amazon facebook_32 gplus_32 linkedin_32 pinterest_32 tumblr_32 twitter_32 website_32 youtube_32 email_32 rss_32

 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Environment

Distributive Solar Hopes to Lead Acceleration of Solar Energy Industry

Solar Site Design is an affiliate of our sponsor Clean Energy Advisors.


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Social entrepreneur Erik Melang is excited about opportunities in renewable energy and his attitude is not dampened by the election of a President who has not been friendly to the environment. Erik is the founder of Distributive Solar and is partnering with Solar Site Design to accelerate growth in the renewable energy industry.

Erik is excited to share “the phenomenal opportunity to participate in the new energy economy.” He says, “This transition [to renewable energy] is providing a ground floor opportunity to participate in one of the fastest growing sectors on the globe.”

He shares some numbers to make his point: “In fact solar, wind and [energy efficiency] has provided 1 out of 30 [new] jobs in the US since 2009. Solar alone has provided 1 of 80 jobs.”

The transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy will also bring another big shift to distributed power, he says. “We are and will continue to witness the disruptive effects of transitioning from a fossil fuel driven economy to a renewable energy driven economy. This transition will be distributive, where energy will be produced where it is utilized.”

“We will see an end to the monopoly where utilities control the production and distribution of energy,” he continues. “This transition is underway and we are seeing parabolic growth in energy efficiency, wind and solar across the globe. However we are still in the early stages of this transition and this is where the opportunity lies.”

Most business leaders simply don’t know how well solar can work for them, he says. “The overwhelming majority of commercial enterprises in the US have not been shown how to participate in this opportunity. They have yet to realize that the price of solar has dropped some 70% since 2012 making it viable for their business. We are seeing commercial payback periods on solar installations between three to seven years across the country, return of investments exceeding 15 percent over 25 years with the potential for free electricity for decades.”

Erik points out that making business more energy savvy isn’t all about the environment. “This is about economics (reducing operating expenses), remaining competitive and smart business decisions. It is also about being a leader in the community and positioning your brand as a firm who takes sustainability seriously and doing your part in reducing your carbon footprint.”

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

Erik Melang, courtesy of Distributive Solar

He explains how he sees his role in this opportunity, saying, “All of this to say that Solar Site Design (SSD) and Distributive Solar (SD) are aiming to provide an opportunity for renewable energy advocates and business professionals to enter the solar industry and participate in this transition. SSD has built a platform akin to UBER and Airbnb that brings supply and demand together onto a collaborative platform that drives down the cost of solar and a tool to streamline the entire solar installation value chain.”

“DS is focused on growing the supply of viable solar projects by recruiting, training and supporting motivated individuals to help grow this supply of projects,” he continues. “These solar consultants need not be experts, but merely understand the economics of solar as a smart business decision for building owners. Solar prices have plummeted offering business a chance to lower operating cost by utilizing their rooftops for energy production.”

“The outcome of this will be the realization of the new energy economy that is distributive not only in energy production but in economics. We the people will be the owners of our energy production and realize the benefits. This will provide opportunities for all, not just the few as we’ve seen over the past 2 centuries.”

“The other outcome will be a livable planet. A global transition to Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency is the only path for climate change mitigation. We believe that action on climate change and economic growth go hand in hand. We have to begin now. We need you and others to join us and change the world. Contact DS and/or SSD to join this revolution by becoming a solar Consultant.”

He highlights that he is looking for people who want to participate in the renewable energy boom. “We are recruiting individuals everyday to join us. It is only the beginning. Look around in your community. Notice that there are very few business enterprises with rooftop solar. This is changing and will continue to change very fast.”

Erik concludes philosophically, “Regardless of who is in the White House, Statehouse or in control of our utilities, solar is past the point of no return. Solar will flourish and be a part of communities because it is the lowest cost alternative. Evidence is mounting and we are seeing peak energy demand in a lot of the developing world, partly because of slower economic growth, but also through energy efficiency and growing RE capacity. This is soon to be followed by energy storage. This all fosters the hope that together we can make a difference and make our mark on the world.”

On Thursday, November 17, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Erik and his colleague at Solar Site Design, Jason Loyet, will join me here for a live discussion about about the rapidly growing renewable power industry and the opportunities there. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Distributive Solar:

Twitter: @distrsolar

Commercial Solar Origination. Recruiting, training and supporting commercial solar consultants to present the economic, branding and environmental benefits of going solar to commercial business owners.

More about Solar Site Design:

Twitter: @solarsitedesign

Since winning the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Award in 2015, Solar Site Design has focused on solving the next chapter of driving down customer acquisition costs for Commercial and Industrial solar energy projects. After a year of software development, we are proud to announce the newest enhancement to our platform: Solar Site Design Commercial Marketplace.

For three years, Solar Site Design has become a leading recruiter and trainer of Nationwide Commercial Originators. Our Originators have deep relationships in their local market and are able to open doors wide open on highly qualified C&I projects. In addition, our Originators are trained on collecting extensive data at the site through our innovative platform available on Android and IOS.

SSD aggregates the project data entered by service professionals (referral agent), connects the projects to networks of contracted fulfillment partners, thereby reducing customer acquisition costs by up to 50%.

Erik’s bio:

Twitter: @espmel

Erik Melang is a Co-Founder of Distributive Solar and oversees the firms Recruiting, training and support of Independent Sales Representatives. Erik previously served as Managing Director of Impact Partners, where he led impact strategies initiatives and renewable energy private equity investments. It is in this role that Erik was drawn to the amazing business opportunity around Commercial Solar Origination. The industry is in the early stages of mass adoption and Commercial Business Owners are realizing the tremendous economic benefits of deploying solar panels on their rooftops. Erik is an Appalachian State MBA with strong desire to learn and teach and is an avid follower of everything solar and all things “Impact.” Erik’s interest include Clean Energy, Fishing, Snow Skiing, Travel , Guitar Pickin’ and is a child adoption advocate.

Jason Loyet, courtesy of Solar Site Design

Jason Loyet, courtesy of Solar Site Design

Jason’s bio:

Twitter: @jasonloyet

Jason Loyet is an accomplished solar industry entrepreneur, having founded and built three solar companies since 2005. His first company solved bottlenecks in importing solar equipment and streamlined mainline distribution to solar installers. In 2009, he founded and built a $3 million company that provided wholesale solar supply, sales and marketing services to electrical and roofing contractors throughout the United States. In 2013, Mr. Loyet leveraged the powerful capabilities of mobile phones to build an easy way for traditional contractors to add a revenue source to their bottom line by playing an active role in the solar industry. Hence, Solar Site Design was born. Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based platform that connects highly-qualified solar project referrals to leading solar companies to drive down customer acquisition costs. Our proprietary business process is designed to reduce the solar industry’s customer acquisition costs by up to 50%. Solar Site Design was chosen as a winner of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst Program in May of 2015. Prior to entering the solar industry, Mr. Loyet founded, developed and sold two software companies; a video-streaming service and a photo-sharing platform.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Next Economy: Election Aftermath

By Garvin Jabusch

If you believe in the continuing evolution of the economy towards innovation-driven sustainability and economic coexistence with our fragile earth systems, then this has been a rough week.

So, what happened? We can cite a number of likely reasons behind Trump’s victory, but here are the ones that stood out to us.

  • First, people are extremely angry about the ever-widening economic and social inequality and inequity they have been experiencing the last couple decades, and they can see that the main beneficiaries of this inequality are never held accountable (only one banker jailed after 2008, for example).
  • Second, half of the nation – or 47% of the electorate anyway – has been convinced by an ideology that claims the best way to fight inequality is to pass policies that actually cause more inequality. Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money does an excellent job of explaining how this happened.

Unfortunately, this ideology has negative implications for the Next Economy. Next Economics at its core reflects the ongoing process of de-risking the global economy of its most serious long-term threats, those being the worst outcomes of climate change, resource scarcity, and widening inequality. The risk of inequality itself has now driven an election result that will slow progress on managing all real systemic risks.

We’ve always said that U.S. political risk is one of the scariest things about managing for the Next Economy, because so much policy and business is driven by the owners of legacy economy energies, utilities, transportation and so on. “The next president has questioned the science of climate change, vowed to withdraw from the Paris agreement on global warming and pledging to stimulate production of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel,” is how Bloomberg put it. Meanwhile, many of the world’s leading institutions (the World Economic Forum at Davos, for one) still cite climate change and the erosion of social cohesion as the most dangerous and pressing economic risks confronting the world. The global economy can, must and will rise to meet these challenges.

The transition to an economy based on businesses that are more efficient, less risky, and more profitable remains inevitable; and the realities of the global economy’s exposure to climate and social risks remain the same. Much of the world still understands this, and a Trump presidency will set back U.S. technological and political progress behind the rest of the world, at least temporarily. As Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance tweeted, “So this is interesting. I will continue to inform decision-makers about the world’s unstoppable transition to clean energy and transport.” Our economic evolution continues, but which nations and regions benefit first and most by taking advantage of the most incredible advances may now be an open question.

Critically as well, America’s most economically powerful states – led by New York and California – will continue to support sustainable technology and renewable energies in pursuit of greater economic growth. Indeed, we did see some bright spots the other night: Florida solar advocates celebrated a major win as voters rejected a utility-backed amendment to limit solar energy development. It is unlikely that wind energy in America will suffer much either: “Seventy percent of U.S. turbines are in low-income rural areas,” according to Bloomberg, saying, “Wind Is the New Corn for Struggling Farmers.” In fact, the five states generating the largest fraction of their electricity from wind all voted for Trump. The economic, health and other benefits of clean, renewable energies are winning despite political rhetoric.

We need to continue investing in the zero-risk economy, and we still stand to earn outsize returns as the Next Economy gains market share away from the legacy economy. The investment decisions affecting climate change we make collectively and globally in the next few years will reverberate for centuries and affect billions of people. A Trump presidency does nothing to change that.

In the long run, economics drive the future and policy follows, not the other way around. Coal isn’t in terminal decline for any reason other than it is no longer economically competitive; solar isn’t the fastest-growing energy source in the world because of the Paris Accords, but because it is incredibly economically competitive. No administration can change that. They can only make it more or less timely.

The road ahead may not be as smooth as we once imagined, but we still got this.

Garvin Jabusch is cofounder and chief investment officer of Green Alpha®Advisors, LLC. He is co-manager of the Shelton Green Alpha Fund (NEXTX), of the Green Alpha Next Economy Index, and of the Sierra Club Green Alpha Portfolio. He also authors the Sierra Club’s economics blog, “Green Alpha’s Next Economy.”

Operation Water Addresses Clean Water Crisis With Scale

With 700 million people on this planet lacking access to clean water, Ryan Phillips-Page, founder of Operation Water, felt that he address water access at scale.

He explains that access to water goes well beyond the need for an adequate supply of clean drinking water. “Almost 1 in 10 people globally lack access to clean drinking water, with women and children disproportionately suffering. The ripple effect of poor health, inadequate hygiene, and lost educational and economic opportunities, traps the most marginalized in a cycle of poverty and disease.”

Operation Water is using innovative financing structures to implement large scale water projects. Ryan says, “We engage governments, utilities and contractors to execute scalable, socially critical water infrastructure projects on a Public-Private Partnership basis, utilizing an innovative funding structure that raises debt at attractive rates from Development Finance Institutions and Export Credit Agencies. From project sourcing to deal execution to construction, the goal is ultimately the provision of sustainable, affordable access to potable water.”

Ryan identifies two big challenges. The first challenge is that of breaking a new trail. “Our vision is ambitious in size and scope; we are charting a path that has not been walked before in terms of social impact water infrastructure development.”

Second, he notes, is the cultural complexity the organization faces. “In addition, across the developing world, a multitude of national, cultural and economic differences creates a complex environment to navigate.”

He acknowledges limitations in their work associated with their efforts to scale solutions up: they can’t help people in small, remote villages. “Since achieving economies of scale is a paramount objective of ours in order to affect the lives of the most people in need at the lowest cost per person, we are limited in our capacity to efficiently provide access to water to smaller villages in remote areas,” he notes.

Ryan remains committed to the solving the challenges and to bringing clean water to as many as possible. “Access to potable water is essential to a suitable quality of life, and thereby a prerequisite to hope, integrity, and opportunity. Delivering clean water solutions to communities in need will result in healthier, more economically productive, and ultimately happier lives,” he concludes.

On Wednesday, October 26, 2016 at 5:00 PM Eastern, Ryan will join me here for a live discussion about the work of operation water. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Ryan Phillips-Page, courtesy of Operation Water

Ryan Phillips-Page, courtesy of Operation Water

More about Operation Water:

Operation Water seeks to deliver clean water solutions to the greatest number of people in need, at the lowest cost per person, by developing scalable infrastructure projects. Major water infrastructure investments build the foundation upon which the most marginalized can escape the cycle of poverty. Providing sustainable access to potable water provides a pathway to mitigating mortality and morbidity while alleviating malnutrition, gender inequality, and disparities in economic opportunity. Drawing on our extensive experience as finance and business development professionals, we resolve to lead the effort to end the global water crisis in the next 30 years, while serving as responsible stewards of capital.

Ryan’s bio:

Prior to founding Operation Water, Ryan was the Founder and Managing Director of RPP Capital Projects and Finance (Pty) Ltd, a company that sources and structures financing solutions for power and water infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. In this capacity, he has travelled extensively across Sub-Saharan Africa to meet with Presidents, Ministers, Governors, Director Generals of utilities, and African businessmen to discuss the strategic infrastructure priorities of many African nations. Previously, Ryan served as Director of Facilities and Operations at African Leadership Academy, a world class pan-African boarding high school located in Johannesburg, SouthAfrica. He was African Leadership Foundation’s first staff member and assisted the Founders with networking and fundraising. Prior to moving to South Africa to help launch African Leadership Academy, he served as Vice President of Business Development and Sales at IntellectSpace Corporation, a Seattle-based technology company that serves investment banks, hedge funds, foundations, and law firms. Ryan worked closely with the Founders to develop and execute the Company’s initial sales strategy and successfully built the company’s initial client roster.

Ryan started his career in New York City as an Analyst in the Investment Banking Division of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. He graduated with honors from Boston College’s Undergraduate Carroll School of Management with a concentration in Finance.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Turning Sunlight Into Tax Advantaged Income

Clean Energy Advisors sponsors the Your Mark on the World Center which publishes this site.


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Many people are looking for practical ways to participate in the booming solar energy industry. Clean Energy Advisors, our sponsor, offers a way for accredited investors to participate in solar energy projects.

The Clean Energy Advisors investment model is described in the video below.

We all understand the primary appeal of solar power is that the fuel–sunlight–is free and abundant. CEA uses investors’ capital to fund small utility-scale solar projects. Each project has a contract, typically 25 years, in place to sell solar power. The buyer or “off taker” is obligated to buy all of the power produced during the contract. The off takers are carefully underwritten to assure future cash flows. The off takers are usually utilities who sell the power to commercial and residential customers who otherwise might receive power from nonrenewable sources.

The power purchase agreements or PPAs are structured as fixed rate contracts for the term of the agreements. CEA receives and manages the revenues and then makes quarterly, tax advantaged distributions to investors. Payments made during the first seven years are deemed to be tax free.

Diagram explaining investment thesis

Click to view full size.

On Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Scott will join me here for a live discussion about the Clean Energy Advisors tax-advantaged model for investing in solar energy. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Scott Hill, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

Scott Hill, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

More about Clean Energy Advisors:

Twitter: @cleanenergyadv

Clean Energy Advisors (CEA) creates ownership opportunities for investors in utility scale solar energy projects that generate tax-advantaged predictable income, preserve capital, and have positive social and environmental impact.

Scott’s bio:

Twitter: @williamandhill

Scott Hill has over twenty years of entrepreneurial experience including a significant perspective on business start-ups and building successful small businesses. Mr. Hill has been with CEA since April 2014.

His duties include overseeing the firms family office, endowment, foundation, and UHNW client strategies. He has served as a panelist at US based family office conferences and enjoys speaking on impact investing, renewable energy opportunities, and the future of Solar PV worldwide.

Scott is a 1991 graduate of Columbia University and four year member of the football program. He lives near Nashville, TN with his wife and children. He’s also actively involved in his community and church.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Your Travel Can Help Build Africa


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Sana Butler, founder of Transformative Tourism, wants wealthy tourists to travel with her to Africa to drive positive impact. Her innovative model for tourism is intended to help protect UNESCO World Heritage sites that are underfunded, to protect the environment and to help low-income people and communities lift themselves out of poverty.

There is a fundamental flaw in the existing tourism model in Africa; most of the money that goes in flows out, she says.

Sana says, “The problem is that visitors spend about $40 billion a year in Sub-Saharan Africa; as much as 90% of it ‘leaks out’ to bank accounts of multi-national companies.”

This isn’t just a problem that slows economic growth-though it is that, too, she says. “As a result, significant local sustainable tourism development options like UNESCO World Heritage sites are left to deteriorate due to lack of investment funds; locals living in poverty in and around sites are left out of an opportunity to bring in as much as $100 million in annual visitor revenue. The base of the pyramid continues to suffer and grow in the region not because money doesn’t flow into host communities; everyday Africans remain poor because the money never stays.”

Sana’s model for Transformative Tourism is to cater to small numbers of high income travelers, providing them with luxury experiences, provided by local communities.

Sana says, “We will build very small, high-value ecotourism resorts as a sustainable tool to pay for the long road conservation of abandoned sites. We then swarm locals with what they need to manage and operate the sites, exclusively, creating infrastructure of economic retention. The preservation and revival of abandoned UNESCO World Heritage sites offer the greatest promise to disrupt tourism forces that produce and reproduce inequality in the region.”

Sana has identified four specific challenges that she faces in developing her new model. The challenges all relate to how she will convince all the key players from customers, to vendors and investors that her model works.

1. We think differently on how to approach impact. We believe the extreme poor should be connected to significant purchasing power – not to each other.

2. We aren’t in the big fvie: health, energy, technology, agriculture and education; so we are left out of a lot of conferences and debates on social impact.

3. We operate in the world of luxury. We have to convince people that those with significant purchasing power are more likely to make lasting change.

4. We have to walk a thin line between what people want to believe happens in the tourism industry in terms of sustainable development (a lot) and the reality (very little).

Sana is realistic. She recognizes that her approach doesn’t solve all of the world’s problems–or even to protect all of the at-risk UNESCO World Heritage sites. She identifies three specific limitations to her strategy.

1. Not every revived UNESCO World Heritage site will attract enough visitors to experience real earning potential.

2. The solution cannot be replicated in countries that do not have a UNESCO World Heritage site.

3. The government may not honor our contracts with indigenous communities and hand over a restored site to a multi-national firm to manage, which is how it is traditionally done in Africa.

Despite the challenges and limitations, she remains optimistic. “We are eradicating poverty and preserving the history of mankind. But more important, we are leveling the inequality in the world.”

Vince Molinari of our sponsor Eclat Impact, shares her enthusiasm. “I believe affluent travelers will be eager to participate in transformative tourism as it is catalyzing on many levels.  There will be many wealthy diaspora members who will be eager to explore their heritage while having an impact aspect of their travel.”

He notes, too, that cross-border travel improves international relations. “The data is clear that nations that have travel and tourism between them have low to no level of conflict.”

“Transformative Tourism can be the low hanging fruit that readily job creates, adds to GDP and moves the impact needle toward creating systemic change and opportunity for global youth,” he concludes.

On Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Sana will join me here for a live discussion about Transformative Tourism and your opportunity to travel with her to change the world. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Sana Butler, courtesy of Transformative Tourism

Sana Butler, courtesy of Transformative Tourism

More about Transformative Tourism

Transformative Tourism is a new conservation organization devoted exclusively to private sector solutions for protection and preservation of some of the world’s most significant yet abandoned UNESCO World Heritage sites in Africa; we purposively use low-volume, high-end tourism as a sustainable, long-road revenue tool to pay for the initiatives. Our profits swarm locals with what they need to manage and operate revived sites as well as competitive SME clusters around them (think art gallery, boutique hotel, coffee lounge). Everything about our work is designed so that by 2030 local businesses in or around World Heritage sites thrive out of poverty with paradigm links, not to each other, but to those with serious purchasing power.

Sana’s bio:

Before Transformative Tourism, Sana was a luxury travel writer for Newsweek UK. For more than a decade, she crisscrossed the globe advising millions on the world’s best 5-star hotels and spas. She is a frequent United Nations World Tourism Organization speaker and adviser, encouraging tourism ministers in developing countries to focus on infrastructure that drives economic retention and local sustainable development solutions for eradicating poverty. Sana participated in the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative Middle East & Africa in 2015 and is an Unreasonable Institute Lab Fellow, the same year. But her claim to fame was as a tv writer for the last season of Star Trek Enterprise. She has a BSBA from Georgetown University and a MS from Columbia University.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Shhh! Don’t Tell Starbucks The Future Is Coming On A Bicycle Wearing Blue Hair

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Maria De La Croix may one day prove to be the biggest mistake Starbucks SBUX -1.56% ever made. You see, the blue-haired young woman applied for a job as a barista with the global leader in high-end coffee shops and was turned down, she says, because her hair was “too blue.”

Lest anyone at Starbucks feel bad about the decision, no one could have guessed what would happen next. Suffice it to say, there is a mic drop coming.

With the help of some friends, De La Croix built a solar powered coffee shop on a bicycle and completely reinvented the coffee shop business. She calls her company Wheelys Cafe.

Her stores on wheels cost just $5,900, on which she makes a profit margin of 50 percent, she says. The shop is the key. By mass producing the bike-based shops, the company has reduced the production costs to about $3,000.

Wheelys 4 cafe on a bicycle, courtesy of Wheelys

Wheelys 4 cafe on a bicycle, courtesy of Wheelys

The company also developed an app De La Croix compares to the Uber app, allowing the shop owner to charge customers and order supplies. The company makes 5 percent on every transaction. She explains, “We are running a test version in Stockholm. A café with a $12,000 turnover generates $600 per month to Wheelys through a 5% charge on the app, and through supplying coffee. The important thing is that both the app and the supplies are cheaper than independent competitors. This means that even non-Wheelys cafés who join our integrated system would benefit.”

In addition, the company is launching a coffee subscription program as a third revenue stream. The Wheelys franchise owners will share in the profits on the subscriptions so the company won’t be competing with its distribution partners, she says.

De La Croix is on a mission. “Wheelys is empowering young global entrepreneurs,” she says. While Starbucks doesn’t sell franchises, she estimates that it costs about $800,000 to open a store. At $5,900 per store, a whole new group of entrepreneurs can now participate in the global economy in a meaningful way.

Not only is the business addressing a fundamental social justice issue by empowering people of limited means, the stores sell organic items and power themselves with the sun.

“We are aiming to break the hegemony of the industrial fast food chains, and pave the way for an organic revolution. Helping us to do this is young hungry eco entrepreneurs from all over the world,” she says.

While not yet profitable, Wheelys is off to the races; check out this growth reported by the company:

  • Wheelys has doubled in size every 6 months.
  • In 2014, the company was founded in Malmö, sells 20 cafés.
  • In 2015, Wheelys 2 is launched. The company Raises $100,000 on Indiegogo.
  • In May 2015, the company is accepted at Y Combinator.
  • In July 2015, Wheelys 3 is launched.  The company raises $250,000 on Indiegogo.
  • In November 2015, the company moves HQ office to Stockholm.
  • In December 2015, Wheelys has 150 cafés in 40+ countries.
  • In January 2016, the company opens office in Shanghai
  • In February 2016, Wheelys closes a seed round of $2.5 million.
  • In March 2016, Wheelys 4 launched on Indiegogo, raises $650,000.
  • In May 2016, the company reports having 500+ cafés in 60+ countries.
  • In June 2016, the company is selling 2 cafés a day.

Mic drop.

Maria De La Croix, courtesy of Wheelys

Maria De La Croix, courtesy of Wheelys

 

Aaron Harris, a partner with Y Combinator, says, “I met Maria and the rest of the Wheelys team when they applied for Y Combinator. I remember reading their application and thinking ‘This is a totally crazy and possibly incredible idea. I’ve got to meet this team.’”

He still feels the same way. “I think the business is amazing and hugely innovative. I lived in NYC for a long time, so the idea of a coffee cart isn’t that new. What’s novel is the way that the team has approached building a worldwide community of entrepreneurs bound up in a logistics network and incredible brand.”

Justin Waldron, fo-founder of Zynga, met De La Croix through Y Combinator and invested. He says, “I became interested when I heard their vision for lowering the cost of starting a highly profitable business for anyone who wants to be their own boss. What ultimately convinced me is that Maria and the rest of the team behind Wheely’s have a long history of creating movements and rallying a group of people behind a cause. Like the greatest companies, Wheely’s is both a business and a movement toward a better future.”

Being rejected by Starbucks created lasting motivation for De La Croix. In response to a question she gave an answer that cries out for a sarcastic, “Don’t hold back; tell me how you really feel.”

The problem today is that starting a café business (or ANY business) has become so expensive and complicated that the only really profitable cafés and shops today are global mega-brand behemoths that have descended upon our cities like a swarm of locusts.

In her own words, she shares the founding story for Wheelys:

Two years ago, I was turned down from a job at Starbucks for having to blue hair. I had no money for rent, so together with a few friends we built a café on wheels with our own hands. Instead of spending a lot on a storefront, we focused on making the freshest and best coffee, close to were the customers are. We wanted to avoid having a boss, spending hours at a desk or inside a dusty warehouse. But meeting friendly people, selling coffee in the sun. This was the beginning of Wheelys.

Wheelys gives shop owners flexibility and opportunity. Because the shops are on wheels, shop owners can move to different locations during the day, allowing them to be where the opportunities are best.

The menu sounds almost decadent–not what you would expect to buy off of a bicycle. It includes Turkish coffee, sweet tangerine juice, organic berries and raw chocolate.

By not buying real estate and eliminating the need for an electricity source by using solar power, the cost of a shop has been made affordable for millions of ordinary people.

The modern processes and global community of owners create a new sort of entrepreneurship. “Starting a business can be lonely and complicated. We don’t think it needs to be. [We make it easy by] removing complicated POS-systems, and paper work with our Über-like app for charging customers and keeping track of supplies. Wheelys is a community of 400+ entrepreneurs from all around the world, sharing ideas with each other every day.”

The new venture faces challenges–a lot of challenges, De La Croix admits. Shipping 200 kilogram crates with an entire cafe inside to more than 60 different countries around the world has been a big challenge, but one that has been overcome. She identifies opening a warehouse in China as another big one.

In addition, for a small business to deal with technical challenges on the other side of the planet creates unusual challenges for her. Another problem that seems likely to grow, especially after watching Uber’s experiences, is fighting with local politicians about street vending regulations.

De La Croix remains optimistic despite the problems, “The challenges have been many, and more will occur. I’m happy to have such a strong and helpful community of Wheelers around the world.”

She also sees some limitations to the business model. While $5,900 is a modest amount for entrepreneurs in the developed world, for many in the developing world it is still far out of reach.

Weather is also a challenge. She highlights the fact that it is “still difficult to be out selling for 8 hours in 45+ degree centigrade” heat. It would be similarly difficult when the weather is below freezing and, as in Sweden, sunlight is limited in the winter.

De La Croix has a vision for the change she hopes to bring. “We are not 100 percent perfect, not even 50 percent. We are a small company, and can’t force the world to produce ecological steel for our bikes. But, while the unemployment around the world increases, we empower young global entrepreneurs, giving people who did not have a job before a new chance, giving hungry entrepreneurs a helping hand to start their business.”

On Thursday, August 4, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, De La Croix will join me for a live discussion about Wheelys progress to date and her vision for the future. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

 

New Cookstove Yields New Model For Social Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

In the past, I’ve covered cookstoves five times, excluding the time I went to Nepal to help locals install cleaner cookstoves in village homes up in the Himalaya. We’re here again, but we’re turning our focus on the business model rather than the cookstove.

For social entrepreneurs who really want to make a difference for people in the developing world, helping locals to import technology from elsewhere can be counterproductive because cash leaves the local economy and opportunities for entrepreneurs may be limited.

Anthony “Tony” Robinson, not to be confused with Tony Robbins, is a professor at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland; his research into energy and thermal conduction has helped him design a simple stove that generates electricity while a family cooks on the stove. More importantly, he’s developing a new way to get the stoves into local consumers hands in Malawi.

Anthony Robinson, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

Anthony Robinson, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

“We are attempting to develop a business model for developing world technologies, in this case clean energy technology. We believe that if a technology is to be sustainable, from an economic standpoint, then it must be engineered in such a way that it is at an appropriate technical level for local manufacture (close to consumer manufacturing),” he says.

By manufacturing the stoves in country, the skills necessary to service and repair the stoves will also reside in country. This will also serve to keep costs low and the profits circulating in the local economy.

“Our model would start with an appropriate technology with few imported components. The system would be manufactured and assembled by local co-ops and than sold by micro-financed small entrepreneurial enterprises,” Robinson says.

Still in a pilot phase, the team has just five full-time people and a few dozen others working at the periphery of the project. The business is set up as a nonprofit.

The goal, Robinson says, is not to create a large organization, but instead to empower local entrepreneurs. ”We want to start businesses, but do not have a desire to be part of them. We would measure success by when the technology and associated businesses are independent and we can step away from them.”

To understand how the business will work in country, it will be helpful to learn more about the simple stoves, the conditions in which local people are living, and the years of laboratory and field research that has gone into the design.

Robinson has identified five problems associated with cooking and lighting homes in the developing world:

  1. Smoke and toxic fumes from open-fire cooking pose one of the most severe health risks in the developing world; it is the #1 killer of children under five for example
  2. Collection of fuel for cooking can take tens of hours per week, primarily undertaken by women and children, burning precious calories and time and often taking them from the safety of their community
  3. Overuse of wood fuel is causing extreme deforestation, soil erosion and contributing to global warming
  4. Lighting requires “further exposure to smoke and toxic fumes and risks of house fires
  5. An exorbitant proportion of income, if it can be afforded, spent on candles or paraffin for the worst quality of light
  6. Limited ability for after dark income generating activities, socializing or studying

He adds, “Everybody suffers, but women and children are particularly vulnerable.”

Mobile phones, he says, represent a lifeline for local people, but they often lack an affordable way to keep them charged. He says, “They are used for ordering seeds and fertilizer, selling produce and products, doing banking transactions, keeping in touch with friends and family and so much more.”

Anthony Robinson in Malawi, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

Anthony Robinson in Malawi, courtesy of Trinity College Dublin

The hybrid stove-electric generator Robinson is developing “consists of a locally made efficient clay cookstove and a thermoelectric generator (TEG) system.”

The unit is simple, by design. “The stove is significantly more efficient that the traditional open-fire, meaning less fuel and less smoke and toxic fumes. The TEG extracts a very small portion of the heat from the fire and converts some of this heat into electricity. With some innovative circuitry, the system allows for charging of phones, low powered radios and other rechargeable batteries such as those in LED lanterns and flash-lights.”

A critical lesson from the design stage of the stove was working with local people. Robinson has used a scientific approach, incorporating data logging devices attached to the prototypes deployed in the homes of families in Malawi in three successive trials. They also followed up with surveys. “Together with survey data, the information was used to re-engineer the TEG-Stoves in such a way that the technology evolved iteratively to something that worked and was valued. In essence, the technology has been designed by the end user,” Robinson says.

Robinson and his team have faced two big challenges, he says. The first challenge has been building something from scratch in Ireland that will not only function, but that can also be manufactured in Malawi. The second, has been to reach the lowest possible price point. These are near universal considerations for social entrepreneurs in the developed world hoping to support communities in developing countries.

The stoves as presently designed have their limitations, Robinson acknowledges. The electricity generated is modest and will only power low-power devices like cell phones, radios and LED lights. At low volumes, the cost is prohibitive and getting to scale is a challenge. The key, he believes, may be micro-loans for the purchases.

“Whether it is this TEG-Stove technology or the next technology, what we are trying to do is a notably different approach to what has been attempted in the past,” Robinson says, referring to a business model focused on the process more than the product.

He contrasts the approach he’s using with infrastructure projects that sometimes go awry. “The conventional model for energy technology deployment, such as that of solar PV, has typically been to show up, install and commission the system and leave. This same technology deployment model is not isolated to the energy sector, but also for water and sanitation, health etc. But technologies need to be maintained and repaired which requires infrastructure to support and sustain the technology. Simple things like the lack of spare parts have brought down the best solar installations,” he says.

“Our hypothesis is that if the technology is designed for the people and by the people and it can be manufactured in-country, then the people will have intellectual ownership of it. We believe (hope) that this strategy may make the difference and pave the way for appropriate and sustainable technology development across all sectors,” he concludes.

On Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Robinson will join me here, live from Ireland, to discuss the stove and the business model associated with bringing it to market. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

A Social Entrepreneur’s Tips For Taking On The Impossible

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Lisa Curtis is a serious social entrepreneur. Since she started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer, she has been all about doing good. Her company, Kuli Kuli, which sells products with miringa (don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it; most people haven’t) sourced in West Africa. It takes optimism to face all of the challenges associated with selling a new food; she shares three secrets to her success.

Curtis tells the story of how she started eating moringa as a way to supplement her diet after her Peace Corp stint left her malnourished. Later, she would launch Kuli Kuli to provide others with the health benefits and to support and grow the economy of West Africa where she sources the moringa.

Kuli Kuli’s products are carried in more than 800 retail outlets, including Whole Foods Markets, Sprouts and Kroger, according to Curtis. Owler estimates Kuli Kuli 2015 revenues at approximately $1 million.

Curtis says, the company’s moringa is sourced from women-owned cooperatives in Ghana, where they have already planted over 100,000 moringa trees. In Haiti, working with Whole Foods and the Clinton Foundation, Kuli Kuli is working to create a Moringa enterprise that will help to reforest the nearly completely deforested country. The Haitian moringa is used in the newly launched energy shots marketed by the company.

The partnerships with Whole Foods and the Clinton Foundation are helping to create a business model that socially and environmentally sustainable, Curtis says.

She has been recognized as a StargingBloc Fellow, a Wild Gift Better World Entrepreneur, an Ashoka Emerging Innovator and a Udall Scholar.

Lisa Curtis, courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Lisa Curtis, courtesy of Kuli Kuli

Curtis says that her optimism and “mild delusion” provide a “recipe for taking on the impossible.” She offers three specific points for doing what others say you can’t:

First, she says, “Write down something that you’re grateful for everyday.” This habit can help social entrepreneurs who face seemingly insurmountable struggles to balance their perceptions of challenges against what has already been accomplished.

Second, Curtis says, “Imagine what it would feel like to have your goal accomplished.” Visualization is considered a key to success in areas from golf to marketing. Seeing is believing, many say. A quick internet search for “vision board” will give a sense of how the industry of people helping you to visualize your achievements has grown.

Third, “Take one small step towards your impossible goal everyday, even if it’s just sending an email,” she says. Actions have consequences and these consequences can build momentum that ultimately change your goal from impossible to inevitable.

On Thursday, April 7, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Curtis will join me for a live discussion about her three point plan for taking on the impossible and about her latest progress with Kuli Kuli. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

This Software Reduces Soft Costs For Solar Installations

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

According to an NREL report, about half the cost of a residential solar installation is non-hardware soft costs. Reducing those costs is the mission of Sighten, a software tool set for solar installers.

Co-Founder and CEO, Conlan O’Leary explains, “To date, most solar companies and financing providers have had to use horizontal software like Microsoft Excel or had to build software of their own. Those approaches were ultimately too unwieldy, inefficient and not scalable.”

“As the solar market has become more competitive and profit margins have been squeezed, the industry has recognized that significant efficiency gains are needed. Recent years have seen a growing focus on reducing soft costs, but only marginal progress has been made,” he adds.

O’Leary says Sighten is on a mission to reduce the soft costs. The company’s software platform provides a “comprehensive solution,” he says, to manage the solar project lifecycle from CRM to design, proposals and asset management.

The impact of the software could potentially reduce consumer costs, O’Leary says. “Solar installers and developers now have access to advanced tools across sales and project management that will drive greater sales effectiveness and significant gains in operational efficiency, taking cents per watt out of virtually every step in the solar lifecycle.”

He boasts, “Lots of solar software startups have been working on specific nodes in the solar workflow like design, but Sighten is an application that a company could truly run their business on.”

O’Leary notes that the software also has finance and accounting modules, enhancing the reporting capabilities for the asset managers and investors. “This is a dramatic improvement for investors who are used to getting monthly Excel reports. In fact, some investors have called our platform a ‘Bloomberg Terminal’ for the solar asset class,” he continues.

“I care deeply about the environment, and I think climate change is the seminal issue of our time, so I have aligned myself with interesting, challenging work and innovative companies that are addressing these issues. I think Sighten is the culmination of that focus. I know that as we’re successful and as our customers are successful, we’re making a big dent in carbon emissions and positively impacting society,” O’Leary concludes.

On Thursday, February 4, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, O’Leary will join me here for a live discussion about the software and the impact it is having on carbon emissions and the residential solar industry. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Sighten:

Twitter: @sighten_io

Sighten has built the most advanced software toolset for solar. Built with care by a team of solar industry veterans, the Sighten platform helps solar companies and investors optimize their businesses, driving growth and efficiency through technology. Customers include leading investors, lenders, financing companies, installers, and originators. For more information, please visit www.sighten.io.

Conlan O’Leary, courtesy of Sighten

Conlan O’Leary, courtesy of Sighten

O’Leary’s bio:

Conlan O’Leary is CEO and co-founder of Sighten, a leading solar software provider. Prior to Sighten, Conlan helped manage the structuring and pricing desk at Clean Power Finance, a leading residential solar financing platform. He has prior experience in technology and cleantech investment banking as well as environmental commodities trading. He has also helped manage a salmon cannery in Alaska and lived in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

 

Matt Damon Jokes About ‘Toilet Strike,’ Then Things Get Real With The Water.org Co-Founder

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Three years ago, using a fake press conference posted on YouTube, in a humorous effort to raise money and attention for clean water and sanitation, Matt Damon launched a “toilet strike,” promising not to go to the bathroom “until everyone has access to clean water and sanitation.”

As part of the Sundance Film Festival, Water.org cofounders Matt Damon and Gary White held a real press conference with Stella Artois executive Todd Allen. This gave me an opportunity to ask Damon why he is so passionate about water issues.

Damon responded, “ I have four daughters. It comes at me emotionally from a lot of different angles. I think when you start having kids it is hard not to see other children as your own. ”

He went on to explain that Bono initially got him interested about ten years ago in by taking him a trip ago to help him with his work, believing that if he simply showed Damon what extreme poverty looks like, Damon would have no choice but to engage. “He rightly assumed that if he stuck me in extreme situations with extreme poverty my life would change and that is exactly what happened,” he says.

“ I saw that I could have an impact. ”

He related the story of a teenage girl in rural Zambia with whom he walked for a mile to the nearest source of water. As he visited with her, he asked about her plans for the future. She said she wanted to leave her village to become a nurse. “I realized it was like when Ben Affleck and I were in high school and we said, ‘We’re going to New York to become actors.’” He began to appreciate that people without access to clean water and sanitation were really living a “less than human existence.”

Finally, he explained, that it comes down to the question of a legacy, “It has always felt like I should always do what I can within my own sphere of influence to effect positive change for people. I’m looking at all these issues and this one is so massive it felt like there is so little awareness about it, it felt like the best place to put my time and energy.”

Damon cofounded Water.org with Gary White in 2009. The organization really resulted from the merger of nonprofits that each had created previously. Damon joked that at the time, he went looking for the world’s greatest expert on water and “when that guy wouldn’t take my call, I called Gary.” He went on to say that in fact, White is the world’s leading expert on water issues. White later returned the compliment, first suggesting that he should have called Ben Affleck, but later explaining that Damon has truly become an expert on water as well.

160123-matt_damon-1200x832

Damon sees access to clean water as a part of what he said that Bono calls “stupid poverty,” referring to the causes and contributors to poverty that we know how to fix, like how to deliver clean water.

At the press conference, Damon plugged the Stella Artois “Buy a Lady a Drink” campaign that suggests people buy a chalice from the brewer with proceeds supporting Water.org. One chalice purchase, Damon noted, will provide five years of clean drinking water for a woman who lacks access to clean water.

Damon explained how access to clean water is a gender issue, noting that the vast majority of the time required to collect water, which totals hundreds of millions of hours every day, is spent by women and girls. As a result, women are kept from more productive tasks and girls are frequently prevented from attending school simply to make time for collecting water.

Damon’s passion for this effort came through as he explained that “We can be the generation to do this,” referring to providing clean water and sanitation to everyone on the planet. He noted that we know there are solutions and “ Americans, regardless of their politics, want to do what works. ”

One of the solutions Damon highlighted is “water credit,” the innovation developed by White to use microfinance to support people living in poor urban areas who often live atop a functioning clean water supply without access to it. By lending them the money to put taps in their homes, their time is freed to do more productive things than collect water, making it easy for them to repay the loans. Damon notes that 94 percent of the loans are to women and that more than 99 percent of the loans are repaid. I’ve previously visited with White about water credit here and here.

Matt challenged the world to help solve this issue, “What is our mark going to be? What are we here for? What are we going to do with our chance?”

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!
Subscribe to news from YourMarkOnTheWorld.com
* = required field
Content I want: