Around the world 1.3 billion people don’t have access to electricity. Utah-based Recharge Labs wants to change that. The startup is using solar recharge stations to help people in developing countries have access to cheaper and safer electricity.
Utah investors including former Skullcandy CEO Jeremy Andrus, Jim Sorenson and Dinesh Patel have poured $75,000 into the startup.
Recharge Labs rents out battery packs to customers to help them power lights, phones and stoves. The packs are recharged every two to three days at local recharge stations run by local entrepreneurs. The cost for a battery pack is 15 center per day, or $4 a month.
“This is an effort to displace kerosene in villages that are experiencing extreme poverty,” said David D’Angelo, co-founder of Recharge Labs. “It’s also to displace some of these advances solar home products that are being sold in middle markets by offering something that is 1/10 the price but provides just as reliable and durable electricity.”
Kerosene causes nearly 1.5 million deaths per year and is expensive for families in rural areas.
“The value proposition is very clear,” said Reza Jalili, co-founder of Recharge Labs and head of architecture strategy at Adobe. “Health benefits, clean burning, solar cost, reliable and much better lighting, no fire hazards. Overall we think the benefits are clear so people ought to be willing to try it.”
D’Angelo set out to Nepal in February to test the product and model. While he was busy meeting with local entrepreneurs and figuring out best practices, disaster struck. The earthquake in Nepal changed everything.
The company went into humanitarian mode, D’Angelo said. They set up a Go Fund Me account and are using the proceeds to build schools. They have also set up medical stations and partnered with Utah-based Choice Humanitarian.
Through all of this, the business model changed. D’Angelo decided to use the schools as the base for the recharge stations. This would allow students to bring the battery packs to school when they needed to be recharged.
So far Recharge Labs has 300 power banks deployed and two recharge stations set up. Three more stations will go up in the next few weeks, D’Angelo said.
The packs cost $10.70 to make and are built in Shenzhen, China.
Recharge Labs trains local men and women to run the recharge stations.
“There are a lot of solar companies who are coming to these areas, selling their goods and then leaving,” D’Angelo said. “Six months later those technologies are having challenges and they are never adequately addressed.
That’s the key of having a local entrepreneur in the community run the station. We train them on operations, marketing, financial record keeping and basics of electrical engineering.”
Once the business is up and running in Nepal, Recharge Labs hopes to expand to other areas in Asia.