3 Key Characteristics of Software Built for SMBs

The road to excellent SMB software is paved with good intentions, but we often end up emulating existing software that is premised on intensive training and highly specialized roles in a business, which is unlikely the case if SMBs are your target market. The first interaction with a Saas offering instead of Excel spreadsheets should delight your users, certainly shouldn’t make them feel stupid, and most importantly, should demonstrate immediate value by addressing a major pain point. Your solution, be it a platform for SMB CRM, accounting software, or facilitating backend procure-to-pay workflows, needs to leave users feeling good about your product, your brand, and your role in their growing business.

1. Delight users

A general trend in enterprise software is the disregard for delight. Business people are consumers after hours and they too deserve intuitive design and turn-of-the-century graphics with drop shadows. This means investing in both excellent UX and UI talent. In today’s highly competitive landscape of SMB tools, it is absolutely not enough to sell a serviceable product; it must delight in its delivery, service and support, design and aesthetic, and usability, on top of the pre-requisite functionality.

Look at Square: their products do delight while getting the job done, through carefully considered usability and design that make users feel like their business is so trendy/innovative/cool, it deserves nothing less than delightful, easy-to-use, aesthetically-pleasing products. Your SMB users don’t live in a dichotomy of delight versus function, and neither should your product.

Winner: Square’s portfolio of small business management products.

2. Don’t build software that makes people feel stupid

In the particular market of SMBs, you are truly engaging users whom already have a fear of adoption and are unlikely to be familiar or comfortable with new technology. Complex design patterns that deviate from the norm users are familiar with through consumer applications are best avoided in new enterprise products. Expecting this set of users to adopt new interaction processes leads to software aversion which quickly results in reversion to old work processes, leaving one portion of the business converted to a new system while trying to manage rogue and often influential users who refuse on the premise, acknowledged or not, of pain aversion. There certainly is still opportunity to innovate and redefine existing patterns, but unnecessary complexity through multi-layer workflows or functionality designed for fringe use cases can cause your user to walk away feeling frustrated at your product and themselves.

I consider myself a savvy user, but at one point I gave in and called tech support for an app on Salesforce because I couldn’t find items that had been added just moments prior. To their merit, it only took a few minutes to resolve the issue after setting up a screenshare, but not only were those minutes costly to my company and theirs, I felt ridiculous after the fact that I hadn’t identified the cause myself amongst the many top level navigation and underlying items that I have never used, and have never seen anyone else use.

It may be hard to admit, but winning over your customer is just as much about how they feel about your software and solution as it is how truly useful your product is for their business. “Do I feel good before I use it, while I use it, after I use it?” The answer is a resounding no if they are dreading logging in, navigating through the multi-layer menus, or specifying criteria in a seemingly unending list for a report.

Winner: Insightly’s CRM/PM platform for its ease of use.

3. Demonstrate immediate value to drive further and future adoption

Target low-hanging fruit that causes big pain for your market and execute on those with excellence. You can’t do everything all at once, so take the time to both understand what value you bring to your customers and articulate that value through marketing and product design. Your product’s value-add should leave your customers crying about the hours they’ve wasted in the past trying to address the problem you have solved for them (my reaction upon discoveringStich Labs). When the role your solution plays in their business is immediately obvious, your users are then converted to your champions, driving adoption across the business and allowing you to expand your product offerings in the future as you grow with them.

Winner: Stitch Lab’s inventory management system solves an obvious and critical pain point for SMBs.

Buck the trend of typical enterprise software and stop designing for large enterprises when your target market are SMBs. Your users are resource-constrained, not highly specialized, and most importantly, the unicorn market you can tap into by delighting, making them feel good about using your product, and demonstrating immediate value through addressing and articulating which pain point you resolve.

What are some SMB software solutions that have delighted you and why? Have you ever championed a solution because you were so impressed? Share your thoughts below.

Structure of an enterprise software implementation and big opportunities for new players

There are a many resources that suggest SMEs looking to scale operations will significantly benefit by adopting an enterprise resource planning tool. Perhaps you have a big deal coming down the pipeline or your current aggregate of Excel spreadsheets and personal cognitive ability is limiting your business growth; whatever the reason you have been advised there is a customizable, easy-to-use solution out there for your business. There are seven components of an enterprise software implementation as explained in more detail below, as it is often the case that SME leaders don’t understand what they are committing their time, money, and people to in these projects. Given this current structuring, the opportunities are readily apparent for new players to disrupt the current service model with scalable, accessible solutions for SMEs.

Typically, you’ll engage the consultancy arm of an ERP software company, or a smaller independent consultancy. They will then come in, listen to your problems, and advise using Sage, Netsuite, Kenandy, or another solution coupled with some customization at the cost of upwards of $20,000 for a basic implementation, which includes:

  1. Requirements gathering: learning about your company’s processes and pain points over a series of a few days. This will include an investment of your time and the time of the employee’s whose daily pains you are trying to resolve, and their leadership as well. Often these are the employees that are also mission-critical, but the net is a relatively small cost to pay, compared to both the returns and the cost of the overall project. Depending on the size of your company, you may need to commit a small team of employees and a project manager to ensure your consultants can tap into your business as required.
  2. Analyzing requirements and scope: with a detailed understanding of how your company functions, the firm will come back with a summary of what will be addressed by the solution and establish a scope of work, alongside providing a more detailed cost breakdown. You can expect to wait 1-2 weeks for this detailed proposal, depending on the size of your company and scope of work. The report should list all the concerns you would like addressed, as these are the only ones that will be met by the solution. It is not unusual for additional scope to be added as the project evolves; scope-creep can however be costly and more difficult to implement as the project progresses, so you are best off reviewing the requirements analysis in detail with your team beforehand.
  3. Designing a solution: after some back and forth regarding requirements, scope, and cost, you’ll be offered a solution that in most cases entails building small customizations on top of an existing framework, as mentioned above. In the documentation that will be provided to you, each requirement should be met with a solution statement. Part of the design will include a plan on how your current and historical data will be migrated to the system; depending on how it is currently stored (physical ledgers, Excel spreadsheets, etc.) and your future use, it may not be necessary or it may be critical and you should make this clear to the consultancy.
  4. Building the solution: some of this will occur concurrently in major projects, but for most SMEs, this would be either a one-time cascading process or a two-step release, splitting release scope at the build stage due to limited resources (financial, personnel support), or more likely, dependency of the initial launch. During the build you can expect regular updates and for your team to be engaged in testing at different intervals as the solution comes together.
  5. Testing: at this stage the initial set of employees involved in the requirements gathering, along with others depending on the scope, will be asked to test the solution in a sandbox environment. This means that they will be asked to spend time using the system and replicating their current workflows with it in order to find problems, but that it won’t be a ‘live’ system; it won’t actually send the invoice to your client or order a new supply of raw materials. Only after all testing has passed will the project progress to deployment.
  6. Deploying the solution: when the system is ready for your team to start using in full, the solution will go live. Prior to deployment, everyone that is expected to use the system will receive varying levels of training and support for adoption. Some members may only have to learn a few functions whereas others will spend much more time if their job functions have been largely or fully migrated. After the go-live there is warranty period of 30-90 days wherein customer support requests, bugs (problems in the software), and additional training is available as part of your project costs. After the warranty period, customer support can be purchased in packages of time, more functionality or customization can be tacked on, and more training added if your team is struggling with adoption. Software licensing fees are invoiced by the software company itself, not the consultancy, and are annual per-user charges.

This is the basic framework for a typical enterprise software project, from its initiation to hand-over; though some elements may differ, particularly based on scope of the project and size of your business, all implementations will involve these steps. It is clear how difficult it would be to scale this model and it is also clear that there is a significant opportunity for existing and new competitors to address this underserved market.

Have you been through this as a small business owner and if so, what was the most painful part? On the other end for software leaders and consultants, what opportunities exist to better scale solutions for SMEs? Your comments are always welcome.

B2B partnerships: creating win-win situations

During my last year in elementary school, our vice-principal gave our class a guest lecture on how to survive the daunting and formidable experience that would be high school. Mr. S was a sizeable man, especially to seated 7th-graders, but all I remember was him repeating a refrain in his booming voice from years of coaching basketball: “create win-win situations!” This idea, that we can and should seek to create mutually beneficial relationships, is a critical one in building B2B partnerships, and the building block for the partnership approach outlined below.

1. Create win-win situations

It is integral that the client understand you are seeking gains for them, not just from them. In each of your interactions you should be asking yourself “is this a win-win situation?” If not, how do you turn it into one? Building great B2B partnerships is in these and many other instances so that both parties begin to see each other as partners and not one-off transactions. Your partners’ long-term growth and sustainability directly translates to your business’s long-term growth and sustainability and it is in your best interest to safeguard their priorities as well.

2. Understand their business

The more you understand your client’s business, its products, value proposition, target market, and competitors, the more able you will be to see their gaps and translate those into opportunities for your business. This deep understanding will also convert to a more defined and successful strategy for partnership growth.

3. Respect their business

If you can’t find a way to respect your client’s business and how they make money, which is in turn how you make money, exit. No partnership can survive without mutual respect. And it is not in our nature to seek out win-win situations when we don’t want the other player to benefit. Or when we are looking to squeeze every last penny possible from them. This also means respecting their quality standards and timelines and the impact any misses in either of these have on their business and their clients at the end of the day.

4. Develop relationships with key players and decision makers

Identifying and building relationships with key players in the company, not necessarily executives, but directors and managers as well, will contribute to your understanding of its internal workings, which in turn will help you develop your partnership growth strategy. Aligning yourself with the decision makers is of course critical as well.

5. Find partners of similar scale

A phrase I often use is “like for like”. Finding partners who are as ambitious as your business, scaling as rapidly, and targeting the same quality and excellence will complement your business’s growth without overwhelming your resources or under-delivering on your projections.

6. Embrace your size

Firstoff, they are going to know you are small. If a Fortune 500 calls you and says we are interested, they are going to know or at least it will become quickly obvious to them your size or lack thereof. This may seem like an obvious statement, but many entrepreneurs have never worked for a company with an Accounts Payable department not co-named CEO, and may not realize the mechanics and norms of a behemoth partner. Remember: part of why they want to work with you is because you are a small agile startup. If things aren’t going well, revisit point 5 and evaluate if this partnership is good for your business.

7. Establish the value of the partner, internally

Excellent B2B partnerships are not just about how you handle client relationships and negotiation, they are just as much about your ability to convince your team of the value of the partnership. Sell the client internally: explain how this relationship helps your company and team achieve its short/medium/long-term goals. With this understanding of the partnership, your engineering team will have more context to your requests for demos, your marketing team for presentation assets, your customer support team for their help and collectively you will create a win situation for the client.

Understanding and respecting your partner’s business, developing relationships with key players and decision makers, find partners of similar scale and embracing your company’s size and capabilities, and working with your own team to establish the value of the partner to your company goals are all premised on creating win-win situations. Long-term, successful partnerships that are celebrated on both sides can be extremely valuable to your business, not just for revenue, but for the reputation you gain in the industry as a valued supplier. Thanks again, Mr. S.

As always, your comments are very welcome. What are some of your insights into building great B2B partnerships? How do you grow these relationships?

SME Enterprise Software: a whitespace move for B2B startups

Many B2B startups are targeting individual gaps in enterprise software for small and medium sized businesses, i.e. Wave for accounting, Zenefits for HR, Fundbox for financing, but the current business management landscape demands a more comprehensive and financially and technically accessible platform. Supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, financial services including invoicing and accounting, and human resource management: these are the fundamental offerings that we will see SMEs begin to demand in a customized and approachable manner over the next 3-5 years as SaaS finally expands its target audience to small and medium sized businesses, including food and retail distributors, high and low end restaurants, local chain retail, and small-scale manufacturing, amongst others. There is room for new competitors to Salesforce and SAP via a whitespace shift into PaaS from industry-leading startups already in the B2B SaaS space.

SAP is no doubt overkill, and Salesforce even with its app store offerings to address some of these gaps, is neither a financially nor technically accessible option for many SMEs.

SAP Business One, a lite version of SAP, which itself is widely known for its user base including P&G and the bulk of the Fortune 500, starts at $7,000 annually, per user. This is a significant investment for a 10-person company pulling in anaverage 1 million in revenue at a respectable 20% profit margin, leaving a net of $200,000. To on-board the entire team of 10 would cost not only the recurring annual fee of $70,000, but the installation, integration, very minimal customization, training, and adoption costs to a total of at least $20,000. Similarly, Salesforce Enterprise Edition is priced at $1,500 per user to a total of $15,000 in annual subscription fees; again with an installation cost of $20,000 to a cost of $35,000 in year one. This is more than 17% of the income for a small, technology-starved business for CRM software and 45% for resource planning software, neither of which freestanding or combined would meet its needs in supply chain management, resource planning, CRM, and financial services.

The future is not completely bleak for SMEs seeking to join the rest of the SaaS/clouded world. There are a few startups poised to serve this market and a few other players on the peripheries that could expand their offerings as a natural whitespace move.

Square has been quietly rolling out a series of products that could be unified for SMEs as a highly accessible platform for business management. Their current offerings include: Square Payments, Invoices, POS, Employee Management, an App Marketplace for Quickbooks, Zoho, etc., Payroll, Customer Engagement (a potential big win). Square and other startups have an opportunity to enter this market given the data they are currently collecting and could be, with more customer needs assessments and requirements gathering, turned into a powerful and predictive analytics platform.

With their insight into cashflow, customers and supplier relationships, and the flow of goods and services through transactions, companies such as Fundbox andFunding Circle, which offer short-term financing solutions for SMEs, enterprise software could be a natural growth opportunity. In a similar vein, accounting apps such as Indinero, Xero, and Wave could also move into this space by expanding current offerings.

However, what is critical and lacking in the current landscape is backend resource management. This includes employee scheduling and training, payroll, and more importantly inventory and supply chain management. Stitch Labs is one of the few players in the market offering a SME-specific inventory solution. Sourcery is aiming to address supply chain, to an extent, for the food industry. Even services like DoorDash could pivot into this space with its unique positioning in its partner restaurants. Yet there still remain many gaps in the backend for successful end-to-end business management.

There is a demonstrable market for a enterprise software solution targeted at SMEs across industries and we can expect a push from both existing and new entrants over the next three years to fill these gaps and bring our SMEs into the exciting world of accessible, price-sensitive, adoptable enterprise software.

Definitely reach out or comment below, and look forward to future posts about challenges on both ends, predictions, and more about enterprise software! What other technology gaps are there that are unique to SMEs? Are there other players that we should be following?

State of the Gas: Liquefied Natural Gas Exports from BC to Asia

This is the first in a two-part blog series that considers the opportunities for B.C. LNG exports to Asia and the environmental impacts of displacing coal in China with LNG.

In 2012, when CNOOC, a Chinese State-Owned Enterprise (SOE), proposed their bid to take over Nexen, a Canadian oil and gas company, there was an outbreak of fear that the Chinese were staking their claims to Canadian oil and gas. But it turns out these fears were premature. The BC government has been adamant in its claims that Asian demand for BC liquefied natural gas (LNG) is robust, that LNG exports will generate jobs, and that the province will flourish with LNG developments. For example, Aurora Ltd., a holding of Nexen and now a CNOOC subsidiary, and two other Japanese energy firms recently agreed to pay $24 million to the BC government for development rights in Grassy Point, located north of Prince Rupert. Other energy companies have also applied for development rights and have begun staking their claims on the northeastern coast of BC. However, none of these applicants has even begun construction, as economic analyses are still pending, alongside environmental assessments and stakeholder engagement meetings with the surrounding communities.

2013 was an exciting year for natural gas in the Asia-Pacific region, as major LNG deals between Russia and China were signed or progressed towards end-state, signaling increased Russian exports to the greater Southeast Asian region as tanker and pipeline capacity will be developed. Preliminary bidding has already begun for US LNG exports, with China netting a significant portion, alongside Japan and Taiwan. And Australia continued to develop projects that will, by 2020, make them a top player in the LNG export business.

The first part of this two-part blog series considers the quickly changing landscape of oil and gas exports to Asia and the evaluation of the more than 10 applications for LNG processing and export from BC. Part two will focus in on the environmental impacts of displacing coal consumption in China with LNG, exploring whether the net environmental impact is as positive as initially believed.

Asia Pacific Demand

Total Asian demand for LNG is expected to reach 250 million metric tonnes per annum (mmtpa) by 2020 and to grow to 300 mmtpa by 2025; as of 2012, Asian demand was 115 mmtpa. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan will continue to drive this demand, particularly as Japan seeks to fill the void created by its shrinking nuclear energy supply in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. China has declared it wants natural gas to represent 10% of its energy consumption by 2020, up from just 4% in 2010. This goal will require at least 59 mmtpa of imported LNG. This value will likely increase as imports will be a function of pipeline development, which is often delayed, and domestic production, which currently appears to be facing technical challenges.

Southeast Asian regasification infrastructure is projected to reach a 40 mmtpa capacity by 2018 and, alongside other indications of growth opportunities in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia, is another growth market for exporters.

Current Players: Qatar, Malaysia, and Australia

Qatar, Malaysia, and Australia are the worldwide leaders in LNG exports; collectively, their export capacity totaled more than 120 mmt as of 2012. All three countries are well-positioned to meet Asian demand for LNG, and in fact have been able to meet recent increases in demand. Notably, Australia’s LNG exports post-2015 are expected to rise dramatically due to the completion of several projects. This development is expected to cause a decrease in gas prices, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

Russian Exports

Due to decreased European demand, efforts are now being directed at supplying Russian LNG to Asia. Two projects are of particular note. Novatek, the largest private Russian natural gas supplier, signed a fifteen-year contract beginning in 2016 to export 3 mmtpa of LNG by tanker to China. Novatek continues to seek Asian partners in India and Japan in order to continue expanding their LNG export network. Many countries seem to be interested. In addition, Russia’s Gazprom deal with China – which involves the Power of Siberia, a 4,000 km pipeline from mid-eastern Russia to Vladivostock and curves around northern China at four entry points – will also allow exports to Korea and Japan from the coastal port of Vladivostock, the traditional Russian gateway to the Asia Pacific. The contract, to be signed in May when President Putin visits China, promises 10 mmtpa of LNG beginning in 2018.

US Exports 

In the US, more than 250 mmtpa of LNG exports have been proposed, the majority to be shipped from the Gulf Coast towards Asia. This distance is detrimental to the final cost, but due to existing infrastructure and the large number of brownfield LNG proposals, US LNG exports to Asia may still be competitively priced compared to BC LNG. It is very unlikely that all of the proposed projects will be required, but it is clear supplies are abundant.

BC Exports 

The three major projects currently under consideration on the northeast coast of BC could provide 61 mmpta of LNG. However, as previously mentioned, none of these proposals has begun construction, and all are greenfield sites requiring significant infrastructural investment, including pipelines, liquefaction facilities, and tanker loading infrastructure, all of which can significantly raise costs and extend expected delivery dates. In the context of these four realities – 1) growing Asia Pacific demand; 2) expansion of existing major players in the LNG industry; and 3) Russia and 4) the US as emerging suppliers that have seemingly more developed infrastructure and contracts already in place – BC must quickly and carefully decide if the proposed projects are truly beneficial. The government and people of British Columbia need to consider what long-term economic opportunities in northeastern BC can be developed, so that these towns do not boom and bust with worldwide natural gas and oil prices. Perhaps this represents an opportunity for northeastern BC to position itself as a port to the Asia Pacific rim as Canada begins to further penetrate northern energy and mineral resources, and as infrastructure is proposed and developed, such as the recently announced Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway. In a similar vein, Canada must plan cross-training for its skilled labour force to move from oil sands to LNG to mineral extraction further north. The federal government needs to recognize and act upon these opportunities by leveraging infrastructural investments in provincial and territorial silos for a national action plan as economics and increased demand allow us to explore further north and export further east.

Arriving in Chinatown: Enabling Immigrant and Economic Successes

I grew up going to the shops in Chinatown with my mother and sister, jabbing at the cured sausages, wrinkling my nose at the dried mushrooms, running away from the giant-eyed red snappers at the fish stall. This was back before all the Chinese started to move away, to Richmond, to 41stand Victoria, to where higher-ranked schools and newer homes could be found for their children.

And so in Vancouver, creeping in from the edges of Chinatown, as demarked by the kitschy lanterns and dated Welcome to Chinatown sign on Main Street and the classical North American Chinatown gates by Tinseltown, have come the hip coffee shops, the art galleries, the local fashion designers, the gentrification.

In response to rising real estate demand in downtown areas, municipal governments have re-zoned much of North America’s Chinatowns, including in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Toronto to allow for condo developments, attracting young urban professionals seeking real estate a quick train or bus ride from the downtown core, which in turn creates demand for more coffee shops, art galleries, and the like.

Many fear the loss of cultural neighbourhoods due to this gentrification, but given how ingrained the Chinese are in major Canadian cities, Chinese-Canadian culture, a distinct entity of its own, will no doubt continue to develop in complexity and maturity in its suburban basins. A more alarming concern to the phenomenon of disappearing Chinatowns is the loss of what Doug Saunders coins the arrival city, a place for new immigrants to find their footing, offering the foods of home, services in their native language, relationships and networks, job and small business opportunities, and low-cost housing.

An example Saunders offers in his new book, titled Arrival City, is that of Thorncliffe Park, a community just outside of downtown Toronto that has served as the first site of  arrival for many new Canadians, beginning with the Greeks and Macedonians, then Gujarati Indians, Ismaili East Africans, Columbians, Chileans, Filipino, Indians and Pakistanis, and now more recently, Afghans. Similarly, Chinatowns in Canada have always served as a launching pad for new Asian immigrants. Other immigrant groups such as the Vietnamese and Filipino communities settled later and leveraged the social infrastructure established by these communities. Ethnic suburban satellite replacements such as Markham in Toronto and Richmond in Vancouver do not suffice to replace Chinatowns, as they were built to serve second and third generation Chinese Canadians with a drastically different set of needs.

Immigrants enable economic activity through consumption and taxation, which helps support an increasingly aging and retired population, and are a critical source of labour required for Canada’s continued growth. In 2012, 384,000 new Canadians were born; that same year 258,000 new permanent residents came to Canada, of which nearly 40% originated from China, the Philippines, and India. The comparable magnitudes of Canadian birth and immigration rates illustrate how critical this influx of people is to Canada’s continued growth and economic expansion, and in turn, how compelled municipal governments should be to ensure the successful arrival of their immigrants.

The disappearance of Chinatowns and similar ethnic communities like Little Indias, Italys, Portugals, threatens the success of new immigrants in a tangible manner that will be painfully inevitable without policy intervention. This includes maintaining and expanding low-income and affordable housing in these communities in a significant and meaningful volume to allow new immigrants housing options within their communities, protecting existing tenants via anti-demolition, anti-harassment and anti-eviction provisions, as many Chinatown residents have experienced in the gentrification process, and improving public transportation to improve access to work and schools.

The infrastructural and social capital offered by existing landing basins such as Chinatown are invaluable to new Canadian immigrants, Chinese or not, and forward planning at the municipal level is necessitated by the increasing rate of gentrification in these hubs.

Having recently migrated myself, I look forward to exploring Calgary’s Chinatown, complete with kitschy lanterns and only a three minute walk from my office in the downtown core. It is this proximity, along with the fact that Calgary is increasingly viewed as an immigrant gateway city, which provides both a warning sign to the city’s planners and residents, but also an opportunity to consider the complements of a growing city and the enabling characteristics of its Chinatown.

Electrification in India: Opportunities for Collaboration

The lights flicker off and the air conditioner slowly shuts down, making that sad, dying electronic sound as it leaves the room humid. My main concern is that I will wake up again with an uncharged cellphone for the day of travel ahead from Alipura to Orchha, both villages outside Jhansi city in the northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Cell phone penetration in rural parts of many developing regions has been praised as a socio-economic growth enabler. Wider cell phone adoption has allowed market prices, job availability, and even health services to be quickly and cost-effectively communicated. This holds true in rural India, where cell phone adoption is 39% and climbing, as companies turn away from saturated urban markets to untapped rural opportunities. However, inadequate power for charging cell phones, along with a lack of light, refrigeration, heating, and cooling, is a challenge in many Indian villages that are either not connected to the electrical grid, or experience constant and prolonged power disruptions. There are many enterprising domestic organizations, such as SELCO, Husk Power Systems, DESI Power, Barefoot College, and Mera Gao Power, that have all charged themselves with increasing rural access to electricity via renewable energy systems and products. Many villages in India are working with these social enterprises or NGOs to develop hybrid mini- or microgrids, with the electricity generated by a hybrid of diesel, solar, wind, and biofuel.

For Canadian entrepreneurs, the next few decades of off-grid development in India presents hitherto unexplored markets for renewable energy products and services. In particular, there is much opportunity for products designed to leverage and account for the unique characteristics of renewable energy. For instance, in India, lead-acid batteries are the most common type of battery used for energy storage. However, lead-acid batteries are a sub-optimal solution with respect to toxicity and environmental stewardship. Canadian entrepreneurs and researchers can work with their Indian counterparts to develop batteries of appropriate energy density, autonomy, and ease of use. Other opportunities for innovation and Indo-Canadian partnerships include improved stove design that utilizes solar energy and manipulates the waste heat emitted, and material research for wind turbines that can withstand annual monsoons.

With the continued growth of these domestic organizations, and the future involvement of Indo-Canadian partnerships, electrification rates in rural India via renewable energies will increase rapidly. However, we need to be wary that an uncoordinated approach to the electrification of rural India may lead to a piecemeal solution with limited capacity. Such an approach would generate enough electricity for a few appliances per household, but not enough to develop trade or industry. This holds true in Canada, as many Canadians actively work at expanding renewable energy hybrid microgrids in rural northern Canadian communities. The implication of insufficient power capacity on local economics and development metrics in health, education, and income is aptly described as an energy-poverty nexus. As development progresses, opportunities for shared learning in microgrid technology between northern Canadian policy makers and technologists and their counterparts in India will become valuable for both sides.

The electrification of rural India is an issue wrought with complexity and involves unknowns in technology, public policy, and local adoption. Many domestic organizations have charged themselves with this task in order to achieve the significant GDP increases promised by researchers. Continuing to support research and development, and further empowering innovation amongst Canadian entrepreneurs, particularly those interested in penetrating foreign markets with technologically-advanced hardware, should be a critical policy focus in Canada. As Canadians, we can offer our expertise, our entrepreneurs, and our own experiences in northern rural electrification and microgrid development to this complex task.