Several companies already make high quality essential technologies for low-income households. So why are so many families in rural, off-grid areas still lighting their homes with kerosene lamps and drinking unfiltered water? It’s not that these products are expensive – they’re not. The problem, according to Essmart Global, is distribution. As these organizations spend most of their financial and human resources on product design and manufacturing, how these life-improving technologies reach their target market is often neglected.
For instance, Delhi-based d.light creates affordable solar lights. However, the company’s exclusive use of door-to-door salesmen has not led to its desired market penetration. d.light’s situation is not unique – there are hundreds of other organizations that produce essential technologies yet struggle to bring them to their customers.
Meanwhile, millions of small retail shops in off-grid parts of the world are the go-to source of locals for consumer products. These stores are filled with toiletries, candy, and other fast-moving consumable goods, but not the essential technologies that can improve their customers’ lives.
This is where Essmart Global comes in. Founded by Diana Jue (MIT) and Jackie Stenson (Harvard), the for-profit company seeks to “fill the gap between essential technologies and households” while also helping technology manufacturers grow their customer base and local retail shops increase their revenue. Essmart Global has already completed a pilot project earlier this year in India, where they sourced high quality technologies and distributed them to off-grid areas via mom-and-pop stores. They educated shop owners on how to service products and obtain parts as well.
Full-time operations are scheduled to begin this August in Tamil Nadu, India. The company will utilize a hub-and-spoke distribution model and plans to sign up 65 stores by year end. Last month, Essmart Global won the grand prize at the Dell Social Innovation Competition.