Two start ups transforming the 3rd world

The past hundred years have seen an explosion of technologies that connect us to each other from the telephone and airplane to the internet and social media. One thing that they all have in common is the need for electricity. The more connected we get, the hungrier we are for power.


While we have gotten used to being connected all the time, Hurricane Sandy showed us that when you shut down the power, you shut down our connection to the world as well. There are currently billions of people living without power and even though we feel as if we are all super connected, but the truth is that we are not- the third world is almost entirely left out.


I recently saw two technologies which I believe are going to be so revolutionary that in the near future we will see a dramatic leap in engagement from isolated areas all over the world. One speaks to the problem of electricity and the other is bringing people without smartphones into the social media conversation.   Either though these companies are not related, they need each other.  VascoDe has a service which allows simple mobile phones to use smart phone services like facebook, twitter, gmail and wikipedia.  Mobile phone use has a very deep penetration in 3rd world markets but people lack a way to charge their phones and literally sit in stores where they plug in devices and pay per charge.  Biolight can help people to get the energy they need and VascoDe helps them to make best use of those devices.


Biolight is a wood burning stove that creates electricity that can power devices like cellphones, lights and charge batteries. According to the company, it uses 50% less wood, reduces smoke by 95% and generates electricity. It takes the concept of the rocket stove which is super efficient at creating heat from a small amount of wood and adds in a fan and thermoelectric generator thus creating electricity from the heat. The stove has a USB port which is then used to conduct the electrical charge. They have a campstove for backpackers and a home stove for daily use.  


The backpacking verion is great or everyone who likes to camp without having to worry about bringing batteries

camp stovecamp stove
and is also a great to have as part of a home safety emergency kit.  If an emergency strikes, the Biolight stove can help with efficient food preparation and help people to charge their phones and stay connected to each other and emergency services.


There are currently 3 billion people cooking over open fires and almost half of them lack access to electricity. Of those who do have electricity, for many it is intermittent and expensive. The average American spends about 4% of their income on energy but it can be as high as 20%-30% for the world’s poor. Shockingly, the average stove produces as much CO2 as a car and is estimated to cause more deaths than malaria.


VascoDe is service for mobile devices in emerging markets that allows users of simple mobile phones to access advanced applications like facebook, gmail, twitter and wikipedia without installing any kind of software. Since there is very little infrastructure for telephones and internet throughout developing countries, the use of mobile devices has exploded in recent years. Africa leads the world in mobile banking mostly because many people use their phones to send money through text messages.


Having a simple mobile phone helps people connect to others that they know, but leaves them out of the global converstation. Smartphones are too expensive to expect a massive penetration into the third world markets, but being able to plug users of simple phones into social networks means that users will be able to get many of the same benefits. VascoDe reports that users have been able to now use their phones to apply for jobs, get valuable information that they need and communicate with family members and loved ones that they lost contact with.


On a social level, the impact of these technologies is going to be massive. If simple phone users can solve the problem of both how to charge their phone and how to access the internet, then we will be able to see an expansion of the level of connection that we have become used to. In essence, new voices will be joining the conversation. Citizen journalists in Africa will be able to join twitter, old friends will be able to find each other on facebook and the silence which allowed dictators to rule over impoverished countries will be shattered.

I look forward to the conversations.