Alumni Profile – Shashank Misra

Shashank Misra (SEF 13-14) is an Executor of Merit360 – World Merit’s flagship programme and has just founded his own business called Sagar Energy Solutions. We had a catch up to find out what Sagar Energy Solutions does and how he became involved.

What is Sagar Energy Solutions and what does it do?

Shashank Misra, Class of 2014

Sagar Energy Solutions is a venture that uses bespoke business solutions to transition niche and artisanal industries in East Africa away from fossil fuels towards renewable energies. Solar alternatives to lighting and cooking have become increasingly popular and accessible in the past decade in East Africa and in a majority of other developing regions. However, there is still a market segment that largely remains unexplored which are the local micro-enterprise and traditional businesses (typically, productive loads) which have seen limited interventions by mini-grid operators. We, at Sagar Energy Solutions, focus on transitioning these businesses away from fossil fuels by creating bespoke solutions. By targeting niche industries that use fossil fuels and employ unsustainable practices at their core, we maximise our environmental impact, while at the same time strengthen local economies and create an organic transitions to sustainable futures.

Our first point of action is in the night fishing industry of East Africa. Pressurised kerosene lanterns are used to attract Dagaa (a type of sardine) at night. As of 2013, the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation highlighted that Dagaa accounts to about 42% of the total yearly catch of Lake Victoria with the figure increasing year-on-year. In a study conducted by the Lumina Project in 2009, in Tanzania, an estimated 35,000 boats are engaged in this activity. On average, every boat uses 8 lanterns, carrying up to 2 litres of kerosene each. This equates to over half a million litres exposed to the lake almost every single night, with an estimated 640,000 tonnes of CO2 being emitted every year.

We have developed a solar powered fishing lamp that eliminates all threats and costs associated with kerosene. Our solution increases the disposable income of fishermen, allowing them to invest it in their local economies, while at the same time staying safe from the harmful threats of kerosene, and protecting the entire lake ecosystem. There have been several attempts at penetrating this market with readily made products, but our unique customer centric approach led us to creating a bespoke solution which also provides the fishermen with a sense of ownership of the lamps. Our product is designed to fit the user’s exact need with simplicity and sustainability at its core. Our lamps are twice as bright as kerosene lanterns, allowing one to replace two; they are cheaper and more cost effective; they increase yield; they are safe to use, and protect entire marine ecosystems from the harmful threats of kerosene.

How did you get involved?

I had the opportunity to join a programme called Merit360, which is the world’s leading youth platform dedicated to tackling the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), organised by World Merit. Here we were put into groups to tackle specific SDGs, and underwent an intense incubating process where we worked on solutions to tackle these SDGs. I chose to work on solutions to tackle SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy for all. Here I met my co-founder who had pitched an idea that he had been working on for a couple of years. Myself and the rest of the team quickly realised the potential of this project, and we began to work on it, taking it from a project idea to a business concept.

During the programme, we built a business case with the help of the entire SDG 7 team as well as experts in the field and potential investors, and our project ended up being presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, as part of Action Plan 001 in collaboration with World Merit, as an official project to tackle SDG 7. Since the Merit360 programme, myself and my co-founder pledged our commitment to achieving SDG 7, and decided to found our venture, launching our startup.

Who are your partners and what do they do?

My co-founder, Andreas Ostrovsky-Pereira, is an International Relations graduate from the University of Southampton, and a serial International Development enthusiast. He has extensive experience working for and leading international projects in East Africa, mostly centred on using renewable energy interventions at grassroot levels. He is also an ambassador for the Social Impact Lab at the University of Southampton, where he has helped develop several programs both in India and in the UK to promote social entrepreneurship, consult, and coach current social enterprises and entrepreneurs in India. His combined experience in international development with his academic knowledge focused on African politics and development, framed through his passion in using social entrepreneurship as a force for change, makes him an invaluable member of this venture.

Since the moment we met we clicked and there seemed to be a complete synergy in our thought processes and our visions. We complement each other seamlessly, which makes this whole venture super exciting and worthwhile.

However, we do have other partners onboard that are integral for the venture’s operations. For successful deployment we have partnered with the Fishers Union Organisation who will be our channel partner for Tanzania. The Fishers Union Organisation engages the fishing camp owners and will be working with us on distributions and operations. Fishermen are organised into fishing camps and are paid in wages by the camp owners, and therefore the fishing camp owners are our targeted audience, so partnership with the Fishers Union Organisations bridges the gap. Our research and academic affiliation with the University of Southampton and Enactus UK enabled us to create the initial prototyping and consumer research. Our recent endorsement by World Merit provides us with a network of professionals, investors, and youth from over 120 countries to empower us in developing solutions that tackle the UN SDG 7.

How has your time on the SEF course helped you with this role?

The SEF course provided me with the global exposure of energy industry along with the discussion on the role of policy, economics and business aspects of sustainable energy.

What was your most memorable moment as a student of the SEF?

Doing the investment pitch to a banker from Santander bank as a part of the Energy Entrepreneurship module.

What advice would you give to students?

Explore yourself, try your hand at entrepreneurship or research during this course. It offers you all avenues required to build your foundations, improve a variety of skill-sets and develop a great personality.