Harish focused on creating an energy solutions company in rural India. Here, we discuss locations and other issues of getting Selco off the ground.
SM: When you moved back to India, where did you set your headquarters? HH: We headquartered in Bangalore. My mother is from Karnataka, so it was a choice between Orissa and Karnataka.
SM: Was this because it was important for you to know the local languages, so you could work in the villages? HH: Absolutely! A lot of things can get lost in translation. Between those two states, there was one element which swayed my bias, and at the time I was completely unaware of it. Karnataka had a larger network of financial institutions in the rural areas than Orissa. Another factor was the lack of money in my pocket, and I had relatives there who could subsidize my cost of living.
SM: Orissa is also a real backwater state in India, and Karnataka is definitely one of the most forward states. HH: True, it is a forward state. However, in terms of un-electrified rural areas it is just slightly ahead of Orissa. In terms of other mechanisms, it is much more developed.
SM: How did you get the company launched? How did you fund it, and what were the early days like? HH: Initially I was in touch with a non-profit in the US called the Solar Electric Light Fund, but very little came out of that. I used what little money I had left from my scholarship, something like 15,000 rupees (~$300), which was enough to buy one solar home lighting system. I bought the system, and then I went and sold it and installed it. Then I purchased additional systems, sold them and installed them as well.
The focus in the initial period was not looking at where money was, but rather looking at what the success level of the technology was and if people would accept it. If you asked me if I would start the business the same way, I would say absolutely. When you have no money, you tend to me more innovative. The financial development which has happened during the last 12 years has happened because of the shoestring methods we originally employed.