Whereas many Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs are trying to cook up the next Facebook or cool iPhone app, a group of San Francisco entrepreneurs is designing a brick-shaped battery for poor people.
"Social venture" Fenix International officially launched yesterday with the opening of its Web site, which describes its plans to sell off-grid power systems for people in developing countries.
It plans to start manufacturing its battery pack this fall and is now negotiating with potential distributors in Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Latin America, company executives said today. It plans to first launch its products in four African countries first.
Fenix International, a for-profit company, is trying to reach the 1.6 billion people who live without regular access to electrical power, explained CEO Mike Lin, a former Apple employee and environmental engineering lecturer at Stanford University, who started the company almost two years ago.
The company's core product is a 12-volt lead acid battery designed specifically for frequent charges from a variety of sources, including a solar panel, bicycle generator, the power grid, or eventually hydro and small-wind turbines.
The battery, called the Fenix ReadySet, includes two cigarette-lighter and two USB ports for charging mobile phones, LED lights, fans, or other small electronics. Company engineers created a custom formulation of lead acid battery so it can last for years and adapt to different power sources.
Demand for electric power is soaring in "frontier countries" because of mobile phones, explained Lin. There are now 500 million off-grid mobile phone subscribers around the world right now but growth is being limited because of no power or unreliable power, he said.
The company's strategy is to sell its ReadySet batteries--priced at about $150 with a power source, such as a solar panel--through phone distributors, which are losing potential revenue because customers can't keep phones on. … Read more