FIP 117: Hardware entrepreneurs II 3/3 – Deploying a network of automated fuel dispensers for clean cookstoves, with Sagun Saxena of KOKO Networks

Sagun Saxena, co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of KOKO Networks, is a company operating in Kenya and India that builds and deploys a dense network of kiosks inside local corner stores that distribute bio-ethanol for the modern cookers they sell. This is the third episode in our second 3-part series on invention-based entrepreneurs, supported by The Lemelson Foundation. The series aims to provide unique insights into some of the challenges and workarounds faced by entrepreneurs creating hardware products in emerging markets.

On this episode you will learn:

  • A description of the physical product, and how KOKO customers use this on a day-to-day basis. 0:58.
    • KOKO deploys dense networks of KOKOpoints inside neighborhood stores across the city, which communicate real-time with the KOKO Cloud.
    • Customers can buy KOKO Cookers, refill their KOKO Canisters with KOKO Fuel, and access other useful products and services.
  • The India team supports the engineering and manufacturing of KOKO Fuel, and the first commercial market they are targeting is East Africa, specifically Nairobi, which already has 700 KOKOpoint dispensers throughout the city. 3:10.
    • Target is to get around 200-250 households around each dispenser location.
  • Long term goal is to be in at least 40 to 50 major metropolitan areas across Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • How they move highly flammable liquid around the city and partner with large oil companies which already have the infrastructure in place at scale. 6:45
  • Why they decided to manufacture in India versus locally in Kenya. 10:45.
    • Cost considerations, and many other factors including logistics.
    • Pros: engineering skills in product iteration, moving product in and out of India easier for global markets, density of suppliers, stable/cheap energy (electricity), and contract workers. 15:00.
    • Cons: Long logistics chain (India is far away), Kenya import uncertainty especially with import taxes of new products not yet categorized. 18:45.
  • Top level tips on achieving compliance with regulations. 21:15.
    • Chose this market because clean cooking is a priority for the government, Kenya has a reputation of innovation, and other countries in the region respect how the Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBs) looks at new technology – a regulatory body that has a rigorous process for supporting innovation and making new products available.
    • Partnerships with established players adds to credibility. Organizations like gearbox (tied to universities), plus commercial partners like Vivo Energies (the Shell brand) which has world class facilities 25:17.
  • How they mobilized capital for hardware with just a prototype. First, articulated a vision, then tried to demonstrate demand (ie. consumer appetite at their price points). 27:20.
  • Co-founders had quit their other activities and their basic consumer demand pilot was self-funded 31:18.

Resources from this episode:

Connect with Sagun:

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