D-Lab project leads to solar career in Africa

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When she started her first year after an internship in a company that left her dissatisfied, Jodie Wu ’09 questioned her career as an engineer. Participating in a D-Lab class project in Tanzania revealed a way to use his passion for engineering to help serve emerging markets in Africa while making an impact.

Wu remembers being naïve the first time she visited Africa: “As a student you think you can save the world in three weeks.” But during that visit and several trips back to MIT’s Priscilla King Gray utility center, she began to understand the scale of the problems facing rural communities there, which she is still trying to address. resolve over a decade later.

Now based in Rwanda, she is COO at OffGridBox, a Boston-based startup whose all-in-one system uses energy from solar panels to charge batteries and purify water. Its clients include NGOs, businesses, farms, schools, hospitals and clinics, as well as landlords.

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After graduation, Wu led Global Cycle Solutions, which she founded to provide a bicycle corn husker to smallholder farmers in Tanzania after winning the business plan portion of the $ 100,000 entrepreneurship competition of the MIT. “What impressed me the most about Tanzania is how people could have so little but be so generous,” she says. “And I stuck with that because I love the fieldwork. Some people might think, “Oh, bucket showers, car breakdowns, that’s hard work,” but for me, I’ve always thought of it as an adventure. ”

As Wu traveled to rural areas to try and sell her maize huller and spoke Swahili fluently, she learned that solar-powered products were in great demand in these communities. She transferred Global Cycle Solutions to solar light distribution before selling the business in 2017.

Wu joined OffGridBox because the startup’s solar-powered system – which is contained in a 6 x 6 x 6 foot shipping container – won him over as a sustainable and affordable solution for developing economies and communities. remote locations with no electrical infrastructure. The benefit of the boxes became particularly clear during the pandemic: The company received funding through the USAID Power Africa Opportunities program to electrify six government health centers, which serve thousands of patients per month.

Wu says these centers previously had insufficient power, especially to support refrigerators, sterilizers and vaccine warmers. Now they are powered 24/7. “OffGridBox helps nurses and doctors save lives,” she says. “With nearly 60% of health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa without access to electricity, there is still a lot to do.”

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