Archive for the 'IDEAS' Category

Essmart: Building a channel through which products can sell

It has been a busy few months for the Essmart team. After the encouraging results of our pilot in January 2012 and the support of organizations like the IDEAS Global Challenge, we returned to India to launch our enterprise in August.

For the past two months, we have been focused on doing – on building our distribution network and getting essential technologies into local shops. We found office and warehouse space in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, India. We brought on board our Director of Field Operations and a sales agent. We built relationships with 20 retail shops, and then cut this down to the 12 most promising shops. We started marketing our catalogue of essential technologies to shop owners and rural households. We tested and added a few new products to our catalogue. We have sold over 50 units through our retail shop network, and we are bringing on two new sales agents in the coming week to start expanding our reach.

It has all been very exciting, but in the midst of all this doing there has been little time for thinking. We have been focused on building relationships with shop owners so that we can sell products and get our business off the ground. But it is important for us to remember that our mission is not, in fact, to sell products. That is the task of our partner retail shops. Our mission is to build a channel through which products can sell.

To this end, we would like to forget all of the numbers for a minute and focus on our process. At the heart of our channel are retail shop owners, and we have been learning a lot by watching them over the past few months. First, we are learning about how crucial it is for shop owners to understand our product catalogue. It is not enough for shop owners to want to sell the products for profit; they must understand and believe in each product before they feel comfortable marketing it to their customers. Our demonstrations in shops have been critical in building understanding and confidence in our products. We’ve watched the comfort levels of our shop owners increase over time, to the point where they’re ready to take over the marketing.

Second, we are learning how important it is for shop owners to trust and believe in Essmart. The effort that we put into our relationships with shop owners far exceeds other distributors’. In rural India, companies come and go, taking advantage of the locals. As an enterprise based on a social mission, we take a different approach. We’re in this business for the long haul, and we need to build up our presence and brand. This begins with gaining the trust of the shop owners, who are more willing to sell our products when they know that we’ll be around to service them.

Each shop owner is different, which brings us to our third lesson learned: How much structure is needed to help our enterprise scale while also giving us the flexibility to cater to each shop? This is more of a question than a lesson learned, as we’re still trying to figure out the answer ourselves. We’re aiming to strike a balance between flexibility and structure as we’re creating this channel that facilitates and supports the flow of information and goods.

Despite lots of doing in the past few months, we still have a long way to go in building a sustainable, scalable channel for technologies that will change the lives of people in rural India. Some of this will be accomplished by doing – by repeatedly testing new ideas, increasing product sales, and marketing and servicing the products that are sold. But a good chunk will come from focusing on relationships with shop owners and end users, information exchange, and customer feedback. In a sense, these are non-tangible items that are not reflected in the numbers that we post. Yet although they don’t contribute to the nitty-gritty building of Essmart’s channel, they ultimately inform the shape of it.

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Written by Diana Jue and Jackie Stenson with Essmart Global, a 2012 IDEAS Global Challenge award recipient.

Essmart creates a marketplace for life-improving, essential technologies in places where people already shop. www.essmart-global.com

IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact

Thanks to all the teams that recently providing some exciting information about the progress you’ve made over the last year to tackle barriers to well-being in communities around the world. Here’s a round-up of some of the good stuff we’ve learned:

6Dot (Braille Labeler)

· Milestones. In the spring of 2011 6Dot moved into new offices of the Stanford student venture incubator, SSE Labs. 6Dot has gained awareness through participation in three major conferences and expos, including the Stanford Cool Projects Expo, the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CTEVBI) conference and the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Diabilities Conference.

· Impact. 6Dot has begun low-volume production up to 250 of their Braille labeling devices for market. As of April 2011 they had secured more than 70 pre-sale commitments.

· Income. In May 2011 6Dot won $10,000 in the Stanford Product Showcase.

· Press. The 6dot Braille labeler was featured in a TV report by ivanhoe.com, which features “Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science.”

BLISS

· Milestones. On May 11 BLISS introduced the Sozankaar collection of bags. Sozankaar means, “skilled with the needle” in Dari. BLISS has operationalized its partnership with Boston-based charity Barakat to provide its curriculum and training program in participating schools in Pakistan. On September 7, BLISS founder Saba Gul and BLISS were commended by the U.S. State Department in a gathering that featured Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. BLISS raised $8k as a finalist in the Unreasonable Institute marketplace, earning a coveted spot in their summer Institute.

· Income. $8,000 Unreasonable Institute;

· Press. BLISS founder Saba Gul (SM ’09) featured in the March/April edition of MIT’s Technology Review.
Founder Saba Gul’s International Women’s Day post for ThinkChangePakistan.

EmpleoListo! (AssuredLabor)

  • Milestones. Launched in Nicaragua and Mexico, AssuredLabor/EmpleoListo! has signed up over 100,000 job seekers. More than 40 prestigious employers, from Philip Morris International to Alcatel-Lucent to MacDonalds and Wal*Mart as well as numerous national and local businesses use the service to recruit candidates. Now has 14 full-time employees based in 4 countries, including: Nicaragua, Mexico, Pakistan and the United States. In October 2010 won the Omidyar Fastpitch Competition.

· Impact. Hundreds of successful job matches made.

  • Income. Raised $1M from prestigious angel investors and Venture Capital funds across 3 continents.

· Press. Recently profiled for their work with MIT’s Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development by the MIT News Office; featured in Fast Company, “Text Here for a New Job”; and VentureBeat, “A Mobile LinkedIn for the Developing World”.

Continue reading ‘IDEAS and Global Challenge Teams – Delivering Impact’

Marketplace Update | December 9, 2010

Hello Challengers! Lots of good things happening as we plan for launch exactly one month from today! Here are a couple of ways you can help:

  • Host a local alumni launch event! Celebrate MIT150 and the launch of the Global Challenge as a platform for local engagement. Email your ideas and inquiries to lhtorres@mit.edu
  • Spread the word! Reach out to fellow alumni and potential collaborators who can contribute by defining problems, identifying community partners, and supporting teams. Encourage them to register at http://globalchallenge.mit.edu
  • Entrants, a special request: Please create your team, complete your profile! Launch of the MIT150 and the MIT Global Challenge is right around the corner. When we go live at the beginning of January, we’ll have one of the largest visibility opportunities this year. Please help us maximize community engagement by ensuring your team is visible and “Help Wanted” requests are live.

Now the news…

In the Marketplace: 17 teams

  1. Alumni, friends, collaborators: there are 15 help requests from teams, including designers, nutrition experts and more. Browse here:
    http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/help/wanted
  1. Teams: there are 15 help offers including experienced grant writing, team members with design and management experience, and more. Browse help and connect with potential collaborators here:
    http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/help/offered

(And, don’t forget: please “Close” your ad if it has been filled!)

Continue reading ‘Marketplace Update | December 9, 2010′

A Shoutout to BLISS from Hillary Clinton (Crossposted)

Exciting news from one of our 2009 IDEAS winners, Saba Gul of Business and Life Skills School (BLISS). Cross posted from her blog here.

Some 200 diplomats, entrepreneurs, imams, popular media figures, and comedians joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in breaking the fast on September 7th, 2010 at the Department of State in Washington, D.C.  What made this grand event different from last year’s was the inclusion of 70 young Muslims from across the country that the Department identified as “some of the best and innovative Muslim leaders under the age of 30″.

To be hand-picked as one of these 70 change-makers to represent my work with BLISS was a true honor. But to be mentioned in Hillary Clinton’s speech (full texthere and video here) as one of the young people “who had already accomplished extraordinary things” by starting “a program to keep Pakistani girls from dropping out of school” was exhilarating!

Read more…

Jamie Yang, 2010 Echoing Green Fellow

In 2009 Jamie Yang and the EGG-energy team won a modest IDEAS Competition award to pilot a subscription energy service in Tanzania. Think NetFlix meets conventional pressurized gas bottle exchanges. Kind of. We’re thrilled that Jamie has won a 2010 Echoing Green fellowship and wish him and his fellow winners, including alum Jodie Wu of Global Cycle Solutions a terrific year ahead!

To accelerate social change, the Echoing Green Fellowship program provides seed capital and support to some of the world’s best emerging social entrepreneurs.

eHealth, telemedicine, capacity building, and learning

Love this video of the incredibly articulate Chris Moses ’10, who was awarded a Davis Projects for Peace Fellowship and participated in the Public Service Fellowship and Grants program. Here, he discusses Sana (formerly MocaMobile). Sana earned a development grant from the MIT IDEAS Competition, and went on to win the mHealth Alliance Award and Vodafone Wireless Innovation Prize. The $150,000 in awards will enable the group, of which Chris is an integral part, to improve their telemedicine-based health care delivery system for rural underserved populations.


Chris Moses on MIT TechTV

MIT Inventors Win Top Two Spots at ASME iShow

Congratulations to the MIT students behind 6Dot Braille Labeler and Leveraged Freedom Chair for winning second and first place respectively at the 2010 ASME Innovation Showcase!

6Dot was awarded a $7500 IDEAS Health Innovation award in 2009 sponsored by Aleksander and Anna Anita Leyfell. In 2008 Leveraged Freedom Chair won a $7500 IDEAS Award for International Technology sponsored by the Lemelson-MIT Program.

Both teams have used their award to further test and refine their prototypes as well as seek out new funding sources and partnerships. Congratulations on all your hard work – its terrific to see you thrive!

See the ASME announcement here.