Stories of Impact: Boosting the Profitability of Renewable Energy

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Oct 292014
Eco Energy Finance SVC Team

From Left to right: Rodrigo Velasquez, Kallen Trachsel, Rohit Chowdhury, Tristan Williams

Last Spring Smith MBA, Kallen Trachsel and her team of three other MBA student consultants helped EcoEnergyFinance (EEF) deliver clean energy to rural Pakistan. EEF provides affordable renewable energy products to the most energy-deprived regions of Pakistan through a distribution network focused on reaching marginalized, rural communities. As a revenue generating nonprofit, EEF strives to develop diverse and sustainable funding streams through product sales and grant funding.

Through the Smith Experience Social Venture Consulting Practicum, Trachsel and her team worked with EEF and Smith faculty advisor, Oliver Schlake to develop recommendations on how EEF can achieve financial sustainability.

The MBA student team dove into EEF’s financials and operations. After analyzing the company, the team realized that in order for EEF to be attractive to grantors, it needed to boost the profitability of its solar lanterns while reducing operating and overhead costs. The team shifted the scope of their project to addressing operational issues that would lead to more sustainable revenue generation. They developed recommendations for EEF’s cost structure, sales and marketing strategies, inventory management and revamped the employee compensation structure.

Trachsel and her team heavily leveraged their MBA coursework during their analysis and recommendations. They valued each initiative using corporate valuation techniques taught in their finance courses, identified on-the-ground marketing opportunities based on their market management course and used the MECE consulting framework taught by Professor Protiti Dastidar to organize their recommendations.  “This was a great opportunity for us to tie together our whole first semester of core curriculum,” said Trachsel.

Trachsel and the rest of the team presented their recommendations to Shazia Khan, Executive Director of EEF.  Khan was particularly impressed with the recommendation to reduce EEF’s product mix to only those products the team proved had significant profitability, as well as the recommendation to change the payment structure of EEF’s on-the-ground sales team to provide greater incentives for higher sales. Khan plans to implement both of these recommendations.

Reflecting on the experience, Trachsel remembers the challenge and ultimate payoff of re-scoping the project after the team’s initial analysis. “We set ourselves up for success rather than failure. That’s what I learned out of all this; how to set realistic expectations.”

For students interested in applying for the Social Venture Consulting Practicum, Trachsel challenges them to look beyond the easy route of giving companies exactly what they want. Instead, dig in and find the core problems. “Find the issues and don’t be scared to show the owner what’s wrong with her own company.”

Learn more and apply for Smith Experience Social Venture Consulting or CSVC’s other Spring 2014 MBA consulting opportunities by visiting our MBA Consulting Practicum page. Applications for Spring 2014 practicums are due October 31st.

5 Ways to jump-Start Your Idea with the Do Good Challenge Booster Fund

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Oct 142014

Through the Do Good Challenge Booster Fund you can apply for up to $500 to jump-start your “do good” ideas! But what exactly can you do with $100-$500? Here are five ways teams used the booster fund last year.

1) Promote Your Project or Venture

Team: Procity
Cause: Establish a network to reward individuals who do-good in their community.

“We used the funds to create three animation videos and solve some of our technical needs regarding the website” Procity video

Team: Glow for the Girls
Cause: promote awareness about Human Trafficking.

“Because of the booster fund, we were able to immediately make purchases that improved advertising and outreach on campus. We purchased over $100 of glowsticks and materials for the Social Enterprise Symposium, where we won ‘best presentation’ and fast-track to the Do Good Challenge semi-finals. “ Glow for the Girls

2) Pilot your idea

Team: Terps Against Hunger
Cause: Provide healthy, nutritious meals to families experiencing hunger in the D.C. Metro area.

“The grant funds were use to hold a small-scale food packaging event, designed to pitch the larger event to DFSL [Department of Fraternity & Sorority Life]” Terps Against Hunger

Team: Unican
Cause: increase the recycling rate at the University of Maryland.

“We were able to purchase our first six bins, art supplies for decorating the bins, and gas for a few trips to and from the recycling center. This money allowed us to begin to collect aluminum from five fraternities, recycling around fifty pounds.” Unican

3) Cover Your Startup Costs

Team: Building Tomorrow
Cause: Raise money to build schools in impoverished areas of Uganda

“We used our funding to book the mall and pay for the facilities employees to move the bikes. We also used it to get our tank tops…The tank tops we had were a huge selling point, as many people stopped just for a cool shirt.” Building Tomorrow

Team: Community Pipeline
Cause: Connect after school programs with college student volunteers.

“The Grant Funds were crucial to our success… We used the grant funds to pay for advertising across campus for our project, as well as for the first big cost we faced: background checks.” Community Pipeline

4) Host an Event

Team: Start Up Shell
Cause: Increase women involvement in tech.

“We used the grant funds on t-shirts, business cards, and pizza for Female Founders events. These items enabled us to market professionally to students as well as attract students to our events.” Start Up Shell

Team: Grow Your Impact
Cause: raise awareness about the benefit of living a sustainable lifestyle.

“The money we requested from the Booster Fund was budgeted to acquire gardening materials like soil, seeds, pots, etc. for our main event, the Sustainable Potting Party.” Grow Your Impact

5) Expand your impact

Cause: Building a social network for people going through the coming out process.

“Booster Funds went to the two trainings we had in March that trained 27 volunteers for the site. The volunteers will be online pen pals for those coming out.” JYL1

Team: Terps for Happiness
Cause: Break the social norm of drinking and driving.

“We used a fraction of the funds to order more Happiness Apparel to sell for our promotional table events. We have saved $300, for future events and ventures” Terps for Happiness

The Do Good Challenge Booster Fund can dramatically increase your impact during the Do Good Challenge. Of the six Do Good Challenge finalists last year, four were Booster Fund recipients. The best way to get funding for your idea is to be clear about what you’re going to use it for and how that will help you prepare for the Do Good Challenge in the Spring. Use last year’s recipients as inspiration and get to work on the Booster Fund application!