Columbia Bizcast: Manuel Wiechers ECLA ’17

Through the startup Iluméxico, this graduate is bringing solar power to Mexicans who live off the grid.

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One in seven people worldwide lacks access to electricity, including some 3 million people in Manuel Wiechers’ home country of Mexico. But he’s slowly changing that.

Through his startup Iluméxico, Wiechers has installed 13,000 solar power systems servicing 58,000 people in the deepest recesses of rural Mexico, including to homes only available by boat, donkey, and day-long trek.

And now, with training from the Business School’s 13-month Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness in Latin America (ECLA) program, which Wiechers completed in 2017, he is eyeing even more ambitious goals: To bring electricity to 50,000 homes by 2020 and to light up all of Mexico by 2025.

On this episode of Columbia Bizcast, the Mexico City-native talks about why he launched Iluméxico in 2010, the challenges to convincing Mexicans to move away from pollutive diesel generators, and how he overhauled his company’s operations during the ECLA program with mentorship from senior lecturer Alonso Martinez.

“He worked with us for five months on developing our key initiatives for operational excellence,” says Wiechers, whose business restructuring became the basis for a new Columbia CaseWorks study on supply chain strategy. “We formalized, standardized, and structured them in a much more efficient manner. That allowed us to be prepared for growth [and] get a very quick second investment round and boost what we were doing.”

A former Ashoka fellowfinalist for the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, and participant in the Endeavor entrepreneurship program, Wiechers has also been featured in Forbes and Ideas and InsightsIluméxico is a certified B Corporation, a designation for social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

“I had more opportunities than the average Mexicans,” says Wiechers. “I knew I had to give back.”

Click here to learn about more exciting entrepreneurs who have completed the ECLA program.

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