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SOCAP11 Social Entrepreneur Spotlight: Manoj Sinha, Husk Power Systems (India)

SOCAP September 3, 2011

Why are you participating in SOCAP?
I am attending SOCAP 2011 to meet like minded people and explore opportunities to collaborate with other entrepreneurs. As Husk Power Systems embarks on its journey of entering into East Africa region, I am looking to meet people with exposure in those markets and learn from their experiences. And of course, I am hoping to use those connections in the future to form partnerships.
What problem are you addressing? Why should people care?
Husk Power Systems (HPS) provides end-to-end renewable energy solutions in India by installing and operating 25-kW to 100-kW “mini power plants,” and then wiring villages and hamlets of up to 4,000 inhabitants to deliver electricity on a pay-for-use basis. HPS has created a proprietary technology that cost-effectively converts biomass waste (e.g., rice husks, mustard husks/stems, corn cobs, certain grasses, etc.) into electricity. The company’s total cost of installation is less than US$1,200 per kW, which is approximately half the cost of solar panels of a similar scale. HPS, which has been operating for four years, maintains reliability/uptime at its power plants of over 93 percent, and it has successfully installed 80 power plants that supply electricity to more than 325 villages. HPS is currently scaling at a rate of two to three power plants per week and plans to accelerate to five plants per week in 2012.
At the end of 2009, Bihar (one of the states in India) had about 2.96 million consumers connected to the grid … in a state that has a population of 90 million people. No new power-generating units have been built in the state in the last 25 years, and the Economic Survey of Bihar has candidly acknowledged that “the power supply position in Bihar is very poor and the deficit in relation to peak demand is ever increasing. Opening up the power sector to the private sector has created an opportunity for decentralized power generation based in villages and small towns, and businesses that distribute power are beginning to take shape. However, such small-scale undertakings should be financially sustainable and able to compete with the large private- and public-sector power corporations. A groundbreaking and frugal innovation undertaken by Husk Power Systems satisfies these criteria.
What are the main roadblocks keeping you from your goals?
HPS has faced many challenges in building its business to this point. One major challenge was to tap the right mix of capital from sources that enabled it to stay true to its mission of bringing renewable and affordable electricity to people in underserved villages in India, while also allowing it to make the necessary investment.
One of the major challenges that HPS faces today is lack of human capital. Since HPS recruits only local people for running power plants, it becomes paramount to find a large number of people (3-4 people per power plant) and train people who may have just high school education. The government or infrastructure is not there for training people in mechanical skills etc and HPS needs over 2,000 operators and mechanics in the next 4-5 years.
What’s your biggest success of the last six weeks?
Other than the fact that I was awarded SOCAP11 scholarship, we have been able to attract potential investors (both social venture capital firms and strategic investors) for Series A round of financing. In addition, we have been lucky to be selected as one of the finalists for a grant funding that can enable HPS to enter Tanzania market by the end of this year.
What could you do with 100k? 500k? with 50k? (in the order)
HPS can immediately deploy a sum of $100K towards the development of remote monitoring system and smart grid that the company started building in January of 2011. With $500K, HPS will be able to partner with an identified organization in Bangladesh to electrify rural areas in that country. $50K can help us open multiple training programs for women, who now help HPS with its “incense sticks” manufacturing process.
What are the 3 most important tools that support your work?
It is difficult to point to just three tools. We use a lot of in-house developed technology that has combined SMS and Wi-Fi technology to enable the management team to remotely monitor power plants. And of course, excel sheet is non-replaceable. Lastly, we do have a lot of press and media presentation, which is accomplished through power points.
Who else is addressing your problem? What are they doing well?
Social enterprises such as Selco, India, have been actively involved with Solar Home Lighting System, and d.light has been providing solar lanterns to remote households.
What experience was influential in getting you to this place?
We have come a long way since August 2007 when we first tested our prototype power plant. I learned a lot from experiments that we conducted and failures we have had along the way. Some of the most positive experiences I have had was interacting with my Silicon Valley mentors who devoted a lot of time and energy to guide me around scaling up a company.
What should people who want to enter the social capital markets know?
There are over three billion people in the world who do not have access to basic necessities of a life and hence these folks cannot live their lives with dignity. Folks like myself who were born lucky to have gone to good schools end up serving the top 1-2 billion of world’s population. Who will serve those 3+ billions if we educated cannot? I encourage all who look to get into social enterprise arena to take a plunge and learn about the mechanics of doing such business. The road is long and hard and for every person and / or village you serve … you will have to overcome a lot of obstacles including physical hurdles. But I can guarantee that the pleasure and happiness you will get when you see a village light up every evening is literally “priceless”. No amount of Wall Street bonuses or Hedge Fund’s profit sharing can bring you that level of satisfaction, happiness and of course recognition.
 

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