Startup Spotlight: OffGridBox
Startup Spotlight: OffGridBox
Meet Emiliano Cecchini – Founder & CEO of OffGridBox, a solar-powered cubic container that houses both a cutting edge water purification system and a portable battery charging station.
GH: What is OffGridBox?
OffGridBox is a 6x6x6 foot, solar-powered cubic container that houses both a cutting edge water purification system and a portable battery charging station. It enables us to provide clean water and renewable energy in remote, off-the- grid areas.
GH: What was your Eureka moment: how did OffGridBox get started?
It was a couple of years ago in South Africa, in the most violent and poorest place I’ve ever seen in my entire life, working on a ‘totally off the grid’ kindergarten program for OXFAM. It took us weeks to get the water and solar devices up and running around the buildings. I realized that by putting everything pre-installed in a small container, we could cut costs and time to 3 hours! Now that we have proven this concept, we can scale and deliver anywhere.
GH: How did you build / are you thinking about building your team?
We leveraged 10 years of international experience in the field involving people (friends) we know and trust. The Techstars and MassChallenge accelerators in Boston did the rest. What we really need is to balance hardware technology and feasible business model. We do not need specialists because we are unique at this stage but we need human brains and guts.
GH: What is your company philosophy driving your company culture?
There are three components of our philosophy: Sustainability, Sustainability and Sustainability. First the financial sustainability, we want to do well by doing good. The environmental sustainability in order to be able to make over and over our products without compromising next generation opportunities. And, last but not least, the human sustainability, since we like to work hard and are basically addicted workaholics we need to find new techniques to balance the stress, keep high creativity and relax. Here our Italian roots are helping a lot!
GH: Startup life is full of failures and ‘make it work’ moments – can you identify how you bounced back from one of yours?
Initially, we were selling our units at an upfront price and directly to buyers, mostly cool, wealthy hippies who wanted to “greenify” their cabins in the middle-of-nowhere. It worked for a little while but it meant long cycle sales, unpredictability, and just a one-shot margin with no recurring revenues… it was not sustainable and couldn’t scale. We prefer to help underserved and at-risk people and are doing so with a very innovative business model that is really working well! It is a Pay-As- You-Go model that allows us to reach all levels of income. It is an idea worth investing in.
GH: What did you learn from your first customers?
We learned to be aware of complexity. When you are off the grid you want your system to be simple, robust and effective. At the beginning, we kept offering super fancy features that ended up bothering some customers and compromising the system performance. We now keep it very simple but very smart on the remote monitoring side in order to better service and forecast failures. This was really appreciated.
GH: What has the Boston ecosystem provided you?
Knowledge and connections. From MIT interactions and Harvard conferences where you can always talk to “the most intelligent person I ever met in my entire life!” to Techstars and now MassChallenge, which are filled with incredibly ambitious entrepreneurs and influencers of all kinds. Not only the experiences but really the whole ‘collective brain’ made of mentors, friends and business partners that helped guide our platform to become the growing company that we are today.
GH: What is the Boston ecosystem lacking from your perspective?
If I have to say something, it would probably be manufacturing. That experience that comes from the literal nuts and bolts of design – the true dirty hardware masteries of the operative factory skills. We are a hardware company at heart and it is important that we understand all components of the product down to the finest details. Even Galileo used to hang around the Venetian Arsenal (where they were making ships) to learn and get inspired by the workers.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
The best piece of advice has been to focus solely on Rwanda in the early phases. The worst has been to try to approach Venture Capitalists before having historical data in our solution.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
It has been a phenomenal year for OffGridBox; I’m not sure I can choose just one thing. The highlights would probably be that we successfully raised more than $800k in a few months and have begun operations in Rwanda, providing pure water and power to poor families.
GH: What does the future hold for OffGridBox?
Going global, with the added services of connectivity and desalination. We are going to be the largest utility company across the globe for distributed water and power. Once we succeed in adding connectivity, OffGridBox will be the Starbucks of clean energy and water.
Learn more about OffGridBox!