SoLight

SoLight: Lighting Homes

Kampala, UgandaKalagi, Uganda
Year Founded:
2015
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Idea
Budget: 
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

SoLight provides the first steps for Ugandans climbing the energy ladder. We leverage existing shopkeepers to offer affordable solar programs that make switching from kerosene to solar easy for everyone.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

Kerosene kills, robs, and dulls the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans every year - what if there was an easy alternative?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Over 30 million Ugandans are unconnected from the electricity grid. Unsafe and inefficient energy options are used, predominantly kerosene lamps, which are expensive, provide poor light, produce toxic fumes, and are a major cause of fire. Solar lamps solve these problems, but massive barriers cause small adoption rates - the lack of affordable financing options, the profound lack of trust and the lack of rural access to quality solar products.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

SoLight sells and finances high-quality solar products using a low-cost and scalable model. We leverage rural shopkeepers to implement innovative solar programs that will light up rural Africa in the most efficient way imaginable. We offer 3 solar usage programs to effectively convert all kerosene users into solar users: the Daily Rental Program, the Pay-As-You-Go Program and the Direct Sales Program. Our Daily Rental Program allows rural Ugandans to try a solar lamp for just 8 cents/day. This provides rural Ugandans with a zero-risk, zero-commitment-required way to test and use a SunKing Eco, for less than they'd spend on kerosene. This immensely popular program feeds users into our PAYG and Direct Sales Programs.

Awards

D Prize 2015 Winner
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Mohammed has farmed his families small land his entire life. He went to the same school his children currently attend, and he prays he'll be able to find the money for them to finish their primary education. They're still struggling to read, but Mohammed doesn't have a lot of options to help them. Then SoLight came - Mohammed now rents a solar lamp from his local shop for just 8 cents/day! His children have lots of light to read, and its less than he was spending on kerosene. He's thinking of buying his own solar lamp, through SoLight's Pay-As-You-Go programs, but he wants to continue testing the lamp first, he has no way of knowing whether its a cheap fake from China or not.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

SoLight creates regional hubs whereby incentivized motorcycle agents operate from to facilitate solar usage programs with nearby shopkeepers. SoLight has completed a successful proof of concept in 2015, with a hub piloted and a projected impact of 6,000 users. Over the next two years, SoLight will create an additional 18 regional hubs and hire over 45 more staff. Each hub will manage a network of an average of 200 shopkeepers in 50km radius. Hubs will be placed in large trading centers or small towns, and a hub manager will supervise agents and manage inventory. A proactive approach to hub management will be taken and a strong distribution team will be built, whereby 50% of each employee's salary is based on bonuses. SoLight will grow to serve over 150,000 Ugandans in the next two years.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

SoLight will improve the lives of millions of Ugandans - and in time, tens of millions of sub-Saharan Africans. Switching from kerosene to solar results in numerous different improvements to quality of life, making it one of the most efficient methods to improve life in developing countries. Millions of dollars must be invested in SoLight to allow for this customer growth. However, SoLight has shown it is feasible to offer investors a return while serving the bottom-of-the-pyramid and continuing to share experiences to promote adoption of the SoLight model in other countries.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

SoLight has designed its model to have incredible reach (through a wide network of rural shopkeepers), while keeping costs extremely low (through motorcycle agents). As such SoLight can offer investors a return on capital investments, while serving thousands of bottom-of-the-pyramid customers and re-investing revenue to serve millions more.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The leading solar distributors in Uganda only offer direct sales of solar lamps OR financing plans for large solar home systems. This creates a massive gap in the market - most rural Ugandans do not trust solar lamps enough to buy one directly, and most can't yet afford a solar home system (even with financing). We offer a suite of programs and products, specifically designed to convert kerosene users into solar users, and to continue serving their needs as they grow. SoLight leverages rural shopkeepers and motorcycle agents to offer the most affordable rental and PAYG programs.
Team

Founding Story

When I began working with The Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC), I was a young engineer eager to solve the technical with solar lamps. It took me about ten days at CREEC to realize how wrong I was - high quality solar products existed - but were still selling slowly. No current distribution model was properly addressing the market barriers, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a great group of people at CREEC who had the same vision - scaling energy access.

Team

SoLight was created by a group from the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC) would saw an opportunity to solve the last-mile distribution crisis in the off-grid solar market. The co-founders sit on the Board of Directors, and Adam Cameron serves as SoLight's Managing Director. The Board of Directors provides advisory services to SoLight management and use their outside experience from managing a Ugandan bio-gas company and as an energy consultant in Germany to aide SoLight. The Board of Directors has the necessary local experience to make the business be successful in practice, and the necessary international experience to secure the funding to scale SoLight. A set of full-time employees assist the Managing Director with day-to-day activities. An Operations Director manages the network of 'hub managers' who supervise agents below them (who then service shopkeepers below them). Small management group and a proactive communication allow SoLight management to effectively serve all our customers and shopkeepers and retain happy and qualified employees.
Background
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Word of mouth

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Affordable and Clean Energy, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

At 11 years old, I was forced into helping my mom with errands. We needed a new dog bed, as our dog Nutmeg had out-grown hers. I was angered at the price of the dog bed my mom wanted to buy ($80). I equated the price into its candy equivalent (1600 fuzzy peaches) and deemed it a 'huge rip-off'. After all, it was basically just a fancy piece of foam. I pleaded with my mom not to buy it, that it was a huge waste, and that I could 'figure out something better'. She told me if I could, she'd buy the dog bed off me instead. The next month, I went into business: home-made machine-washable fleece dog beds. I learnt to sew, employed my younger sister to help and we got off to work, preparing dog beds for sale at the local craft fairs.

An engineering and business background has given me a strong quantitative and analytical skill set, and my experiences as a team mate and leader have made me a responsible manager and a confident public speaker. CREEC has given me a unique perspective and numerous connections in the off-grid solar industry. My entrepreneurial experience, leadership skills and analytical nature make me a confident, capable and directed manager at SoLight.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

SoLight has a big team helping us serve our customers. SoLight specializes in last-mile distribution and financing, and we work with a fantastic group of manufacturers and technology companies. This way each of us can do what we do best, and our cumulative impact is maximized.

Our manufacturers Green Light Planet and OmniVoltaic make the high quality and affordable solar products. Angaza Design produces innovative Pay-As-You-Go technology that allow us to manage and monitor our customers payments. Numerous other financial organizations are excited to leverage our working capital. CREEC provides use with free office space and internet to grow our business.