eMBA Field Report: Bringing Solar Energy to Low Income Areas in Mexico

As part of Endeavor’s annual eMBA program, MBA students from around the country are selected to work on-site with our entrepreneurs for 10 weeks during the summer. Ben Soltoff spent his summer working with Ilumexico, a solar energy company in Mexico.

An internship off the beaten path

By Ben Soltoff, Yale School of Management

Two hours by pick-up truck over windy mountain roads. Three hours by motorcycle across expanses of tropical farmland. One hour on foot through thick jungle.

These arduous journeys are a daily occurrence for Ilumexico’s Community Engineers, who are the key intermediary between the company and its rural clients. I tagged along for a few visits as part of my Endeavor Fellowship this summer, going places I never expected to go as part of an MBA internship.

Ben Soltoff spent the summer with Ilumexico exploring the challenge of how to collect timely payments from low-income customers, while maintaining their trust and respect.

Based in Mexico City, Iluméxico sells solar equipment to Mexicans who lack electricity or have inconsistent access to the grid. While solar energy is cheaper in the long run than candles, gas lamps, and other alternatives, most clients cannot afford the high upfront cost of the equipment, so Iluméxico offers them microfinance options, allowing them to pay in small monthly installments. Almost all of Iluméxico’s clients pay back the full cost of the product, but payments are often late, leading to shortages of working capital that limit the company’s growth.

How do you collect timely payments from low-income customers in remote areas, while maintaining their trust and respect? This was the problem I tackled for eight weeks this summer. Over the course of the project, I engaged in a variety of activities that provided Iluméxico with key strategic insights and provided me with invaluable lessons and experience. I visited clients and potential clients in three different regions, I got to know field staff working in communities across Mexico, I piloted a system of text message reminders, I explored innovative uses of social media, and I investigated the fintech landscape for base-of-the-pyramid consumers.

At the end of the summer, I met with Iluméxico CEO Manuel Wiechers Banuet, along with several other staff members from the Mexico City office, to share my findings. My presentation culminated with eleven recommendations that the company can realistically implement in the near future. I left Mexico knowing that my work impacted the business in a very positive and tangible way.

As a joint degree candidate at the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, I was thrilled to work on a project ideally suited to my interests, which lie at the intersection of entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability. I learned lessons at Iluméxico that I would never have learned in a traditional internship, and the experience will doubtlessly inform both my current studies and my future career.