OffGridBox – Boston Startup Providing Renewable Energy and Clean Water to Developing Countries
There are parts of the world that still struggle with a lack of basic resources needed for daily life. One ongoing issue is the requirement for clean water and electricity. According to The Guardian, Africa is struggling with both resources, as many citizens of the continent are being forced to gather water or have little-to-no light for their homes.
“Picture this scene,” says Italian-native, Boston-based entrepreneur Emiliano Cecchini. “Families are living in dirt homes and have no paved roads. Someone from that village will have to take a bike and ride it to gather water every day. Sometimes during the day and sometimes at night with no way to see.”
In February of 2017, Cecchini founded OffGridBox. The company creates compact, modular devices created for producing fresh and drinkable water, as well as the ability to generate power from solar panels.
Previously, Cecchini ran a company called Exergy, Inc., in which he and a team would work on taking buildings “off-the-grid” with plumbing and/or electricity. Cecchini has used his previous experience in working off-the-grid to develop a unit that can not only bring these ideal resources to places that need it, but he also created a business out of it.
Taking one look at this device, it could make someone scratch their head and ask the inevitable question of, “How does it work?” For water, placing the unit where a stream starts, the water will go through the internal system and purify it. The solar panels on top will be able to absorb the power and centralize it.
OffGridBox has nearly 30 units worldwide; Columbia, the Philippines, Indonesia and even the state of Oklahoma are some of the locations home to an OffGridBox. “The University of Oklahoma - Stillwater was actually one of our earliest projects,” Cecchini says. However, it was the African country of Rwanda which proved to be the company’s biggest success.
Cecchini took note of the amount of money some of the villages in Rwanda were spending to obtain clean water. Francs are the currency in Rwanda, and some near-poverty villages were spending up to 400 francs a day. Using the company’s micro transaction/pay-as-you-go strategy, villages are actually spending less money using this unit. “Our devices in Rwanda have helped out nearly 90,000 families across the country,” he says. “We have the potential to put over 1,000 OffGridBoxes in Rwanda. The ‘solar-as-you-go’ economy is booming.”
Currently, the company has a scalable income of making close to $10K a year off of just one unit.
OffGridBox was recently announced as part of the 2017 MassChallenge program after completing the Techstars accelerator program in Boston. “It was very good news for us, especially after leaving Techstars,” the CEO says. “The mentors at Techstars are unbelievable. It’s like when Neo wakes up in The Matrix and gains all this knowledge. That’s what it’s like being at Techstars.”
While the engineering team is based out in Tuscany, Italy, the main offices of OffGridBox are in Boston. Out of all the startup/tech scenes across the country, why did they choose Boston?
Cecchini actually has a personal connection with the city. “I visited Boston when I was a child and attended school here,” he says. “When we [OffGridBox] were looking for a place to be situated, we were tempted by other cities, but we chose Boston because we felt it was appropriate for the industry.”
Similar to any startup, Cecchini is looking to grow the business within OffGridBox and expand the service into other countries. However, Cecchini believes OffGridBox can do much more than provide clean water and electricity. “We want to bring connectivity to villages,” he says. “It can bring IoT companies and other businesses together knowing what they can do with OffGridBox.”