Berkeley Team at Duke Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition

The Duke Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition was an incredible learning experience. The cross-disciplinary Berkeley team included Thato Keineetse, Karl Brenner, Hady Barry, Robbie Heath and Jonathan Kadish. The business case competition was held at Duke’s University Fuqua School of Business on November 10th. The case was developed in partnership with Off-Grid Electric (OGE), a provider of distributed-solar systems in Tanzania. The business is constantly facing ambiguous business situations. In the first round, teams were asked to make recommendations as to whether OGE should provide larger solar systems to customers. If so, how should OGE enter the market, and what strategies should the company take for system configuration, sales, marketing, pricing, and payments? In the second round, teams were asked to analyze how different a strategy would be for entering the Rwandan market.

The case was unique in that it was a real business problem currently being faced by an off-grid distributed energy company in East Africa. This allowed us to do a deep dive on a rapidly growing company in a nascent energy market. In addition, the judges were all experienced industry practitioners who offered pragmatic insight into how professionals in the energy industry analyse problems and make decisions. Another great feature of this competition was that it required us to form a multidisciplinary team including first and second-year MBAs and a non-MBA graduate student. Working with such a diverse team provided great leadership experience and allowed us to broaden our networks at UC Berkeley.

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Given the complexity of the issue we were tasked with solving we extensively relied on Design Thinking principles to observe, analyse, ideate and examine. The Haas team proposed three innovations to OGE’s existing business model: (1) a larger system that can power a refrigerator or a small business, (2) a flexible payment plan that maintains OGE’s utility-bill modeled low initial payment scheme, and (3) a sales strategy that leverages community events and networks. While the judges were positive about these recommendations, feedback suggests we should have spent more time developing a financial model to support them.

One of our interesting takeaways from the CTO of Off-Grid Electric, who gave a key-note address during the competition, is that the company did not fully understand the challenges or the opportunities until they were on the ground talking to customers and delivering products. The value that off-grid solar systems can bring is immense, even if the economics may look tough from a birds-eye view. They started delivering solutions that would save people hours a day of walking to charge cellphones and provide lights to finally bring a sense of security at night while also opening up more hours for work and studying. It’s difficult to quantify that value, and if electricity is a new product, the customer relationship and marketing is very different than how you might approach it in an area with full access to the grid. The distributed solar industry is poised to grow rapidly in the coming years, with potential to have substantial economic and social impact.