April 17, 2012
According to the Worldwatch Institute, 1.3 billion people don’t have access to electricity, and another 1 billion don’t have reliable access. Some of those people are in Cambodia, where entrepreneur VS Hariharan took a trip earlier this year.
“People don’t have power with their cell phones, so they actually walk a couple of kilometers to get their phones charged and they pay a fee for charging the phone,” he explained.
Hariharan was there scoping out the market for a new device from his Singapore startup, Third Wave Power. It’s a solar-charged personal power station called mPOWERPAD, complete with reading light and torch, radio, and insect repellant. This rugged, bright-yellow gadget works in the rain and won’t break when you drop it.
mPOWERPAD is now selling in Singapore, Malaysia, and India. At around $120, it’s aimed at outdoorsmen, the ecofriendly, and doctors and teachers traveling in remote areas. But, with funding from Small World Group, Third Wave Power hopes to produce a cheaper version that could sell to Asian villagers as well.
Previously, Hariharan spent 18 years working for HP. But he left to start his own company and, in the process, bring energy to people without it.
“We went to visit 2-3 villages in Cambodia, and you see the power and what you can actually do with this, it makes you have another reason to go after another career,” says Hariharan. He grew up in Calcutta and recalls nights when power cuts forced him to study for school by candlelight. And he still sees power cuts on his visits to India, as demand for electricity outstrips growth.
“India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam – all these places are gonna grow like crazy and the power situation is just going to get worse,” he says. With some luck, mPOWERPAD will be there to help.
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