Many organizations design solar lanterns, water filters, and other life-improving essential technologies for homes in developing countries. However, these products rarely benefit end users at scale because the rural last mile lacks effective distribution, marketing, and service.
Meanwhile, 90% of the $260B annual retail spending in India takes place in 14M small, low-margin, family-run retail shops. Retail shops don’t sell essential technologies because they don’t know about them, where to find them, or how to service them.
Essmart offers a solution. Essmart delivers the goods.
Essmart is an essential technology distributor with an embedded retail presence. We address three problems that local retail shops face:
After founding in October 2011, Essmart surveyed over 200 retailers in southern India during January 2012. In our pilot, two retail shops sold 17 Essmart products in one week in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. In Summer 2012, Essmart will begin year one of operations, with the goal of establishing distribution channels to 65 rural shops by year end.
Get 2,000+ technologies into rural areas in the first year; 4.5 million by five years.
Diana Jue (co-founder) is a second year Master’s student studying international development in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. She is studying technology dissemination for her thesis and has traveled extensively in southern India. Having obtained bachelor’s degrees in economics and urban studies and planning from MIT in 2009, Diana will be working on overall idea and business model development in addition to supply chain logistics and operations management.
Jackie Stenson (co-founder) studied engineering at Harvard, graduating in 2008, and completed her Master’s degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge, graduating in 2012. Jackie has extensive experience both designing essential technologies and studying dissemination models for low-income communities in Africa, having traveled and worked there for over two years in 11 countries. Jackie will be working on overall idea and business model development in addition to technology sourcing.
Prashanth Venkataramana has a background in mechanical engineering and studied Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge. He is from Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, India, lives in Chennai, and works in sales and marketing in the glass industry. Prashanth has numerous contacts in Chennai and in Bangalore and speaks Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, and English. Prashanth works on technology evaluation, securing local connections, creating customer value propositions, and relaying local conditions to the rest of the team.
Taylor Matthews is a first-year MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He focuses his studies on the intersection of technology and finance with a particular interest in how both can be applied in the developing world. With a background in investment banking, management consulting, and venture finance, Taylor will focus on the financial aspects of the business and provide input into the overall idea and business model development.
Robert Weiss is a Masters candidate at Harvard Kennedy School. His academic background is in clean tech policy and economics. He focused on deployment of renewable energy in China, where he lived for one year and is fluent in Mandarin. Rob has also worked in Cameroon and Timor-Leste, the latter spent assessing the impact of a solar lantern distribution project in off-grid rural villages. Rob focuses on supplier relations and business strategy.
Jaya Movva studies International Business at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She has worked as a design engineer at Motorola in the past and then worked for a major financial services firm in Dubai. She has done development work in Tanzania and Haiti and plans to work in initiatives that promote private sector development in emerging markets. She will help out with business plan development and market analysis.
Ben Younkman studies International Business at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, focusing on community development and social enterprises in emerging markets. He is experienced with community development, documentary work, and logistics from nearly seven years working in Latin America, the Caribbean and China. Ben focuses on Essmart’s distribution logistics and produces media content and marketing materials.
Jen Zhu is a joint degree candidate in Government and Sociology at Harvard University. She has prior experience with two other social enterprises, and worked with Dalberg Global Development Advisors to analyze 80+ social enterprises’ challenges and success factors. She also researches the dissemination of public health interventions through social networks in developing countries. Jen works on market analysis, social media, and U.S. marketing.
Aubrey Colter is a third year undergraduate in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. When she took the Media Lab's Building Mobile Applications class, she began prototyping mobile technologies for Essmart's future use. Aubrey will be developing back-end applications for Essmart's field agents so that they can more conveniently collect survey information about the product after it is purchased and put to use.
Sri Siddhanta Foundation
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
SSF is a Chennai-based nonprofit organization that focuses on village development. Its recent initiative, Gramothan, includes chapters in Bangalore, Delhi, Calcutta, and Mumbai. Gramothan Resource Centers are located throughout India, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. Contacts within SSF are presently very interested in bringing essential technologies to villages, which is why SSF serves as a potential collaborator. Essmart would work with SSF to run product demonstrations and to train youngsters that would work in the service and demonstration centers.
External Blog Feed
On July 1, Essmart officially gained a new member into our family. Friends, meet Prashanth, who will be leading Essmart’s operations in India. You may have heard of Prashanth before, as he’s been with us from Essmart’s beginnings. However, we finally have the opportunity to work with [...] More »
Diana and I recently got back from Austin, Texas, where we attended our second Dell Social Innovation Challenge finalist weekend. Although this time, we were sitting on the other side of the fence. DSIC has a tradition of bringing back the previous year’s winner as a judge, [...] More »
We’re excited to launch our first crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo! We’ve been excited about how our model has been working in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, and we’re ready to take on the challenge of scaling to a new, nearby region. Our crowd funding campaign allows us to engage [...] More »
We’ve recently been setting up a new accounting software – Xero. As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve received a fair amount of push back in India. People are used to using a software called Tally, and we’ve had to justify why we want to use a [...] More »
Yesterday, we took everyone based in our Pollachi office out to lunch at nice place outside of Pollachi. This was our first retreat for our sales executives. It was mostly a chance to get everyone together, to treat our employees to a nice meal, and to say [...] More »
While reading a Jalopnik article reflecting on the Indian car market, it struck me that the Indian car market is really not that different from the market for essential technologies. The author, Jason Torchinsky, a car blogger and first-time visitor to India, hit on a number of [...] More »
You can’t completely understand the problem until you learn about it from the people who know it best. This has been a personal philosophy that has grown stronger over the past couple of years. It’s been reinforced even more this winter. I’m Jen, and I’ve been working [...] More »
As we approach the end of 2012, we’ve taken some time to reflect on this past year. It has truly been a whirlwind. At this time last year, Diana was preparing to travel to India for our first pilot. We had a grand vision, a ridiculous amount [...] More »
From our monthly(ish) newsletter, which you can subscribe to here: Greetings from India! Essmart has been on the ground in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, India for about two months now. Much has happened since our last email update. Selvan, our Director of Field Operations, has hired two sales [...] More »
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