With Startup Life expanding to multiple locations this year, we are keeping a watch on the ever increasing number of startup cities around the world. Thus, I’m spending the spring interning at a Bangalore startup called Simpa Networks.
Bangalore, formerly a sleepy and relatively small town in South India, has seen some major changes in the last decade as the city’s attracted plenty of IT, multinationals and numerous universities. Today many of the over 8 million Bangalorians are graduates and professionals from all over India and abroad – and startups ensue.
Bangalore is not the only startup hub in India. Hyderabad in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, is also competing on the title of India’s Tech Capital, and companies like Facebook – as well as Aalto-originated Warrantify – have set office in Hyderabad. Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and numerous other cities also harbor lively startup environments as well as national and international investors.
Many startup ideas I see in Bangalore could easily be done anywhere. At the moment especially e-commerce is all the rage, with early success of the likes of Flipkart, an online department store. In a few years, Flipkart has created an admirable distribution network while adjusting its policies to cultural preferences like with the popular Cash-on-Delivery option. And inspired by Flipkart’s success, many new online commerce ventures have sprung up, most recently Amazon.
Simpa Networks was started some 1.5 years ago by an Indian-American founding team. While operating in a completely different industry, establishing distribution and understanding customer habits and motivation are also of interest to the company.
Currently, the less-than-ten-person team are going through an exciting transformation, from essentially prototyping and piloting a disruptive idea to having validated at least some of the business model. Now much of the focus is on ramping up production and keeping operations, product development and financing up to speed with momentum.
Part social enterprise, part technology venture, Simpa re-thinks household energy consumption as a pay-as-you-go service using the affordable and flexible pricing model of pre-paid cellphone subscriptions – perhaps the most widespread technological innovation of the last decade in emerging markets around the world.
In practice, Simpa partners with established home solar system developers like SELCO India and offers their product to off-grid customers for a minimal downpayment. To be able to use the solar electricity generated, however, one needs to pre-purchase energy credits via SMS and only then the solar home system “unlocks” and produces energy.
The market for Simpa in India alone is potentially millions of bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers in non-electrified or badly electrified households and localities. Furthermore, globally an estimated 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity. If reached with the right marketing mix, however, this demographic is willing and financially capable of replacing current energy consumption such as kerosene, candles and batteries with distributed renewable energy generation and there lies the potential and scale for energy startups like Simpa.
The two months I’ve spent here has been quite a roller-coaster with Simpa winning Treehugger Best Energy Industry Innovator as well as Dasra Social Impact awards and been featured by e.g. Bloomberg and the Guardian. While there’s definitely a lot to learn and I keep running into problems and challenges on a regular basis, interning at Simpa has been heaps of fun.
Startup Life is always looking to hear new ideas regarding our operations – drop us a line at team(a)startuplife.fi if you have suggestions on where to take the program next. Aalto students especially – would you be interested in more Startup Life Asian internship opportunities in future?
Quick links to Indian startups networks
YourStory – The largest online media in India covering startups from all sectors, moonlighting as an event organizer as well.
PluggdIn – A tech and startups blog who also organizes events focusing on technology entrepreneurship.
Bangalore Startups FB Group – I use this to spot startup-related events happening in Bangalore.
StartupDigest India – A weekly email newsletter listing the most interesting events around India.
StartupSaturday by Headstart.in – Every second Saturday of the month is a pan-Indian StartupSaturday, all day conference/meetup taking place in multiple cities in India.