The general idea for Totus Power came together in under 24 hours. After a discouraging meeting regarding another idea he had been pursuing, Shiv Rajendran called up a friend in India to commiserate. His friend was running a program that used a cloud-based internet technology in combination with affordable tablets to get progressive learning tools and curriculum in the hands of youth in remote villages in India.
Shiv asked his friend a simple question – what is the biggest obstacle you need to solve in order for this project to succeed? The short answer was “access to affordable electricity”. Knowing how important education is, and the power for technology-based education solutions to provide high quality learning opportunities in developing countries, there is a push to get these new products into the hands of underprivileged children. As good as intentions are, if one link in the process is missing, the efforts will be all for nothing. This simple conversation uncovered a glaring missing piece of the puzzle, therefore inspiring Totus Power’s solution: provide access to affordable power for classrooms in remote parts of India.
Current solutions to power technology education projects like this are both expensive and inadequate for classroom needs. After hearing about this major obstacle from his friend, Shiv knew he could create a low-cost and high-quality battery pack for classrooms in rural India to put their education tablets to good use.
Totus Power is currently building the prototype for their battery packs which are made from recycled electric car batteries. The battery packs will be easily portable and will be able to power a classroom 5-6 times longer than the current power sources used at a price 10x cheaper.
In June, Totus Power was selected to join Village Capital/Venture Well’s accelerator program with 15 other start-ups in Louisville, Kentucky. And shortly after, they were selected to join Start Up Chile in Santiago. With initial seed funding and connections from these groups, Totus Power hopes to have a working prototype in the field by September, and expand from there.
One thing we learn from Totus Power’s journey so far is that an idea with traction is born from a definitive need. The company is poised for success with orders already lined up for when the battery packs are ready for distribution.
And to end in Shiv’s own words – the two most important lessons learned were:
“Creating a Start-up is a Game – To win it you have to stay in it. When I first wrote down the idea for Totus Power, it was a complete moonshot. It was an untested idea, from a first time entrepreneur with no prior knowledge about the education market. No partners, no team and absolutely no money. I personally wanted to see how long I could survive with those kind of odds, which was why I ended up living/sleeping out of my desk for 8 months, before our first real seed investment. Had I packed up my bags from San Francisco in late Dec 2012 when things got too hard, Totus Power would not exist. Everything I had done those 8 months, even luck, contributed significantly to my being here.
Trust your gut, Let things play out – One of my biggest partnerships came from an unrelated meeting that almost never happened. My attempt to meet with Tom Gage (who designed BMW’s electric Minis) for a job interview had been going on for two years. Previous tries had failed, and I finally got a meeting scheduled in early December. For some weird reason getting stood up at a coffee shop on an early Sunday morning was all that came out of it. As tempted as it was to write the whole things off, a gut feel was to give this just one more try. Not only did Tom and I work together on a project in February, but the meeting also paved the way for Totus Power’s eventual partnership with BMW in May 2013.”