ennos ag develops and distributes the "sunlight pump" – a highly efficient solar-powered water pump for use in agricultural irrigation systems and water supply systems in developing countries. ennos aims to make a difference in society in a variety of ways, not only by helping to improve local income levels and living standards, but also by promoting knowledge transfer in the field of renewable energies and by creating jobs.
Interview with: Karin Jeanneret Vezzini, CEO of ennos ag, and Karin Imoberdorf, Head of Marketing & Sales
From an idea to a product. A long journey summed up in just a few words?
As a result of the Bern University of Applied Sciences’ (BFH) international reputation in the field of solar technology, the idea for the development of a solar water pump for smallholder farmers came to the BFH from India in 2004. Led by Professor Andrea Vezzini, our team worked on this research project together with a group of students and assistants.
How did ennos ag emerge from the research project?
The sunlight pump was designed to meet the needs of smallholder farmers. We saw a great deal of market potential in this group from the beginning, and ennos was soon established as a spin-off company in 2006. Today, we have a marketable plug-and-play product that is now being distributed in a number of developing countries.
From the research lab to the field. Smooth sailing?
No, not always. In the lab, of course, we had straightforward conditions and experts who could test the first prototypes. But when we took them to Bangladesh and India, we discovered sources of error that we couldn’t have tested in the lab: a new environment, different water quality, and of course the users – the farmers who were going to actually use the pump, and who were completely unfamiliar with this technology. So we addressed these issues and adapted the pump in line with both the environment and the end users.
An innovative product from an innovative workplace. Why did you choose SIP Biel/Bienne as your location?
As a spin-off company of the BFH, being located nearby is of course extremely important for us. But the spirit of the Switzerland Innovation Park Biel/Bienne is also confirmation for us that we’re in the right place. This is a hub for the startup scene, people come together and exchange ideas here, and we receive a great deal of support – for example, from be-advanced AG. On top of all this, it is just a short walk away from the Biel/Bienne train station.
One of your visions is to create jobs. How many were there at the beginning, and how many are there now?
Following an extensive R&D phase, ennos has been working hard on distribution for around two years now. Currently, ennos is in the process of building up distribution channels and service structures with its local partners in different countries. We train these partners so that they can develop their own businesses selling and servicing the pumps. In this way we are creating new jobs.
Our goal is for the sunlight pump to be a profitable investment for the farmers themselves as well. We see them as well-informed and discerning customers, not as charity cases. The farmers are investing their hard-earned money, and are therefore motivated to make productive use of this technology and take good care of it. We want the smallholder farmers to be able to buy the pumps themselves by means of microfinancing or payment by installments, for example. Eventually, with the extra income they earn as a result of using the technology, the pumps will pay for themselves. This makes us unique not only in terms of our technology, but also in terms of our marketing approach. Ultimately, the enthusiasm we see in our partners and the farmers is all the confirmation we need that we’re on the right track.