SunBox - Founder and CEO Majd Mashharawi

In today’s day and age simple access to electricity is something people all over the world take for granted, as it has unquestionably become a basic human necessity and a basic human right. For many people however, access to electricity is so much more than a commodity but an inaccessible and highly regulated luxury at best. This has never been more true for the people of Gaza who struggle to live, learn, work, and thrive with less than 6 hours of electricity per day. Despite this, the Palestinian people of Gaza remain determined to not only rise above but overcome adversity to create positive change. One such Palestinian is Majd Mashharawi.

As a civil engineer, Mashharawi emerged as a young Palestinian entrepreneur with a mission to rebuild Gaza with the only resources at her disposal, ash and rubble, remnants of the incessant war and destruction inflicted upon the people there. Using these recycled resources, Mashharawi decided to help build a better future for the marginalized people of Gaza, thus creating the building blocks that has come to define her first startup, GreenCake. 

GreenCake propelled Mashharawi into international renown and inspired her to persevere in her entrepreneurial pursuits towards finding innovative solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting her home city. As the energy crises continued to deteriorate leaving thousands of Gazans without enough electricity to fuel their schools, hospitals and homes, Mashharawi decided to find a solution, and she did. Putting her industriousness to the test, Mashharawi ingeniously sought to tap into a renewable resource that is beyond the control of any government or authority and decided to harness the energy of the sun, creating a brighter future for thousands of Gazans in the process.  

Harnessing the energy of the sun in compact off-grid solar kits, Sunbox is the first of its kind in Gaza. Established in 2017 as a social enterprise, SunBox emerged as a response to the ongoing energy crisis afflicting nearly 2 million Gazans. 

The team behind SunBox includes CEO and Founder Majd Mashharawi; CTO Ahmad Barzaq; Operation Officer Moahmmed Mashharawi; Communication and External Relations Officer Mohammed Almzainy; and Internal Relation Officer Maison Ali. The technical team consists of two professional electricians including Alaa Waleed, and Osama Hamoda. SunBox also regularly takes on new interns and trains fresh graduates to gain the relevant technical skills to kick off their careers. 

SunBox is an affordable smart solar kit that goes for just 350 USD, it is self-installable and can also be used as either an on or off-grid system. With the solar kit, families are able to tap into a reusable energy source needed to power the simple necessities of life, from lights, to small fridges, to helping families remain connected with the digital world and up to date with current events via the internet.  

Utilizing a hybrid system that charges a dedicated batter, the SunBox solar kit provides three hours of electricity per day at 1kWh. The SunBox system is designed to be connected and charged on solar energy and features two outputs with 220VAC to run AC loads, as well as a 100AH gel battery and smart battery management, and 5 USB, 9V and 220 V sockets.

Analyzing the market, as well as main competitors, Mashharawi explains that on average Gazans pay around 49 USD for electricity, while those that can afford to keep up with fluctuating diesel costs opt for a diesel generator which on average goes for 250 USD, and the average price for a common battery is set at 150 USD. While rooftop solar panels are very costly and accessible only to a few, the basic system costs 1,200 USD to set up and provides 1.3 kWp for an off-grid system. On the other hand, commercial batteries which go for a lot less are wildly unreliable, damage quickly and degenerate over time. The costs add up, and diesel generators are not self-sustaining, costly, and harmful to the environment. That’s what makes SunBox so unique, providing an ecofriendly solution that taps into a renewable resource, as such over 84% of people have shown an interest in owning a product like SunBox, and an overwhelming 52% are willing to pay up to 400 USD for the complete SunBox system.  

Since its launch in 2017, SunBox has achieved considerable traction, releasing their first prototype in December of the same year, Mashharawi experienced the potential and power of her innovation first hand, “We started our company in 2017 in December, by installing one of the prototypes in one of the camps, the next day I went to check what happened with the prototype and I saw a whole neighborhood watching a football match using our device. In that time, I recognized what we could bring it to the market.” Not only is SunBox providing an alternative sustainable power source for the people of Gaza, but more profoundly it is bringing people together to enjoy the simple things in life. 

Since then SunBox transitioned onto their piloting stage (March to May of 2018), basically installing their system and assessing the results with energy specialists. The final stage (July to October of 2018), included final modifications and the shipping out of 185 units. Additionally, the team behind SunBox realized the importance of expanding their outreach by building strategic relationships with NGOs. Further efforts included forming the installation model with microfinance organizations and launching a highly successful crowdfunding campaign.

SunBox currently adopts both a B2C, and B2B model. Directly targeting consumers via a dedicated showroom, online platform, entrepreneurship exhibitions, as well as via events organized by companies and universities. Indirectly, SunBox focuses on building relationships with local distributors and selling their products through them. In order to reach out to the most marginalized communities, SunBox collaborates with NGOs and committed donors to provide families in need with their solar systems, covering either half the cost, the whole cost, or offering beneficiaries microloans. 

In terms of revenue, in 2018 alone, SunBox managed to generate 38K USD for their off-grid system and due to considerable traction, they are projected to generate upwards of 250K USD for both their off-grid and on-grid models. In order to have the greatest impact, SunBox has already begun implementation on their PAYG (pay as you go model), “The pay as you go model is that we give the solar systems for families who cannot even afford 350 USD, and they can pay us in installments, we are currently piloting this in Gaza,” explains Mashharawi. In 2020 – 2021, the SunBox team estimate that with their current momentum and the opportunity to compete in regional and international markets, revenues are estimated to reach a staggering 1 million USD for both their off-grid and on-grid models. 

Mashharawi is currently looking to secure 250K USD in funding to further expand the scope and impact of SunBox. Funding will be utilized towards strengthening market support, business model support, enhancing organizational skills and finally towards team management. 

What really sets SunBox apart, however, is their socially driven for-profit approach, according to Mashharawi, “We are not only a for profit company, but we also operate as a social enterprise, so as a company we look to be sustainable that is why we reinvest 20% of our revenues from the for-profit model to the non-profit model.” 

From articles in prominent publications such as Forbes and The Guardian, to prestigious awards from MIT (enterprise forum Pan-Arab region), to speaking at TED Talks, the innovative talent behind SunBox continues to not only disrupt the energy crises in Gaza and beyond, but positively impact the lives of thousands in the process.  

To learn more about SunBox please visit: https://sunbox.ps

Written by
Leila Farraj
- Palestine
Leila Farraj, key expert in Startup and Business Development, works towards achieving MENACatalyst’s overall goal to strengthen collaborations between diaspora investors and local business start... Leila Profile
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