Station Energy. Bringing cheap electricity to whom is missing it.

Sometimes is better to start from scratch with a simple idea and low margins. Combine these two points with an interest for Africa, development and you’ll discover a brilliant startup called “Station Energy“.

Conceived by a young French entrepreneur, Station Energy is aimed to bring electricity to African villages which, for many reasons,  are lacking of it. If we consider the numbers, all over the world there are 1.6 billion people living without electricity (almost a quarter of humanity) and 547Millions of them are living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The idea of Alexandre Castel and his two associated is springing from the fact that a medium Sub-saharan family is spending almost 10€/month on expensive and inefficient solutions like candles, petrol lamps and one-use-only batteries. Station Energy proposes them an efficient, rechargeable and more durable solution.

This solution comprehends an “Energy Station” which produces electric energy thanks to solar panels and small wind systems. This energy is distributed to privated and shops in the villages stocked in reusable batteries. The electricity is brought to the villages in security carters to the villagers which only need to exchange their old empty batteries with fully charged ones. The price is extremely cheap (approximately 0.5€ for lightning a three stores house for a week) but the price of the battery and the tension regulator is much higher (up to 1000€, price which rarely an African family can afford).

That’s where another great idea comes in. Station Energy recently made a partnership with MicroCred (a French company created in 2005 which helps developing countries thanks to microcredit solutions). Thanks to this alliance, the kits are proposed in leasing and, in order to avoid dishonored payments, they are provided of a Sim Card. It allows the company to cut-down the kits if the clients are not paying their debts. What’s more, in the future, this partnership should take advantage of the worldwide presence of MicroCred.

At the moment the company is well implanted in Senegal and Ivory Coast and is creating a dossier to present to the European Union, pledging for fundings (and I would be happy that my tax money could be used for this kind of innovative projects), in order to open 50 “Solar Shops” in Hivory Coast.

Finally, in order to understand the real impact of this startup, on January the 6th, the numbers are*:

  • 13 franchises in  Senegal
  • 2 shop selling frozen goods equipped with SA solar systems
  • 10 distributors in Ivory Coast and (soon) the same number in  Burkina Faso
  •  And a 2014 forecast of 1,5M€ revenues (5 times more compared to 2013)

*as reported in the newspaper LeMonde

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Inspirational websites for the perfect holidays

A bit late but still in time for holidays. Especially if you are waiting for the end of the touristic season and waiting for the right time to leave quietly. But how to organize the perfect holidays? We all know that the golden times of the tour operators and touristic agencies is done. Everyone, also the generation X, looks for an accommodation online BUT we, generation YZ, are looking for something new. This novelty is for an online travel agent, something that helps us to focus on one of the dozens of travel opportunities around the world. For us, already bored of the monsters HipMunk, Airbnb, Homeaway, there is a bunch of startups which, thanks to the awesome design and always growing content, make us travel from the moment in which we open the websites. My personal selection among a dozen of awesome startups, is:

Peek:

Between a tour guide and a travel agency, Peek proposes great activities and high-quality tours to discover the cities like a local. The main problem to visit a city are the touristic tours. Once you get at the destination and you see the classic museum and the “insolit activities” proposed in the travel guides, you painfully discover that everyone is assaulting every corner of your destination. That’s exactly at this point that Peek saves you. It shows the user a wide range of activities, from food tours to insolit cultural activities that allow you to live the city like a real local. The good responsive design and the beautiful interface helps you and make you choose exactly what you are looking for.

Living in Paris I checked the Parisian activities and that’s just great.

Peek

Triptease:

I consider reviews the greatest invention of the Internet Age (or, from another point of view, its natural consequence) . And I love storytelling. And great design. Triptease mixes these three components creating a perfect inspirational website to explore the world and its beauties. It allows the users to easily write magnificent reviews with a nice font and design and the others to profit of their stories, get inspired and leave their own reviews when they come back from their vacations. Of course the photos are the central component of the reviews (as they are in the everyday life) but that’s not all. The possibility to quick comment, like, share and create collections make Triptease one of my favourite Travel websites.

Triptease

Zaptravel:

As I said before, physical travel agencies are dead. Technology helped us in replacing them with a smart website which asks us where we want to go and gives us the possibility to specify the details modifying the sentence ” Show me hiking  deals to anywhere for any duration traveling next three months. My budget is unlimited and I’d like to sleep in 3-4 star hotels“.  Thanks to this semantic search engine, it browses among several providers looking for the best prices. The concept works since when we look for an holiday, we spend the most of the times comparing prices. Zaptravel helps us in doing so with a really good usability and epurated design.

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Planet Labs. Opensourcing Earth Images

Everyone loves to watch pictures of the Earth from Space. In particular, many small companies and associations would like to get these pictures for cheap prices but they cannot afford to allocate a budget for obtaining them. Planet Labs will make these dreams true from 2014 launching its own fleet of low-cost but high resolution imaging satellites. As the company points out, everyone from ecologists to citizen journalists will be able to track frequent changes to any place on the planet — a frequency and coverage greater than ever seen before. Thanks to this technology, it will be easier to monitor wildlife, desertification, glaciers retreat and many other natural phenomenon.

Nowadays, there are a good number of private and governmental satellites that are screening the Earth. The most precise ones are belonging to private companies and are especially used for defence or commercial purposes. The technology they use allows them to focus on special areas but the demand means that they take a lot of time before getting the pictures and the cost will be quite high. The governmental ones are taking pictures in regular bases but still not too often (once per month) and the resolution is really low, showing images dozens or hundreds metres far from the surface. So, at the moment, the situation is stuck. The first ones wouldn’t lend their images for non-commercial (or, worst, environmental) purposes, while the second ones are not provided in regular basis. That’s exactly the situation in which that Planet Labs could find its niche.

This Startup, founded in 2012 by 3 ex NASA scientists, has risen $13M from Venture Capitalists (DFJ, Capricorn, OATV, Founders Fund Angel, Innovation Endeavors, Data Collective and First Round Capital) in order to launch the World’s largest fleet of imaging satellites called Dove by Q1 2014.

The first two Doves (Dove 1 and Dove 2) have been launched in April and the demonstration has been effective. The data and images provided were good quality, the key technology has been validated and the resolution was as high as expected. The next images will be provided early next year, after the launch of the complete fleet.

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But Planet Labs is not the only company launching its own fleet of satellites for entering the Earth-screening market. Skybox Imaging will launch a fleet of at least 24 satellites. I believe this situation will be interesting and the competition will allow the creation of more and more precise satellites which, hopefully, will help to monitor our surface and our wildlife.

uBiome. Crowdsourcing science

For $79 uBiome will tell you the flora and fauna composition within your body. This company is looking, thanks to a crowsourcing campaign on IndieGogo, at the the human microbiome, so the bacteria that lives within us. Studying the bacteria let us analyze our allergies, our strenght against antibiotics, dietary composition, obesity and..bacterial vaginosis (if you are a man they will discover if you are active carrier).

But why they should crowdsource the study on the sequencing of the human microbiome instead of relying on public or private fundings?  In the launch press release, Jessica Richman, uBiome CEO and vice-President, says that her company believes that biological information will follow the same evolution as internet did. Citizens,  thanks to health companies allowing the widespread of informations and machineries, will be empowered to explore their own genes at home and will be more and more conscious of the possibilities of the science and of what they could do alone.

The concept of citizen science is really interesting also from a statistical point of view. In fact the more poeple join the community, the more statistically powerful and relevant will be the project. If everyone  sends their microbiome data, uBiome will dispose of many data which will be used to answer questions and investigate about illness and diseases.

At the moment the pledge has been extremly successfull (the company reached $270k, $170k more than the pledged chifer). Will other companies follow uBiome and start to crowdfund their studies and projects or will this innovative company be the only one in following this path? Just time will tell us. For the moment, let’s have a check about our microbiome.

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FOUNDD. The Startup for groups of Movies Aficionados

I need to introduce FOUNDD by saying that it doesn’t just suggest you tailored movies for a single user but it also allows groups to find a movie which everyone would like to watch.

This second feature is twisting the concept that providers like Hunch or Netflix (obviously not available in Europe) are carrying on since a long time. FOUNDD makes you understand that watching movies alone is fun but watching them with friends is even better.

This service works starting with some movies to rate in a scale from 1 to 5 and the engine automatically suggests you movies similar to the ones you previously gave the best grade. And that’s not all. Since it permits the creations of groups of maximum 5 people (all with their preferences and grades set), the results are tailored on everyone’s preferences. Good news: the algorithm is well made and the choises presented are highly acceptable (rarely it showed up results that were different from my preferred ones). Every time you found a movie that you would like to watch you can add it to a watchlist or download it directly from the links provided (the downloads are not for free but you can still go to dvd shops and rent it).

The main page of the website reveils that is the future this service will be applied to many categories (books, apps, games, tv shows and clips) but, at the moment, only the movie one is available.

Now it’s time to try it out. Just one suggestion for your future selections: never evaluate movies of Will Ferrel with good grades because FOUNDD will suggest you some of the worst Will Ferrel’s movies (and also giving the worst grade, it will continue to show you these useless and shameful movies).

Enjoy.

Late Labs. A part-time occupation for coders.

I think the concept conceived by Late Labs is interesting.

This startup aims to connect coders to side projects rewarding them with startup equity. In order to participate to a project, you choose among the many coding tasks and each of the accomplished one awards you with equity on the project. Obtaining equity of the company means that you will be rewarded only if the startup will be successfull.

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The creation process is almost crowd-driven since everyone can propose ideas to a web evangelist (hired by the company) that will choose among the different ideas. Late Labs shouldn’t be considered a way for crowsourcing some parts of the development but more like a factory where coders can decide and bring forward interesting projects (instead of working for a pre-made project).

At the moment there are not so many projects on the website but I sincerely hope that the companies will understand the interest of this platform and start using it as a way for developing projects using coders working in their free time.

Glacier. A new inexpensive cloud solution by Amazon

Amazon Web Services is one of the biggest actors providing virtual services and servers.  3 days ago it announced a new, inexpensive data archival service which, for $0,01 per Gb permonth (in Europe $0,011), allows you to store as many Tb you want.

Price for US northern Virginia. Price for California, EU is $0,011 and for Asia $0.012

Data are saved in huge, inexpensive commodity hardware components (rumors suggest that data are stored in low cost and high capacity disk-drives) which enhance the durability thanks to an high level of redundancy. In fact, AWS suggests a durability of 99.9999% (it means 10 bytes every Tb per month). Not bad for a low-cost cloud storage system.

I believe this system will be great for Amazon (who demostrates to be one of the biggest cloud service provider in the market, hoping that it will integrate it with S3), and for big companies(which could profit of the cheap service to store data that cannot be deleted such as legal and financial data). Finally also startups, small companies and freelances who cannot allocate a huge budget on data storage could profit of this cheap service.

The only counterpart (which justifies the cheap price) are the transfer prices. The 1st Gb of the month is for free (that why I believe is very useful for small businesses and young professionals) but it becomes really expensive from that point to the first 10Tb: $0.201.