Prestigious competition judged by world leaders in business and politics.
Empower Energy, a social enterprise founded by 1+1 MBA alumnus James Dickson, Economics & Management student Ronit Kanwar and M.S.C Economics for Development alumnus Gideon Laux, were finalists in the 2018 Hult Prize, a global competition that receives over 50,000 annual applications from student social entrepreneurs. The startup came to life when the three founders met at an information event for the competition held at The Oxford Foundry, Oxford University’s new entrepreneurial hub.
240 Million people live without electricity in India and Empower Energy has developed a unique solution to this problem. The startup provides safe, clean, reliable energy to rural communities in India via ‘solar ATMs’ – pay per use charging stations.
‘When we were conducting our research, we found that while there are several players in this market – that mostly offer solar kits through financing arrangements – they fail to consider the haphazard nature of work in these communities, which makes keeping up regular payments difficult,’ explained James. ‘Our solution is a pay as you go system, which is embedded in communities through their local shop keepers.’
While the startup may have formed through the Hult Prize competition, Empower Energy is much more than a good pitch: the company already has 7 pilot locations across India. ‘We are still in the data generation phase, but things are moving quickly,’ said James.
The startup’s journey to the final round of the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition was both formative and challenging. A victory in the preliminary Oxford round took them through to a ‘gruelling’ second stage in London, in which they had to perform their pitch three times in one day.
At the end of the London round, they were announced as co-winners with another startup named Sunrice. A six week accelerator programme at Ashridge House followed, at which Empower Energy and 49 other teams from universities across the world were given mentorship on a series of themes which changed weekly, including marketing, prototyping and the legal aspects of creating a startup.
However, while co-founders Ronit and Gideon were immersed in these lessons, James was elsewhere.