Kushant Uppal wanted to run a sustainable business while creating social impact. That is when InteliZon took seed and has since brought light to several lives in both rural India and Africa.
For any business to sustain itself and create a social impact it needs to be successful and profitable. “If you only focus on creating a social impact and don’t care about the profits, the business will die an early death and not serve a larger section of people. Which is why we wanted to create a strong revenue model, so that the company would be profitable, scalable and create an impact on the society,” said Kushant Uppal, founder InteliZon. Launched in 2006, the business help bring light to thousands of people living in rural India as well as Africa through its innovative solar products.
An IIT Madras graduate, Kushant always wanted to create something on his own and that is how InteliZon came about. “I did my graduation in Metallurgy engineering from IIT Madras and then went to the US for my Masters. Following that I did a PhD in optoelectronics. I worked with various start-ups for almost 12 years in Silicon Valley,” he said, adding, “although, I had the opportunity to run companies, the passion to create something on my own was missing. In the meantime I was consulting my mentor and professor, Ashok Jhunjhunwala on probable business ideas and we found the solar industry to be a viable one. That is when I returned to the country to launch my company.”
While most companies have their sights set on urban areas, Kushant wanted to channel his energy towards the rural people and try to generate profit from it. However, the journey was not a smooth one. “As a start up, we did not want to spend too much money on marketing and advertising. This made sales difficult. The retailer is usually busy selling the product and has little time to explain its features. To overcome this hurdle, we started the village entrepreneur model, where an individual linked to the distributor would explain the product to the villagers and generate sales. This model was successful and increased the sales as people learnt about the quality of the product,” he says.
The core strength of InteliZon lies in its research and in bringing out affordable products without compromising on quality. “We tried to innovate a range of quality products related to home lighting that are not only energy efficient but also last longer. Although, the products were accepted and approved; the company could not afford to extend its sales network through sales persons to reach out to a larger number of customers with the margins it had,” says Kushant
That was when InteliZon entered into a partnership with a national company in 2010 to manufacture and supply some of its solar lighting products. “We sacrificed some of our margins, but its strong marketing and distribution network helped us reach customers. Meanwhile, we continued to sell street lighting products and solar home products directly to Gram Panchayats,” he says.
Through its various partnerships, the company has managed to reach the African market as well. “Donor agencies, government, NGOs, corporates and World Bank sponsor a village for solar lighting by donating around $2,500. Using these funds we could supply lights to 70 to 100 homes. The villages pay a small sum monthly for the services and to get replenish it every five years. This concept has been hugely successful and we’ve been able to light up to 30-35 villages since 2009 and are in talks to launch in another 100. We want to replicate the same concept in India and are in talks with some corporates,” he said, adding they are open to partnerships.
The company is focusing on LEDs to generate revenues from the urban market to invest in rural areas. “We offer LEDs for 30 per cent less than most of the brands. Even branded companies want to sell our products. However, we want to sell directly to customers,” he says. InteliZon has touched several lives.“The appreciation from customers gives us immense satisfaction,” he says. The company sold 70,000-80,000 lights since inception and is investing heavily in research and development for new solar products.