global Innovation Center.

Dec. 11

Arrive Mumbai and travel to Nashik - hrs. meeting with Vinod and dinner discussing the TLC group and local mindsets/objectives. Also talk about his and his wife's personal involvement with the community, entrepreneurship projects and their mind sets.

Dec. 12

Ample changes had to be made to the stoves. Some braces had to be added to the legs, leg extensions had to be made for all of the stoves as the stovescurrently sat on the ground. There was a bit of artist interpretation with the combustion chamber. Instead of using only one layer of fire brick and then a heat resistant material behind it, the entire chamber was filled with brick and mud. This made one end of the stove incredible heavy. The stoves totaled 50 kilos each. We had adequate space and help to work in but we were stationed in a operating workshop that was incredibly loud. You could not speak to anyone or yourself unless you yelled. We got 2 stoves assembled and fired on the 12. One 8w and one 16w. Everyone was very happy to see the stoves in operation. However, we fried a module because we installed it backwards. The need to take a deep breath and slow down became apparent. Parts are to be sent from Colorado and the 4 test stoves will have to be installed in Ahmedabad after Sachin and I depart. We worked until 12 pm when the factory closed. It operates 12 hours a day 6 days a week. Jaynix, our prototype manufacturer, is a family run business and is located in a industrial area that is very busy and most places operate 24/6. Ninad was a very good host and was gracious to pick us up every morning and his mother has been kind enough to feed us the best Indian food I have ever had each day at lunch.
Dec. 13
More changes were being made as some tolerances were too close and others too far. The stoves had to be sealed so that smoke would not leak out and then wehad to break them down for shipping. We were able to do all of this in time to begin the 4 hour trek back to Mumbai and catch our 9:45pm flight to Ahmedabad. Sachin was a machine, talking in Hindi and English non stop to a slew of workers, Ninad, Nikel and Prashanth. Prashanth is a Asst. manager at Selco and he was in Nashik for the duration of our stay. We worked with him to complete the stove and educate him about our technology. He took a 8w model of the stove back with him to Bangalore for field testing. We crammed into auto and began the journey back, only to be re routed through the country side due to a traffic jam. Barely making it to the air port in time I had to remind Sachin to trust Ganesh and to not worry, because everything will be ok.
Dec. 14
We made it to the Center for Environmental Education(where we are staying) and it has been go go go. We planned to get a jump on things and we head to SEWA headquarters first thing at 8am. Come to find out, they do not open until 10:30. The day begins and we go to locations to check out the possible test homes. We begin surveying and gather 11 pages of information from 3 households. We were certainly a center for attention and a picture was worth a thousand words as we used a photo of the Starlight Stove to explain things about it to users. None of them had ever heard of a smokeless chula or anything about a stove that produced electricity. We went to gather the stoves which was quite a task. Travel to the transportation company was approximately 40 min away and we had to do some detective work in order to locate the stoves. We got them by dark and returned to SEWA. Tomorrow installation begins.
Dec. 15
House #1 is in a slum. It is a one room shack with a tin roof (pieces of tin laid on top of each other). A Selco solar unit is installed in the home next door and a bank sati is at the home. The same bank sati was at the houses we toured yesterday. Time begins to pass and a simple installation escalates. We have to get the stove welded on to repair a brace for the legs that wasdamaged during transport. During our travels in Ahmabaded we have been accompanied by 2 selco technicians and one representative from Small Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development. It has been very enlightening speaking with them about endeavors in India and also getting their thoughts on everything. They are able to communicate with users in Gujarat and also speak with us in English. We successfully install the first 8w stove with a datalogger and depart around 4pm. It is getting too late to start the second installation and everyone is tired. Oh, we forgot to eat. SEWA works from 10:30 am to 4pm straight with no breaks. No one eats breakfast besides Sach and I and some days we start to early and no restaurants are open to get breakfast. So, the one or two meal a day plan did not pay off today and we will have to try again tomorrow.
Dec. 16
SUCCESS! The final 2 stoves we plan to install are in! We began at 7am and the ass kicking did not stop until 5pm. We traveled approximately 1 hour to a village where a lady cooks lunch for approximately 25 gas workers. We installed a 16w stove with a data logger. They have a abundance of wood here and it is nice to be away from the city. Getting to the village proved to be interesting as we had to pass a toll area that was very slow and inquisitive. Nonetheless, we prevailed and installed a stove. Many good pictures and video has been taken. Did this installation in 3 house time and headed for the next stop. We are on a tight time line as Sach has to catch a plane and our driver needs to be finished in the evening. We get right to work and install the final stove in 1 hour. We had ample assistance from a wide arrangement of curious neighborhood boys. They think Sach looks like Jackie Chan (they keep calling him Jackie Chan and asking him to do karate moves...its great) at first he was put off by it but now he is dig'n it. The kids let me fly a kite, but I allow it to sky bomb and soon there is no more kite to fly. We head off to drop the last stove. This stove is put in the home of a seamstress. She has a foot operated sewing machine and we leave the stove here so that I can be installed later by a Selco tech when some parts arrive.
Well, that's where things are currently. Sachin is catching his plane to Nepal and I am scheduling a meeting with Sharmila at Sewa. I would have liked to write daily but our schedule has not allowed me to do so. Sahcin has been amachine and a saint. There is no way we could have accomplished so much without him. He has educated Selco technicians, explained technology to users, spoke with everyone in Hindi and installed stoves. I am proud of all that we have accomplished in Nashik and Ahmedabad. The amount of work we have done would be impressive if we were in Colorado, and the fact that we were able to accomplish all of this in India is amazing and inspiring.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

The "C" Words

I went to COLORADO COLLEGE (known far and wide as "CC") last week to talk about entrepreneurship and sustainability. I spoke about the CONVERGENCE of social entrepreneurship and sustainability in the BOP, driven by environmental degradation and poverty. As Jeffrey Sachs has pointed out eloquently, these two go hand in hand. To a BOPreneur, that means you need to address both if you are going to be effective. That is what we are doing with Envirofit.

Anyway, one of the students asked how I had the CONFIDENCE to launch Envirofit. I think this was a polite way of asking "are you CRAZY?" But as with many student questions, it kept coming back, days later. For the record, my answer was that I didn't have a lot of confidence that we could pull it off in the very beginning. But the idea seemed COMPELLING. So we gave it a try. Then it had us.

Well, I kept thinking about it. I even pulled out the dictionary. Interestingly, CONFIDENCE has several meanings. One is "feeling of CERTAINTY". Well, we were certain that there was a problem (urban air pollution from motorcycles is a huge problem in Asia). But we had no feeling of certainty that we would be successful in solving it. Another definition of confidence, however, is "trust in a person or thing". Well, I did have a lot of trust in both the idea, and the people with whom I was starting the business. So, it turns out, I had did have confidence in starting Envirofit, just a different type of confidence. I think that second type of confidence is critical to a start up. If you don't trust the idea or the people, you should move on.

A few other "C" words that might be applicable to the entrepreneurial endeavor might be COURAGE and CURIOUSITY. Courage is an interesting word, with its roots going back to early words for "heart". I think many entrepreneurs are led, in part, by their hearts when they start a business. Those early days are often called a "labor of love." To the extent courage is an approach to the unknown, it fits for entrepreneurs. But to the extent it deals with danger, the word is probably melodramatic when applied to entrepreneurs, and best left to soldiers and spies (although some BOPreneurs have some pretty crazy stories).

CURIOSITY is defined as "a desire to learn, especially about something new." Clearly a driver of entrepreneurship. But it has to be COUPLED with action. It is not enough to learn. You have to do something with the knowledge. Then you will have CREATED something. And if it has value, it will become an enterprise with a life of its own. And that is what entrepreneurship is all about.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

News on Stoves and CSU Masters Program

Realize I haven't been a good blogger recently, and that while there may be good reasons, there are no excuses in the bloggosphere.

Good news on two fronts.

First, the Bright Light Stove project is moving forward. I often say that the key ingredients to a start up are an idea, a team and a little money. This was the first project to emerge from the CSU Global Innovation Center that my colleague Bryan Willson and I started with a vision that we could apply the "Envirofit" model to develop other commercially viable solutions for chronic pollution problems in the developing world.

Our idea was an improved cookstove that replaces open fires and stoves with a clean source of cooking, heating and light. Indoor air pollution from cookstoves is one of the largest causes of repiratory disease, miscarriage and infant mortality in the developing world. Close to half the world's population still cooks with traditional methods and biofuels (think "campfire in your kitchen"). Our stove looks much like the old pot bellied stove, with a few differences. It is made largely from sheet steel, the ceramic combustion chamber is smaller and more efficient, and it uses a thermoelectric generator to convert waste heat into electricity, which can be stored in a battery and used later for running a light or small appliance (radio). This project was started by CSU engineering and business students last fall, and they came up with a strong business plan last spring.

Several important action items were identified. Getting primary market research from users and forming local partnerships for manufacturing and distribution. We were very fortunate that the NCIIA provided a start-up grant and that our engineering team won a Mondialogo Engineering prize for the design.

With this encouragement (and money), the student team has been hard at it this fall. Again, good fortune led to a connection with two great organizations in India, SEWA Bank and SELCO. And Vinod, who hosted one of my students in an semester in India, introduced us to Jaynix, a firm in Nashik with metal working expertise run by a family with big hearts. With their assistance, we have developed a primary research approach, where we will install stoves in the households of women microentrepreneurs who are SEWA Bank customers. This Friday, the first of our team leaves for India, and we hope that by next week our stoves will be puffing away in Ahmedabad. I feel very lucky to be working on such a meaningful project with such wonderful people.

The second item of good news is that last night, the university gave final approval to our new graduate masters degree program in Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise. This will be a 3 semester program, with a significant field work component. I believe it is very different from most business degree programs, and will be well suited to those who have made the decision to embark on the journey of creating, building and leading enterprises that are based on solving our global challenges of poverty, pollution and disease. I have been encouraged by the support around the university and from many others in the field. In particular, Ashoka, SocialEdge, and Echoing Green have been helpful in providing some giant shoulders on which to stand. And Jim Collins's work has been reaffirming and helpful as we set our BHAG ("Big Hairy Audacious Goal")for how our institution can do meaningful and relevant work in the future.