Eco-Shelter is a social enterprise increasing access to safe and affordable roofing for low-income households in India.
Globally, 1.6 billion people lack access to adequate shelter; in India alone, there are more than 350 million people. A roof over your head is one of the most basic human necessities, but current roofing materials available to ultra-poor populations are expensive, hot, fragile, and can contain toxic elements such as asbestos.
Eco-Shelter set out on a mission to identify underutilized technologies, processes, and materials that could be leveraged to meet the enormous roofing challenge. The Eco-Shelter pilot project will examine social acceptance, environmental impact, and market feasibility of introducing a new, safe, and affordable roofing material to low-income households in India. We are piloting a new bamboo composite material that is strong, light-weight, and durable (25+ year lifespan), and can keep homes several degrees cooler.
I first came across them at the 2017 SVP Fast Pitch where they won the audience choice award, and it turned out the founder, Alexa Bednarz, is a friend/colleague of my good friend who works at the Gates Foundation. You can see that pitch here:
I ran across Alexa again while attending this year’s 2018 SVP Fast Pitch a few weeks ago and learned about the new crowdfunding campaign she had been working on. They are raising $55,000 to pilot their technology in India.
Eco-Shelter had a launch party for the campaign at Obec Brewing in Ballard last week (that I wasn’t able to attend), and I thought some readers here may be interested to learn more. As a follow up, I had the chance to ask Alexa a few questions via email.
Without further ado…
1. What led you to embark on the entrepreneurial path to create Eco-Shelter?
I was inspired to start Eco-Shelter after working several years at the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation in global health and development. I began to see themes around successful projects that achieved broad scale, and one of the underlying success factors was an underlying demand for the product or service being introduced. A challenge in international development is that most of us working in the profession don’t have the first-hand life experiences of those we wish to serve. So, I took a step back and decided that whatever venture I started would start where there was a market demand from those I wish to serve. I began reading several studies which suggested housing improvements– roofing in particular– were financial priorities for many families living in extreme poverty globally. This piqued my curiosity and the more I began to learn about roofing materials available to the ultra-poor, I realized an improved alternative could have significant health, financial, and environmental impact. Improvements in housing can lead to better health outcomes and increased productivity. Lastly, there is something very human about housing. I truly believe that as human beings we all share the desire and right to live somewhere dry, safe, and secure that we can feel proud of.
2. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the journey?
What we’re trying to do hasn’t been done before, so there isn’t a step-by-step playbook on how to do it. I’ve been fortunate to get great feedback and advice from subject matter experts, investors, and other entrepreneurs, but sometimes the advice is conflicting and doesn’t take into account all of the factors. Learning to take pieces of information and put them together into a road map is a skill but ultimately it comes down to trusting your own judgment. As a foreigner doing work in India, I’ve known that I need a team of people who understand the local context to tackle this challenge and we’ve begun building a team of field coordinators and partner with grassroots organizations in India, but recruiting for the right skill sets and expertise can be very challenging.
3. What impact will Eco Shelter’s new crowd funding campaign enable/make possible?
I believe strongly in taking a Human-Centered Design approach in business to ensure your solution is meeting your customer’s needs and price-point. This is vital to achieving broad scale and uptake. Our crowdfunding campaign will allow us to expand our pilot to 25 more homes in several cities across India. We are piloting a corrugated bamboo roofing panel to assess community acceptance and willingness-to-pay while testing several models of distribution. The insights from this pilot will directly influence research and development so we know how to best optimize the product to meet customer’s needs and price point. As a social enterprise, it’s also critical that we measure our impact. The pilot will allow us to look at several impact measures such as the reduction in indoor temperature, cost-savings, and increases in productivity.
Thanks Alexa for sharing your story. Eco-Shelter has raised $23,000 of their $55,000 goal. If you’d like to support the cause, please do so below….
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