We saw 2 business plan presentations yesterday from companies creating products to generate electricity in the developing world. Both discussed a broad range of advantages of electrification. But what was really interesting is both presentations stressed the need for cell phone power and charging as a key driver of demand for electricity.
We were at the Global Business Incubator (GBI) annual business plan presentations. The GBI is a two week business training boot camp for social entrepreneurs at Silicon Valley's Santa Clara University.
This year 14 companies were selected to participate from over 300 applicants. In its 7th year, the GBI has a number of successful graduates including the well known micro finance company Kiva.
One of our take aways from the presentations is the central role cell phones play in these businesses. This by itself is no surprise. The role and importance of cell phones in the developing world is well documented (see these NY Times and Economist articles for more on this topic).
But what was surprising is how quickly cell phones have become a key and crucial part of the business infrastructure in the developing world - and how this is leading to impacts well beyond direct voice communications and texting.
Some of the 2nd order cell phone impacts we heard about yesterday include:
- driving rural electrification
- enabling supply and demand chains
- providing education and training
- improving health care
- providing access to markets and market data
- enabling the organization of groups and co-ops
Related to this trend, Nokia recently announced plans to release a cell phone based mobile payments system targeting Africa and Asia. One of the reasons given by Nokia is there are a lot more cell phones in the world (4 billion) than there are bank accounts (1.6 billion).