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Smoke That Kills, Stoves That Save Lives

By   Shlomo Maital

 

The man in the photograph is Eric Reynolds. Next to him is the stove he invented. It burns cleanly wood pellets. This California-born entrepreneur identified a problem (African villagers burn wood inside their huts, for cooking, and the smoke kills many through respiratory problems), and found a solution. He gives away the stoves, through his company called Inyenyeri,  and funds the business by selling the wood pellets at a reasonable price.   The business model is based on the fact that poor Africans cannot afford large capital expenditures but can afford to buy the wood pellets from time to time.

     His story is told in the Dec. 8 edition of the New York Times.   The article begins: “Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.”

     Some time ago I wrote a blog about an Engineers Without Borders project, by Israeli (Technion) engineers, who used biomass to generate methane, bottle it, and then let the villagers use it for cooking instead of wood smoke. Reynolds has tackled the same problem, in Africa, but has a different solution.

     According to the New York Times article, “He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.   He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.”

     We know that C. K. Prahalad, in his book Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid, explained long ago how one can build businesses on the poorest of the poor. So it is indeed possible.  

     Reynolds says, “Profit feeds impact at scale,” …he is now in the midst of a global tour as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”   More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility”, the New York Times article noted.

     Reynolds is 66…and qualifies for being one of the world’s many “snow-capped idea volcanoes” (senior grey-haired entrepreneurs).

 

 

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Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
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