Pollinate Energy - Pollinate Energy Business Model

Good for society
  • Pollinate Energy has installed 11,437 energy systems in poor urban communities in India, reaching 52,775 people with safer, cleaner light and heat.
  • The company has saved 1.08m litres of kerosene from being used, and 2.46m kg of carbon dioxide emissions.
The Unilever Global Development Award, supported by Business Fights Poverty, Finalist, 2016

By installing solar lamps, stoves, and water filters Pollinate Energy is delivering safe, green, affordable electricity to urban communities in India and growing its business at the same time.

Pollinate Energy - Pollinate Energy Business ModelOverview

In India, 400 million people live without electricity. Wood fires and kerosene lamps cause respiratory illness, which kills over 100,000 children each year. Kerosene costs money, and families must often choose between education and energy, meaning that children cannot study, creating a cycle of poverty. Kerosene also emits black carbon, one hundred times more environmentally harmful than carbon dioxide.

Pollinate Energy aims to improve the lives of India's urban poor by providing access to affordable, clean energy solutions including solar lights, improved cook stoves, and water filters to replace kerosene lamps and wood fires. Field testing shows that the solar-powered electric lamp which Pollinate Energy sells pays back the cost of the lamp within five months through money saved on kerosene. The extra light from the lamp improves safety, allows children to study after dark, and helps to keep away snakes.

The company's network of locally-recruited 'Pollinators' are also given the chance to learn new skills, and earn a reliable wage above those typical for their education level. A network of 15-20 Pollinators service an entire urban city. To date, the company has helped families to save 53.2m Indian Rupees (£500,000) which would have been spent on kerosene, and avoided 2.46m kg of CO2 emissions.

Pollinate aims to expand to 50 Indian cities by 2020, providing 27 million extra light hours a day and saving customers £100 million.

Outreach to beneficiaries 

As the communities that Pollinate works with are transient and illegitimate, the company must commit resources to finding them. It first locates them on Google Maps using satellite images, then uses visits and interviews to determine their needs. This builds insight and trust.

Pollinate offers short-term payment plans, up to five weeks in length, which enable low-income families to transition from old to new technology - or dirty to clean water – overnight. A custom-built mobile phone application supports this process and makes the programme accessible to large numbers of people.

Adapting existing business models and building partnerships

The company modelled its programme on similar organisations addressing energy poverty and indoor air pollution through a 'village entrepreneur' approach. However Pollinate have adapted the other models into something unique which works better in an urban slum context and makes greater use of the potential of internet technologies for increased efficiency. 

The project's urban setting means dense customer populations and allows for greater managerial support for their local sales network. Pollinators typically sells four times as many products as stand-alone village level entrepreneurs.

Pollinate partners with other organisations globally to share knowledge. Its strongest relationship is with Solar Aid, who have supported the company with fundraising mentorship and business strategy, in return for support around data collection and monitoring and evaluation processes from Pollinate. 

Global changemakers

Pollinate's Global Changemakers programme gives young global leaders the opportunity to come together on a professional development placement in India, where they learn how they can use their own skills to provide positive outcomes through business. The company not only benefits from the contribution made by the volunteers, but is growing an alumni network of inspired advocates to help fund their expansion.

What Pollinate Energy India's Chief Operations Officer said:

“Pollinate Energy is a pioneer in providing products that change lives to families living in the most marginalised, forgotten communities in India’s cities. We are using the latest innovations in products and technology to overcome the hurdles so that these families can access new products, and can afford them on payment plans. Over the past few years we have proven what nobody would believe, that families living in city slums can and should be treated as participants in today’s markets, have a voice to be heard, and deserve better support. We are now active in three major Indian cities and are on our way to reaching twenty cities and 2 million people by 2020.” - Alexie Seller, Co-founder, Chief Operations Officer, Pollinate Energy India

Good for business
  • Pollinate Energy's business model has helped to deliver varied revenue streams for start up capital.
  • The company broke even in each city of operation within seven months, and they are now making a profit.