Spotlight on: OffGridBox, StartHub's Startup to Watch

August 1, 2019

Each month as part of StartHub's Startups to Watch Program, we connect with the winning company to learn more about them. We had the pleasure of interviewing Emiliano Cecchini, CEO of OffGridBox. Here’s what we learned:

Tell us about your company. What is OffGridBox?

We provide affordable clean water and renewable energy in remote areas. OffGridBox is a modular and compact unit that provides renewable energy, wifi, and purified water in off-the-grid areas. For example, one unit, managed by a local women co-op in a Rwandese village, can impact 400 families (circa 2000 people) providing Tier 1 electricity and sterilized water for only 18c$/day per family on a PAYG basis.

How did you come up with the idea for OffGridBox? Who is your target customer?

We came up with the idea of pre-assembling water and power installations in a shelter while getting 6 kinder gardens in South Africa completely off-the-grid (i.e. solar power, rainwater capture and treatment, cooking and thermal needs, etc..). We moved from a 3 weeks installation timing on average to a few hours to get the job done. Now we have a product that is site and project independent with clear costs and procedures.

The idea of the Pay-As-You-Go (micro-payments) business model for Africa came during the TechStars and MassChallenge acceleration programs in Boston in 2017. In this model, our final customers are families living in isolated and underserved villages (rural and peri-urban) but the implementation of the PAYG initiative needs a CSR program or an NGO to support and maximize the local impact.

How do you think OffGridBox is going to disrupt the market? What are the main differentiators between you and your competitors?

Thanks to solar, business model, and our "mobile" solution, we offer the cheapest solution for pure water, internet access, and basic electrification (less than $10 per person impacted but it lasts for 20 years!). There are more than one billion people around the world that cannot be served (in a sustainable way) by an electric grid or a water piping system. Mini-grids or individual home systems are facing financial and operative problems, we deliver also pure water and wifi. Hiring only women.

Who are your main investors?

Thanks to a Revenue Sharing Agreement approach we had individual, Institutions, foundations and corporations to invest on OffGridBoxes in Eastern Africa (Congo DRC, Rwanda, and Tanzania). We had some seed investors through small convertible notes but we are now looking to a larger round to scale.

Why did you decide to start your business in Boston?

Boston is by far the best place for startups for tech and academia cross-pollination, and institutional support. We received the #1 prize from MassChallenge as a clean-tech company and much more. The company basically started with the Boston TechStars 2017 cohort.

How do you use StartHub professionally?

We are based in Somerville (MA) at the moment (Greentown Labs), manufacturing in Italy, focusing on Eastern Africa but also selling globally, so we travel a lot and we need a guide to optimize our networking while in Boston.

What are the next steps for your company?

We are now in the process of wrapping up the early and massive experience done on the field, finalizing the software and other R&D (IP) projects to be ready to scale worldwide. To properly do so, we need to find a qualified partner.

What is the most important thing our readers should know about OffGridBox?

We are passionate about what we do and to be able to reach the most remote and underserved communities, we need "Ambassadors" ready to join and help in the same way!

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