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Selling products which bring economic, social, and environmental returns to low-income consumers in the developing world



Headquarters Ebene, Mauritius
Established 2008
Impact Areas Central regional offices in Nairobi (East Africa), Lagos (West Africa) and Johannesburg (Southern Africa) with numerous additional country support offices throughout Africa
Type For-Profit
Energy Sectors
Business Model Types
Staff Size 100+
Annual Budget $4 million
Major Funders Private seed funders
Awards 2009: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit Incubator
2010: CSTS Tech Award, NEMEX Renewables Innovation Award
2011: GSMA Global Mobile Awards Nominee; International Ashden Award Winner


ToughStuff developed a modular set of products that address three main electricity needs of off-grid consumers – lighting, information, and connectivity – using a lightweight, robust, portable photo-voltaic solar system designed for personal use.


Energy Products/Services

Target Market

  • Off-grid populations around the world, but with a strong focus on the African continent.



Revenue Streams

  • Sale of Solar PV set

Value Proposition

  • ToughStuff’s product set includes a lamp, radio connectors and a mobile-phone charger, which can be used separately or together.
  • Designed for harsh conditions, these products are tough while remaining affordable to even very poor people.
  • By combining product design with innovations in distribution, which includes a micro-entrepreneurs Business-in-a-Box program, solar power is made available for the first time to people previously relying on polluting, archaic technology.
  • ToughStuff’s solutions help lift people out of poverty, create jobs, improve health, stimulate the economy, enhance education, enable connectivity, and protect the environment.

Problem Addressed

  • Without access to grid-delivered electricity, 1.46 billion people in low-income families in the developing world use candles or kerosene lamps to illuminate their rooms at night.
  • Such lamps give little light; produce noxious fumes, are a fire hazard, and produce 24.2 million tones of CO2 per year.
  • These consumers also buy enormous numbers of cheap, low quality dry cell batteries for their radios and flashlights (often over 200 per year per household), which further pollute the environment and cause families to spend over $120 per year on these inadequate solutions.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa alone, over $25 billion is spent annually on kerosene, candles and mobile phone charging

Where They Are Now

Impact to Date

  • Sold 300,000 products, reaching 425,000 people, in 15 months
  • Established over 1,000 points of sale in Madagascar and Kenya
  • $4.1 million saved by consumers
  • $1.9 million earned by local supply chain partners
  • 13,820 tons of CO2 emissions prevented, and 7 million batteries not discarded into the environment
  • Enabled the equivalent of 1.3 million days of study and productivity after dark


  • 2008: Raised $3.8 million of seed funding
  • 2009: Commenced trading in Madagascar
  • 2010: Expanded into Kenya
  • 2010: Supplied solar disaster response kits in Haiti following earthquake
  • 2010: Began creating joint ventures with major microfinance institutions
  • 2011: 2nd round financing completed.
  • 2011: Operational in all East African countries, West Africa and Southern Africa

Growth Plan

  • Continue to expand throughout African market and the Indian Sub-Continent
  • Develop new products
  • Increase sales by creating a Company-in-a-Container enterprise model for small and medium enterprises (scaled up version of the Business-in-a-Box microenterprise model)
  • Invest in distribution to enable joint ventures and franchise structures
  • Strong emphasis on creating partnerships with NGOs, MFIs, and Savings & Loan groups

How They Deliver

Product Sourcing & Design

  • Products are designed by ToughStuff based on a great deal of market research.
  • They are designed for robustness and affordability and to fulfill three basic needs:
    • Lighting
    • Phone charging
    • Powering radios
  • Products are manufactured in China.  While Chinese products often have a bad reputation in Africa, ToughStuff has been able to find strong partners who deliver good affordable products.


  • ToughStuff’s main distribution channel is sale of product to national level distributors across Africa who sell in retail shop outlets like grocery stores.
  • Distributors need to have a clear link to the product, such as an existing involvement in energy (flashlights, lamps, batteries etc.).
  • This ‘low-touch’ model has allowed ToughStuff to reach more than 1,000 outlets in 3 years.
  • Each country has an office to support retailers, and ToughStuff signs exclusivity agreements with them.
  • In Madagascar ToughStuff has a pilot Business in a Box microfranchising program.


  • ToughStuff markets its products based on prestige and financial and health benefits, using TV, radio, and flyers
  • Sales are based less on product variation and more on good marketing based on local insight.
  • ToughStuff differentiates its product from other small-scale solar based on low-cost and durability.

Government Relations

  • ToughStuff keeps prices as low as possible to increase access, but it is not always clear whether this has affected sales volumes by lowering profits.
  • ToughStuff bases its prices entirely on the costs of manufacturing and distribution, rather than on what it thinks customers might be able to pay.
  • In most countries, customers can afford the product without financing
  • ToughStuff’s Business in a Box program targets customers too poor to afford a purchase by letting them rent from a franchisee.
  • Sometimes customers get loans from microfinance banks to buy product, and in a few rare cases ToughStuff has made partnerships with these banks.
  • ToughStuff has recently created  a one to one donation program where people in richer countries can buy a solar panel for themselves at a higher margin and thereby donate one to a customer who can’t afford one.

Government Relations

  • ToughStuff is primarily financed by private seed funding.
  • ToughStuff sometimes benefits from small grants, which are used to make products more accessible to poorer customers.


Solar Light Kit

Solar Light Kit


The ToughStuff solar kit includes the ToughStuff ‘Superbright’ LED Lamp and the ToughStuff Solar Panel, also sold separately.  The solar panel is designed to be flexible, durable and light, and the lamp has 4 intensity settings to provide up to 40 hours of light.  The lamp also has a built-in hook to hang it on a wall or use it as a hand-held flashlight.  The lamp is designed to look like a traditional lightbulb.  ToughStuff also sells a range of other products powered by its solar panel, including a battery pack for extra power, a mobile charger, and a radio connector to replace D-Cell batteries.

How It’s Used:

The ToughStuff ‘Superbright’ LED lamp replaces kerosene lamps and candles for cleaner, brighter, and more environmentally friendly off-grid lighting.

Product Type:
Solar Portable

Technical Data

Lumens/Watt:  45
Average Lamp Power and type: 8mm, pure white, super-bright 1W solar panel
Battery Capacity and type:  1300mAh NiMH
Hours Runtime/Charge: 4-40
Charging Hours from Flat:
Lumens:  45
Lumen-hours/year@4hr/day: 65,700
Service Delivered ($):  7,300
Kerosene Service Delivered ($):  872

Cost Data

Number of Households Served  1
Upfront Cost
Estimated Retail Price:  $20
Recurring Costs
Replaceable Products Life(years) Replacement Costs
Light  2  $10
5-year Replacement Costs $25
5-year Ownership Cost  $45


Other Products

Rechargeable Battery Pack

Radio Connector

Mobile Phone Connectors

More Resources

Online Resources

Contact Information

4th Floor,
Ebene Skies,
Rue de l’Institut,
Ebène, Mauritius

( +44 207 261 0983