Travel booking site Booking.com awarded Cambodian-based Australian business Okra Solar, as was as IMPULSE Travel from Colombia, its top grant prize of €400,000 (around $644,000) as part of its 2019 Booking Booster accelerator program, specifically designed to support and nurture sustainable tourism around the world.
The three-week accelerator program involves intensive seminars, workshops and coaching by employees and industry experts from Booking.com, and culminates with each start-up pitching for grant money from a €2 million fund.
Okra Solar was one of two Australian businesses recognised as part of the awards. Melbourne-based Clean Travel, a booking software for “ethical travel operators”, was awarded €100,000 (approximately $161,000).
The 10 finalists included the Australian duos as well as other start-ups from India, The Netherlands, Nepal, Malaysia, France and Indonesia.
“I am so impressed by the incredible dedication of these amazing start-ups and the innovative solutions they are developing to protect communities and resources in every corner of the globe,” Booking.com’s president and CEO, Gillian Tans, said.
“We have long believed that technology is a powerful instrument for good, including when it comes to sustainable travel.
“I’m so proud of each and every one of these passionate change-makers and am looking forward to following their progress and supporting them as they seek to transform their visions into reality, helping to keep the destinations that we all love happy and healthy for decades to come.”
Okra Solar co-founder and CEO Afnan Hannan said the funding would help to boost the supply of its energy solutions to an extensive backlog of users.
“More than one billion people don’t have the opportunities that come with energy access. We’ll use the lessons we’ve learned and the funding we’ve received from the Booking Booster to make sure we can reach the 40,000 people currently waiting for our plug-and-play energy access solutions,” he said.
“As energy unlocks opportunities, many of the people in these beautiful off-the-beaten-path destinations will start travelling and opening their doors to share their culture with the world.”
Okra Solar developed a stand-alone solar home system designed to enable poorer communities to live off the grid, enabling one household to draw excess power from a neighbour, enabling them to be fully self-sufficient in terms of energy supply at a lower cost to traditional alternatives.
To date, the company’s solution has been deployed in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“Off-grid families in Cambodia that are connected to Okra’s pilot grids are now consistently powering basic appliances that most of us take for granted: lights, phone chargers, fans, TVs, water pumps, washing machines and refrigerators,” Okra Solar said in a statement issued in March this year.
“These communities are also using Okra to power agritech appliances like cricket incubators, egg incubators and rice dryers. The combined use of these appliances has helped off-grid families generate up to three times their normal annual income whilst transitioning into more modern, technology-driven lifestyles.”
At the time, the start-up had announced that it had secured US$480,000 note investment from Schneider Electric and Smart Axiata, and would be closing a seed round of funding in September 2019, with hopes of raising an additional $1.4 million.