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Weird business plan.

Whit Alexander has worked for Microsoft and created the board game Cranium. And now he's founder and chief executive officer of Burro, a for-profit company based in Koforidua, Ghana, that provides batteries, irrigation pumps, eyeglasses, and other products to low-income families in rural areas.

The company is named for the donkey, one of the best first investments many rural households can make to improve productivity, Alexander said. Each of the company's products saves rural users money or empowers them to earn more money, he added.

One of Alexander's favorite stories behind a Burro product comes from the Burro battery-powered phone charger.

"We were looking at existing phone chargers in Ghana and found a few on the market in Ghana. They tend to be aluminum cylinders with one AA battery and a little phone jack. They just don't work; you can't get enough power out of one AA to charge a cell phone, but people are spending good money on these things," he said.

"I was expressing that frustration to one of our top resellers, a guy named George Henaku, and George trots out this thing that's literally a piece of bamboo. He shoved three D batteries in it, then cut the cord off his cell phone wall charger and wired it directly to the batteries," Alexander continued.

Henaku told him the charge can be used for nearly all cellular telephones.

"The little lights went off in my head. With nickel metal hydride batteries, four of them together make a charger that is pretty much right in the voltage sweet spot over the batteries' entire discharge curve," Alexander said.

Thus, the Burro battery phone charger was born.

"Is it like a sixty-dollar lithium ion rechargeable iPad power pack? No," Alexander said: "But it's really portable, it's dirt-cheap, it works on 95 percent of phones with no trouble whatsoever, and it was a local innovation.

A book about Burro's early days, written by Whit Alexander's brother, Max Alexander, is titled Bright Lights, No City: An African Adventure on Bad Roads with a Brother and a Very Weird Business Plan (New York, Hyperion, 2012).


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Title Annotation:TECH BUZZ
Author:Duffy, Chris
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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