Acumen Blog

From left to right: Acumen Fund Community in Mumbai, the Orb Solectric Plug & Play, Damian and Jan in conversation

Plug and Play: Energy Access at the BoP

From left to right: Acumen Fund Community in Mumbai, the Orb Solectric Plug & Play, Damian and Jan in conversation

On Monday April 9th, Acumen Fund in India hosted an event to talk about energy access at the BoP. The event was structured as a conversation between Damian Miller, Founder & CEO of Orb Energy and Jan Piercy, Executive Vice President of SBI, ShoreBank International, and a long time Acumen Fund Global Advisor.

In India, almost 290 million people lack access to electricity, according to the 2011 survey by the International Energy Agency. While people in the developed world have access to light with the simple flip of a switch, people in rural India and other parts of the developing world struggle at the base of the energy access ladder. Improving energy access for the bottom of the pyramid is a steep challenge – as the poor ascend this ladder, they move from using traditional fuels like wood and kerosene towards universal access –what most of the developed world takes for granted.

The Energy Access Ladder

This mobility up the ladder isn’t just a question of improving the quality of light – the repercussions are far greater than that. At the bottom of the ladder, kerosene and wood are not only ineffective and expensive (in terms of money, time and effort), but are also hazardous to health. Productivity lost and money spent on health treatment means lower incomes, trapping families at the bottom of the pyramid. Our goal at Acumen Fund is to help move individuals up this ladder, and achieve universal access by investing in innovative entrepreneurs who aim to solve this very problem.

Plug and Play Flyer

In 2011, Acumen Fund made an investment of $1.14M in Orb Energy to provide affordable solar energy systems for low-income households in India. With our investment, Orb is one step closer to making solar energy more affordable to these households with the launch of their newest product. The Solectric Plug and Play is a 5 watt solar panel with a Lithium battery, 2 LED lamps, a mobile charging point and a provision for grid charging – meaning it can be charged through the conventional power grid during intermittent times of electricity flow. The product is available at a retail price of Rs. 5,990, and Orb has successfully sold over 1,000 units in the one month since its launch.

When Acumen invested in Orb Energy, our hypothesis was that as BoP consumers move up the ladder to household energy solutions, they get more choice and flexibility as the economics of the business allows for customer service which is absent in most consumer durable sales to the BoP. Orb’s large portfolio of offerings, both Solar PV and Solar water heating, ranging from basic household systems to large commercial installations, provides the platform to support a retail network of over a 100 branches and a 600 strong field force.

Across brands, sectors and income segments, the most successful companies are those that provide customer service. In addition to the affordable price-point and sleek design of its products, what really differentiates Orb from its competitors is the service. On Acumen’s first diligence visit to Orb, it was apparent how important this concept is to the company. The Sales Engineer not only explained the entire process of installation, but noticing that the customer was nodding too readily, paused and started quizzing him to make sure he actually understood! No matter how innovative, affordable or attractive – most technologies fail to be adopted if consumers do not understand how to best make use of the product. The best way to increase adoption rates and fight competition is a happy customer.

A happy Orb Energy customer


Karthik Chandrasekar is an Energy Portfolio Manager in Acumen Fund’s India office.


Keya Madhvani is a Business Associate in Acumen Fund’s India office. Follow her on Twitter @keyamadhvani


Acumen Partners with AlphaSights to Better Access Global Expertise

In our work investing in social enterprises that deliver critical goods to the poor, there is a substantial amount of work to evaluate each investment opportunity. A critical part of the diligence process, particularly when it comes to emerging markets, is speaking with industry experts who can provide reliable information about sector trends, market dynamics and public policy – all of which affect our evaluation of potential investment opportunities. [Read More]


Our manifesto begins, “it starts by standing with the poor.” Yet for good reasons, the sector has found it challenging to measure which customers are actually being served through social impact investments – getting accurate data on incomes is notoriously difficult and the logistical challenge and cost of conducting surveys in person prohibitive. [Read More]

Questions for Aspiring Leaders

Bavidra Mohan, Acumen’s India Fellows Manager, attended this years Aspen IDEAS festival as a Scholar. The Scholarship program was established to invite guests from around the world to bring a diverse set of experiences, voices and perspectives to the rich conversations that take place at the IDEAS festival each year. [Read More]

Give Impact Investing Time and Space to Develop

Impact investing has captured the world’s imagination. Just six years after the Rockefeller Foundation coined the term, the sector is booming. An estimated 250 funds are actively raising capital in a market that the Global Impact Investing Network estimates at $25 billion. Giving Pledge members described impact investing as the “hottest topic” at their May 2012 meeting, and Prime Minister David Cameron extolled the potential of the sector at the most recent G8 summit.  Sir Ronald Cohen and HBS Professor William A. Sahlman describe impact investing as the new venture capital, implying that it will, in the next 5 to 10 years, make its way into mainstream financial portfolios, unlocking billions or trillions of dollars in new capital. [Read More]

10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading? [Read More]

How Acumen Brought Back my Fire

Eda is an East Africa Regional Fellow from Nairobi, Kenya and is the Founder and Director of Halisi Trust, an organization that seeks to challenge the vices that plague society and encourage transformational development in Kenya’s youth. When Eda applied for the East Africa Fellows Program, she felt disillusioned and stuck. Below, Eda discusses how Acumen’s Regional Fellowship Program brought back her fire. Now, Eda has engaged nearly 6,000 people through outreach events and the Mkenya Halisi movement continues to grow. Acumen is currently accepting applications for the next class of East Africa Fellows. APPLY TODAY! [Read More]

Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]