Powering the world from London
In 2010 three friends from London’s Imperial College founded BBOXX. They believed their company could help bring reliable electricity to the 1.4 billion people currently living without it. Today, the company has 550 employees and powers 150,000 households notably in Kenya, Rwanda, Togo, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan.
Co-founder and chief technology officer Chris Baker-Brian believes that human and intellectual capital in London are among the company’s main drivers. “London is one of only two or three places in the world where you can really build a business like this,” he says.
We can attract great people, particularly on the software side.
Chris Baker-Brian, BBOXX
Leveraging brand UK
Being headquartered in London has also proved vital in attracting investment in the early days. So far BBOXX has raised more than $50m in equity and debt capital. Baker-Brian points to the “stability” of the UK environment as one of the company’s key strengths for investors and financiers.
However things are changing. Baker-Brian is now seeing a lot more traction in local markets as the business scales up. “We are starting to raise a lot more debt locally and a lot more capital,” he explains. In the last 18 months BBOXX has raised $2m locally including from Banque Populaire du Rwanda.
An evolving social impact story
The company is also changing how it pitches to potential investors. “For our early investor base the impact angle was very important. But as we’ve scaled the business, the commercial returns started to get more important for certain investors,” says Baker-Brian.
As a result, the company has started “talking about” what the internal rates of return (IRR) are for each individual country.
“I wouldn’t say it dilutes the impact message but rather enhances the overall message that you can make a commercial return and do good in the world,” he says. “That is an important part of what we are trying to do.”
Baker-Brian emphasises that social impact is still at the heart of the business. For many investors, the number of people “with electricity utility” and other key impact metrics are still essential.
Setting a goal for 2020
To date BBOXX has positively impacted over half a million people in 150,000 households with smart solar electricity. The majority of these people are living in remote locations in the developing world – areas where electricity can make a vital difference to business, health and the general quality of life.
The business model is built for simple, streamlined scalability. And Baker-Brian is confident the system can scale to several million customers over the next few years. Right now the company is looking to invest heavily into developing the right technology to enable this.
“The idea is to be in 15 countries by 2020 with all of those countries having at least 50,000 households under our management,” he says.
The company is driven by its mission to bring clean, reliable and affordable energy to those households without it. By 2020, BBOXX hopes to have powered growth and transformed the lives of millions of people in the developing world.