In our endeavor of showcasing emerging thought leaders and the real heroes who are making a difference in the Rural India, we caught up with Mahesh Yagnaraman from First Energy, on one of the most unique sustainable energy solutions Oorja Stove. Oorja has 300% fuel-efficiency compared to traditional stoves, it’s smokeless and reduces deforestation because it uses agri-residue.
Q. What actually inspired you to start First Energy, what was the initial thought behind this?
A. The business was actually started by BP says Mahesh. Though the real entrepreneurial challenge came when in 2008 BP’s focus shifted. The business was setup with a long term vision, but in the mid of 2009, BP wanted to shut it down. We then pulled out some folks from BP and connected with Alchemists Ark, to take the company further as a Pvt. Ltd. setup.
Q. How long did it take for you to evangelize Oorja?
A. We saw the potential for the product since the beginning. In-terms of the product development it took us 18 months. Today, First Energy has reached over 430,000 homes with the Oorja stove. This has been through a route to market channel of 3500 village level entrepreneurs/dealers who sell the stove and fuel in the villages.
Q. What are the operational challenges you faced during and post product development?
A. To make the product under the target market’s cost was the initial challenge. Our product is not something which has been ever commercially done before. The biggest learning we got in the early days which is still a challenge, that cooking energy is not just about a stove alone, we have a patent with us on that, you need to provide clean and cheap energy to run the stoves with.
Q. How big is the First Energy Team?
A. We have 18 people on board and a dedicated extended team, which also includes the go to market partners.
Q. Interesting to see your distribution channel, how scalable do you find it and is it the same throughout?
A. Well, we have a strong chain of women entrepreneurs in some parts of the country and for some we have tied up with ITC Chaupal. Also we are open to exploring new go to market models, as we are present to the fact that a distribution strategy which may work at a village, may not be as successful in another.
Q. What support do you expect from external agencies and what sort of support have you received from IISC Bangalore?
A. Surely, we are open to exploring infusing funds into the company, soon. Other than that support in Marketing and Media, taking the product to the relevant segment is always good to have. IISC Bangalore has been great help and we work very closely with them. Such institutions are always available for serious, focused entrepreneurs with worthy innovations.
Q. Any advice for young entrepreneurs in the similar domain?
A. Humbly, Mahesh says, that you need to be focused and keep innovating, while saying that he would always be open to helping young start-ups, who have a serious and interesting proposition.
It was good to get the first hand perspective from a successful entrepreneur, and we are sure, sharing his journey, will make many others to create opportunities for the BoP. We invite you to nominate other such ventures who have disruptive innovations for the Global Energy Challenge, which gives you a chance to win $3000.