TE 33: Marissa Goldstein: Orora Global

SHOW OVERVIEW

Marissa Goldstein is the co-founder of Orora Global, a global social enterprise with a simple mission to a complex global problem: to provide affordable, reliable & accessible renewable energy to rural & urban communities around the world. Their state-of-the-art technology provides individual families and businesses with off-grid, affordable and reliable energy solutions, including lighting, air circulation and cell phone charging. They hire and train women from rural communities to become micro-entrepreneurs, empowering them by providing them with economic opportunity and access to clean and reliable electricity.

In this episode you will learn:

  • Why Marissa sold her house and travelled the world with her husband.
  • Why Marissa wanted to fail. 
  • How Orora global is empowering female entrepreneurs.
  • How Marissa is making an income & an impact.
  • How Orora global is working towards providing renewable energy to 1.2 billion people. 

 

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INTRODUCTION

Today’s guest is proof that you are in charge of your own path to success, and that it is possible to build a successful, profitable business while helping others and affecting positive global change.

Marissa Goldstein is an MBA candidate, class of 2015, at the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College in Boston. She is also a Graduate Assistant at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. Two years ago, Marissa and her husband sold their house, took a leave of absence from their jobs, and embarked on a backpacking trip around the world.

That adventure changed Marissa’s entire career path, leading her to her co-founder, Savitha Sridharan, and on a mission to improve the lives of millions of people by providing them access to electricity – a resource that we in the United States take for granted, but one that is in short supply in developing countries.

THE REWARDS OF TAKING RISKS

With a background in sales and public relations, Marissa went to work at a public relations firm in Boston after receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in 2007. The firm was her first choice – she knew she wanted to work there – but the catch was that the only available position was on the energy and environment team, an area she knew nothing about.

After thinking it over and discussing it with her mother, Marissa decided to take the risk and learn what she needed to know and grow into the job. Over her three years in that position, she worked with incredible clients in the solar space, winds, biofuels, and energy from waste niche industries. Marissa left that position for a job in sales with a local insurance company. Eventually, the graduate school bug bit her and she made plans to enroll at Babson, knowing that her goal was to become an entrepreneur. She knew that this next step was a crucial part of her future.

“I think the only thing that was holding me back was myself,” Marissa explained. “I’d come up with ideas and then I’d think, ‘I don’t know anything about this. I’m not good enough. I don’t have the right connections.’”

Marissa pushed all those fears aside in favor of pursuing her goals and went back to school, enrolling in the full-time program last fall.

THE UPSIDE OF FAILURE

Marissa’s goal going into Babson was to fail. Yes, you read that correctly.

“When I tell people (that goal), I think it sounds corny and sounds sort of strange,” said Marissa. “But I think that when you fail it means that you took a risk, and you sort of jumped off the ledge. If you never fail, you never take a risk. And yes, you can be entrepreneurial in corporate jobs and you can take risks in those jobs, but I was playing everything really, really safe.”

Marissa wanted to fail as an entrepreneur, and she knew that she’d learn how to fail fast at Babson. Her philosophy is that you rebound and recover after a failure.

“Figure out what you did wrong and change, keep on going, or go in a different direction,” Marissa further elaborated. “I came in having no idea what I was going to do, but I didn’t care, because I thought it was great. I wanted to learn as much as I could.”

As fate would have it, Marissa’s willingness to take that leap led her to Babson and, ultimately, to her co-founder of Orora Global.

LESSONS IN GIVING BACK

Growing up ‘privileged’ as Marissa calls it, she never lost sight of the fact that she had a responsibility to give back. Her parents taught her the importance of helping others, and she did so by donating her time and money to various causes, as well as going on mission trips to other countries. Those mission trips really opened Marissa’s eyes to just how much need there is in the world.

When Marissa convinced her husband to sell their house and backpack around the world with her, she had no idea just how much her life was about to change. It was during their time in rural India that Marissa knew what she had to do.

“We spent a few weeks in rural India … it changed me, and my vision, and my outlook,” Marissa explained. “I noticed that many of the women, they were at home, and they were taking care of the children, but I never saw any women working.”

What Marissa noticed was the stark lack of work opportunities available for women in the rural areas of the country. The other thing that really struck her was the lack of electricity in those same areas.

“It was 2012, and I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, there are still so many people who live without electricity,” Marissa exclaimed. “Women were lighting fires inside their homes for cooking. They use kerosene for lighting, and I was appalled that there weren’t better solutions for the energy poverty.”

DECIDING TO BECOME PART OF THE SOLUTION

After Marissa and her husband returned home to Boston, she started graduate school at Babson College, focusing on her MBA and women’s entrepreneurial leadership.

As a contributing author to Babson’s blog, Marissa had the opportunity to interview many successful women. Call it kismet or just plain ol’ luck, she met and interviewed Savitha Sridharan, who was in the process of starting her company, Orora Global. As Marissa learned more about the company, including the fact that it was providing opportunities for women and solutions to energy poverty, she knew she had to be part of the team.

“I spent pretty much all last spring trying to convince Savitha to bring me on,” Marissa shared. “She finally did in June of last year, so I became a co-founder with Savitha.”

THE STARTLING REALITY OF ENERGY POVERTY

Marissa spent some time researching energy poverty after she saw first-hand what the situation was in rural India.

“The statistics show that 1.2 billion people don’t have access to electricity,” Marissa stated. “That is a mind-boggling statistic.”

When you do the math, that’s the equivalent of four times the size of the United States.

Looking more closely just at India, one in three rural households have no access to the electrical grid, and at least two in three households have unreliable and intermittent electricity. What that ends up meaning is that people in those areas may have electricity for just one hour a day – or it could be up to four hours – but it’s completely unreliable, unpredictable, and intermittent. In India alone, 350 million people do not have any access to electricity at all – that’s the population of the entire United States.

“I think here we really take it for granted,” said Marissa. We come home, we turn on the lights, we turn on the stove, we cook a meal, we plug in our cell phones, and we easily get a charge. And 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have that luxury.”

The lack of electricity poses a huge safety risk for families in rural India. Without electric lights, people use kerosene lamps. Besides the burn injuries and fires, kerosene has horrible effects on our health and the environment. And because it is extremely hot in many of these areas, many people sleep outside the homes just to get some temperature relief. Snake and scorpion bites are common and often life-threatening.

And while almost everyone in these extremely poor communities has a cell phone, there is no way to conveniently charge the phone battery without electricity. Some people have to walk 10 kilometers just to charge their phone, and then turn around and walk home the same distance. They use their phone for light, or to make a quick call, then turn it off to conserve the power.

A LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

Marissa and the team at Orora Global have developed a product that provides enough electricity to power lights, fans, and cell phones chargers. This means children can get further in school because they can continue studying after dark. The local economy is positively impacted because small businesses can stay open longer. And communities are safer.

ON THE ROAD TO A BRIGHT FUTURE

The company has made a commitment, through the Clinton Global Initiative, to eradicate the use of kerosene oil, or at least lessen the reliance of it in ten (10) communities by the end of the year.

This past summer, they did seven (7) pilot programs in seven (7) different communities, and they’re in the midst of doing the remaining three (3), plus some additional. The success of the summer pilot programs was proof that their product is needed and wanted – it validated the direction in which they are growing.

Orora Global hired a full-time sales manager in India, they have a director in India, and approximately eight (8) field agents (or micro-entrepreneurs, as they call them) have been hired to sell the products within their own communities.

There are two distribution models the company is following: (1) one is through partnerships with non-profits, NGOs, and government organizations. Orora either sells the products to the organization, which then distributes them; or (2) the company works with those same organizations to gain access to the rural communities.

“The second model is a network of direct sales where we hire our own people, our own field managers,” explained Marissa. “Our model is one sales manager who has a territory, goes into the communities, and recruits 10 field agents.”

Each field agent is required to sell a minimum of 150 units per year. Using that model, the company believes they can see 10% compound annual growth. The goal for the first year is to sell between 1,500 and 2,000 units, and then grow 10%.

“By year 5, we believe we could be a $40 million business in India,” Marissa declared.

The product sells for approximately $150 U.S. dollars. Orora Global partners with local banks and micro lending organizations in India, providing micro loans to help the field agents get started. With household monthly income averaging only $80-100 U.S. dollars, twelve-month payment plans were put in place to make the purchase possible for families in the rural communities. The company has also integrated ‘en pasa’ technology, which allows customers to easily pay via their cell phones.

A LASTING LEGACY

Orora Global is still in the early stages, but Marissa is fueled by the fact that their product is changing lives and providing opportunities in areas that had few to begin with.

“With the training, the educational training, the technical training, we’re creating jobs, we’re helping the environment, and providing a much needed solution,” Marissa stated. “There’s a huge need. 1.2 billion people need these products.”

But the money isn’t all the Marissa is focused on, she wants to change the world.

“I want to know that I impacted someone’s life, or a group of people’s lives,” she explained. “Obviously that Orora Global will be a big success story, and that I was a co-founder in this super successful business, but more importantly that we provided a much needed solution to a large chunk of the world that’s not as fortunate.”

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