Essmart is an essential technology distributor that gives rural retail shops access to technologies that improve their customers’ lives. Rural distribution is a problem in developing countries around the world. Life-improving essential technologies such as affordable solar lanterns, water filters, and smokeless cook stoves are not reaching the world’s poor, and thus people are not benefiting from these products. In India, technology manufacturers invest most of their human and financial resources in product design and manufacturing instead of distribution, and it is difficult for them to independently overcome the fragmented distribution lines that snake across the nation. Meanwhile, 90% of India’s population could potentially benefit from essential technologies, but they depend on 14M small, low-margin, family-run retail shops for all their consumer needs. These local retail shops are people’s lifeline to new products, but shop owners do not know about essential technologies, how to get them, or how to service them. Essmart provides a complete solution by combining process innovations in sourcing, distribution, marketing, and after-sales service to bring essential technologies to their intended end-user through the local retail shop network.
Our model has three parts: First, we aggregate high-quality existing essential technologies with a proven demand, and market these products to rural retail shop and end users through demonstrations and a catalogue. Second, our local sales agents build distribution networks to rural villages through Essmart-branded sections of local stores. Third, we provide training, warranties, and maintenance service on essential technologies to ensure long-term benefits at our central service center and via trained rural technicians. Essmart is starting operations in India where 90% of the $260B annual retail spending takes place in local retail shops. We received a Legatum Seed Grant for IAP 2012 with which we traveled to southern India, surveyed over 200 retail shop owners, and established preliminary relationships with two shop owners. We proved consumer demand for essential technologies: two retail shops sold all of our 17 demonstration products within one week. In Summer 2012, we will pilot our distribution and sales system via a catalogue and demonstration products, to prepare us for full operations launch. As Essmart, we deliver the goods.
Essmart’s core team includes:
- Jackie Stenson (Co-Founder, Harvard / Cambridge): Essential technology engineer & dissemination in 11 African countries.
- Diana Jue (Co-Founder, MIT): Essential technology dissemination and social enterprise research in India.
- Robert Weiss (HKS): Energy technology distribution in China, Timor-Leste and Cameroon.
- Taylor Matthews (MIT Sloan): Investment banking, management consulting, and venture finance.
- Prashanth Venkataramana (Cambridge / India-based): Engineering and logistics, sales, and marketing in India.
- Jen Zhu (Harvard College): Social enterprise research with Dalberg and market analysis.