The mobile phone: an emerging platform for entrepreneurship

By Tracey Grose

Mobile phone usage is growing and new service models emerging. Some hold great expectations for how the growing ubiquity of mobile phones will solve many problems related to poverty in the developing world. Positive impacts cited include disaster relief, banking for the poor, disease management, literacy, commute flows, as well as government accountability and delivery of services. A recently published book, The Great Indian Phone Book, examines what might prove to be the most disruptive communications device in history. In this early stage of the mobile phone revolution, new opportunities for micro enterprise are growing.

The growth of mobile phone usage is eclipsing that of the power grid infrastructure. This poses a problem for keeping a mobile phone charged in areas with sporadic or no access to the power grid. Micro enterprise related to mobile charging services are on the rise and new forms are surfacing:

  • Buffalo Grid offers a solar-powered cellphone charging station that is activated by text message. A 60-watt solar panel charges the battery of the BuffaloGrid Hub which can charge up to eight phones at a time. The BuffaloGrid Hub can hold the charge for up to three days and be taken out on a bicycle. The customer sends a text message to pay and open a charging port. The charge is not only convenient but also cheaper than most other means.
  • In an earlier stage of development and currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, the Atom charges a mobile phone through peddling a bicycle. Equipped with USB, the bicycle generator and battery pack can charge a range of electronic devices. The company behind the Atom, SivaCycle, plans to donate one Atom for users in the developing world for every ten sold.

For electricity needs in general, mobile phones are facilitating the cashless purchasing of power. Solar microgrids offer enterprising individuals the option to sell power to their neighbors similar to pay-per-call services for mobile phones. With the installation of solar systems prohibitively expensive in much of the developing world, Angaza offers pay-as-you-go power by text message.

These are the early stages. As mobile phone penetration rates (and ownership rates) continue to climb, charging options become more straightforward, and local technical talent grows, new entrepreneurial opportunities will continue to form and grow.

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