Business - Issue 43 - Magazine | Monocle

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Power to the people

India — ENERGY

Founded in 2007 by three entrepreneurs aiming to “liberate rural India from darkness”, Husk Power Systems is an energy start-up generating low-cost electricity from discarded rice husks. Based in Bihar, where the average household income is €2 a day, the system delivers affordable power to the poorest and most remote areas of the state, while also mobilising a workforce of local people.

“We wanted to wire up places that the government deemed unreachable,” says co-founder Manoj Sinha. “But we needed a cheap, simple fuel source and a power plant that was easily operable.” Today HPS employs over 300 people, operating 65 power plants and serving some 30,000 households.

With their efforts attracting large-scale investment, the company now plans a “Husk Power University” to train future recruits, while expanding supply across India and the globe. “HPS is a revolution in power,” says Sinha. “We’re already transforming the lives of 150,000 people.”

Husk Power Systems’ success story:

  1. Making light work:
    One power plant serves an average of 400 households, replacing 42,000 litres of kerosene with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  2. Quick off the mark:
    Each power plant becomes operationally profitable four months after launch, with a break-even period of three to four years.
  3. Expanding horizons:
    Husk Power Systems is expanding rapidly, with an estimated 2,000 plants due to be in operation by the end of 2014.
  4. International player:
    The company is discussing branching out into countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Tanzania.

Brand extension


Until recently, amputees didn’t have many options when it came to finding an attractive prosthesis. But San Francisco firm Bespoke Innovations believes limbs should reflect their wearer’s style and personality and is harnessing 3D printing technology to offer carefully crafted limbs in leather, nylon and chrome. “Current prostheses are pretty off-putting, and, as a result, there’s a stigma associated with amputation,” says co-founder Scott Summit.

Bespoke starts by scanning an amputee’s existing leg to mirror the shape and can suggest skin tones and weatherproof options. The whole process takes three to five weeks and a basic lower leg starts at $3,500 (€2,500). In the case of double amputees, Bespoke finds people with a similar body shape and uses them as a model. Next up? Prosthetic arms and designs for those with injured necks and torsos.


Taking leave

Middle East [MATERNITY]

The Middle East is one of the worst regions in the world for pregnant working women. With the exception of Syria and Iran, all surveyed countries grant well under the 98 days standard maternity leave recommended by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

TV times

South Korea

This January saw the official launch of South Korea’s first dedicated 24-hour business channel. SBS-CNBC will focus on both global and specifically Korean business, showing a growing global interest in the fortunes of this East Asian powerhouse.

Wild side


Founded over three decades ago in New Hampshire, Wild Things is a technical mountaineering brand that has built up a cult following among hardcore climbers.

Crossing over this June with a consumer line that will include a belay jacket and high loft jacket and footwear, the Wild Things relaunch taps into a technical trend in menswear. The business model follows other successful technical crossovers such as Rapha and Arc’teryx Valiance. Already sold at Beams in Japan, it has just won the licence to produce clothing for US heritage firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson.

Hailing from afar


Buoyed by its shortlisted bid for the $1bn New York City taxicab contract, Turkish manufacturer Karsan is set to take centre stage in the country’s foreign-dominated car industry.

The firm may only have a 2.3 per cent share of domestic production, but win or lose in New York, Karsan’s new design, the V-1, will be the first Turkish brand on the roads in 2013. A working prototype will be ready in June, after which the car will be marketed to cities around the world. According to Karsan spokesperson Burcu Ozenc, “In creating our own brand this is a huge thing for Turkey.”

Cash for comms


Recycling old mobile phones is big business, worth an estimated $5.1bn (€3.6bn) worldwide. Launched in 2008, ecoATM brings this to the high street and over 50,000 old handsets have been recycled at its “cash points” in the US. At the self-service kiosk, an electronic system establishes the market price and pays the seller.

Firm foundation


When despotic regimes are overthrown, trade barriers often come down with them, presenting an opportunity for non-domestic businesses to target markets that were previously closed. One UK company cleaning up in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is health and beauty distributor DCS Europe, based in Stratford-upon-Avon. The company only started shipping its cosmetics brand Enliven to Iraq in 2009 but it has already become the market leader, helping DCS grow overall export sales by 37 per cent last year.


Bedding down


After launching in Dakar this January, Onomo International has ambitions to establish a network of mid-range hotels in 100 of Africa’s major business cities over the next 10 years.

Founders Philippe Colleu and Christian Mure, former Accor executives, have secured backing from private French investors who see huge potential in African hospitality and the rise in business travellers from China. Trade between China and Africa topped $100bn (€70bn) in 2010 and analysts from Africa Investor estimate the tourism market in Africa is worth around $50bn (with $203bn untapped potential).

Onomo will be a litmus test for the development of business travel in Africa. While Dakar is an oasis of calm, opening elsewhere hasn’t been without incident. “Our second planned hotel in Abidjan has been delayed due to the city’s ongoing conflict,” says Arnaud Goujon, the group’s architect.

Mass appeal


Having launched in 2007 to cover Africa’s increasingly voracious business market, CNBC Africa announced an expanding agenda in March, reshuffling the programming to widen appeal and reach, including shows with a technology focus and lifestyle programming.


Christian Vögeli

CEO, Dybuster


Christian Vögeli’s Dybuster company sells award-winning therapy software, which was designed to help the dyslexic son of his professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Why is this education sector big business?
Some 30 million people suffer from dyslexia in Europe alone and we already have 20,000 users in Switzerland. Licences cost €103 a year for individual users.

How does it work?
Dybuster represents a word as a combination of colours, shapes, structures and music, instead of just a sequence of black letters on white paper.

The biggest challenge?
Schools like the idea, but buying decisions are not always rational or innovation-friendly.

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