Darden students win accolades for plan to power rural villages

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Proving that entrepreneurs can balance free enterprise and environmental sustainability, two MBA students at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration recently won the Social Innovation Competition at the University of Texas for their business plan to bring electricity to residents in rural India.

Charles “Chip” Ransler, 29, and Manoj Sinha, 30, won a $50,000 prize for the development of Husk Power Systems (HPS), a company that will use the students’ proprietary technology to cost-effectively convert rice husks into electricity.

By relying on a distribution system of mini-power plants, the company can generate pay-for-service electricity for villages of 200 to 500 households in the Indian Rice Belt, with the resulting ash waste sold as an ingredient for cement. The use of this alternative fuel source — which was previously left to rot — enables each village to eliminate 200 tons of carbon emissions annually.

“This is basically, through capitalism, making something happen that wasn’t going to happen without it,” says Ransler, noting that 480 million Indians live without power, the vast majority of them in rural villages. “We don’t see any contradiction between doing well for ourselves and doing even better for others.”

Already, HPS has begun electrical service in two villages. Ransler and Sinha, who is from rural India, expect to provide service to another 20 villages by the end of the year, 100 villages next year and 2,500 villages by 2013.

HPS was recognized at a number of award events this spring, winning the $1,000 People’s Choice Award at the University of Texas and Darden’s annual business plan competition. In May, Ransler and Sinha were chosen as Top 10 finalists in the Global Social Venture Competition at the University of California at Berkeley and in the Ignite Clean Energy Competition at MIT. 

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