TECHNOLOGY STARTUP BRINGS SOLAR POWER TO REMOTE RURAL COMMUNITIES

“From Hong Kong, we can easily access our markets in Western China, work with manufacturers in Southern China and support product development by doing R&D, design and prototyping in our laboratories and workshops in Hong Kong.”

Scot Frank, Co-founder and CEO of One Earth Designs  

One Earth Designs, a multiple award-winning technology startup, decided to place its global R&D headquarters in Hong Kong with the objective of improving the lives of millions in Western China who lack access to clean and affordable energy

For co-founders Scot Frank, a graduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Catlin Powers from Harvard University, business is about improving the lives of some of the world’s most underprivileged communities by enabling them to harness the energy of the sun for cooking and heating.

Frank and Powers met on the Himalayan Plateau where they found rural women spend an increasing amount of time every day collecting firewood for cooking. Ensuing problems from this activity range from deforestation to health issues from lung disease caused by smoke from wood-burning stoves. Long journeys made on foot to forage firewood also kept these women away from school and their families.

Realising the desperate need for a low cost, reliable and sustainable energy source, Scot and Catlin founded One Earth Designs in 2012 to develop SolSource, a household power-plant harnessing solar power for cooking initially, with water purification, electricity generation and so on to follow.

Global HQ for R&D, Design and Prototyping

To develop a product that was low cost, durable and reliable enough to survive harsh environmental conditions, the company needed to source advanced materials and craftsmanship to support rapid product development, something which they found in Hong Kong. This, together with the manufacturing cluster in Southern China, allowed the company to work quickly and effectively to develop the product to the required specifications and at the target price.

“Hong Kong really offers the best of both worlds; it is an excellent place to locate our R&D headquarters. From Hong Kong, we can easily access our markets in Western China, work with manufacturers in Southern China and support the product development by doing R&D, design and prototyping in our laboratories and workshops in Hong Kong ,” Frank enthused.

With referrals and support from InvestHK, One Earth Designs joined the incubation programme of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation in April 2013. Frank found the Hong Kong Science Park ’s university campus-style atmosphere and environment inspiring. “You can sit down with someone from another company, share ideas, and utilise the Park ’s facilities and resources to do prototyping. The offices are well-equipped and you can move in and start working with minimal effort,” he said.

The company successfully obtained the HKSAR Government’s R&D funding support through the Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Programme (SERAP) and attracted private investment. “SERAP is instrumental in the development of a new generation of SolSource with additional functionalities,” Frank said.

One Earth Designs is in the business of social impact through innovative technology solutions. Its social objectives are achieved on a sustainable basis through profits from the more lucrative recreational market for SolSource, which partly helps to offset the cost of products sold to underprivileged communities.

www.oneearthdesigns.com

Fast Facts: One Earth Designs

  • A for-profit social enterprise which develops affordable green technology products to solve energy, water and electricity problems forunderprivileged off-grid communities
  • Awards include Dutch Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, St. AndrewsPrize for the Environment, and MIT $100K Competition