Oxford start-up brings energy access to Indian villages
Empower Energy confronts the challenge of connecting rural India to the modern economy, helping to provide access to life-changing technologies, starting with the problem of energy access, a UN sustainable development goal (SDG).
Empower started as a team made up of students from the Saïd Business School and the Oxford Department for International Development. A true Oxford story, the team met at the (then) recently-opened Oxford Foundry – a student co-working space and entrepreneurship campus close to the Business School.
From there they earned a place as Oxford’s team in the Hult Prize Competition. Empower battled it out with other teams from across Europe and North Africa to become joint winners of the London regional finals of the Hult Prize. This catapulted the team into the global accelerator programme and ultimately the finals that took place at the United Nations in New York in September 2018.
With their connections with entrepreneur-mentors, the School and the Foundry supported the team in refining their presentation and business model. With expert advice from advisors within the business school and especially during the Foundry’s LEV8 accelerator programme, Empower has been able to earn more accolades, recently becoming the global winner for SDG 7 in the Lead 2030 competition, as well as winning the 2018 D-Prize in the energy category.
Starting from a small pilot of just three villages in the summer of 2018, the team has focused on building trust and local connections with villages in the state of Odisha in India. Through iteration of multiple different business models, they’ve found that a focus on local needs, and a strong connection through local shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, is a key part of achieving impact.
Empower has taken a customer and community centric approach, making efforts to partner with local organisations in Odisha. They have expanded beyond the first pilots into many more villages. In the process they have attracted pre-seed investment, most importantly however, Empower has had a significant impact on livelihoods and well-being in its partner communities.