Mobile Energy at the Base of the Pyramid


By Ayaka Emoto, MBA Candidate

Published 7.31.12

“What’s your definition of sustainability?” This is a pretty common question that gets asked at Presidio Graduate School. After much exploration, I have discovered that my definition of sustainability lies at the intersection of where business meets social innovation. But what does this intersection really look like? Luckily, I have had the opportunity to get a closer look through my summer internship at Fenix International.

Working with telecoms to reach off-the-grid populations.

Fenix International is a triple bottom line company that designs renewable energy products for emerging markets, helping to deliver energy to the estimated 1.5 billion people who live off the grid at the base of the pyramid (BoP). Unlike relying on grassroots distribution networks like its competitors, Fenix works with large mobile telecom companies to reach the 600 million people who lack access to electricity yet depend on mobile phones to tap into the global economy.

A growing number of companies, ranging from Fortune 500s to start-ups, see the profit-making potential at the BoP, which I believe is a step in the right direction, since philanthropy can only do so much in the fight against poverty. However, unlike developed markets, there are many unforeseen challenges when working with emerging markets. To address these issues, Fenix is innovating a new business model that successfully reaches those at the BoP through its unique distribution model, which is one of the reasons why I am thoroughly enjoying getting an insider’s glimpse at successfully entering this market.

Solar - a great way to charge mobile devices and create entrepreneurs.

Fenix is currently working with MTN, Africa’s leading telecommunications provider, in Uganda and Rwanda to sell the ReadySet through their massive rural distribution network. The ReadySet is an intelligent battery that can be charged via solar, bike generator, micro-wind, and electricity grid. Fenix demonstrated that by simply providing customers access to energy and enabling subscribers to charge their phones, MTN could increase their revenues by 10-14% and empower local entrepreneurs to become micro-utilities in their community. The tremendous potential for expansion throughout Africa requires Peter Glenn, a Presidio alum who manages Fenix’s business development, to regularly travel to East Africa to meet with mobile telecoms and entrepreneurs in rural villages.

Raising the funds is all about storytelling.

Although the ReadySet is designed for developing countries, Fenix is testing the U.S. market by launching the ReadySet here through the crowd-funding site

Designing and managing our Kickstarter project has been a large part of my summer internship. So far we have raised over $75,000 in a little over a week – with much of our success coming down to storytelling. My day-to-day has been learning how to effectively tell Fenix’s story by engaging with various audiences from talking about specs for ReadySet’s battery and solar panel, to highlighting how “mobile energy” will be the next exciting frontier, similar to how “mobile banking” revolutionized financial independence.

What I thoroughly enjoy about my internship is being able to research the competitive landscape and understand how similar companies and nonprofits are entering these markets. Although many communicate a strong mission, I found at times the impact to be minimal. With 1.5 billion people without access to electricity, I have realized the need for truly scalable solutions for delivering energy, and am fascinated by how Fenix has been able to respond to this challenge.

Check out our Kickstarter for more insight on Fenix and the ReadySet:

Ayaka Emoto, MBA Candidate

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