Two weeks ago, I interviewed Henri Nyakarundi, Founder and Project manager of African Renewable Energy Distributor(ARED), – a Solar energy distribution start –up based in Rwanda. Founded in 2012, ARED seeks to provide and supply stable, reliable energy solution to rural and urban areas in the East Africa. It employs innovative technologies like Mobile Solar Cell Charger (MSCC) and Concentrated Solar Power.
Henri Nyakarundi, a product of Ecole Francaise de Bujumbura holds BSc from Georgia State University centered in downtown Atlanta. He has led the ARED team for quite a period of time. Also, He manages the company’s plan for expansion in the Solar Energy Industry . Not too long ago, Henri and his team of four members launched a solar powered charging station. Mobile Solar Kiosk is ARED’s newest product. M.S.K provides one – stop shopping destination for mobile users.
In this Interview, Henri Nyakarundi explains the workings of Mobile Solar Kiosk, how it would extend reliable energy solution to rural and urban areas, goals of ARED, and the future of Solar Energy Distribution in East Africa.
SA : As the Founder /Project manager , Kindly give us a clear description of ARED ?
HENRI : ARED design and engineer renewable energy solution at a micro and macro level. Our first product that we developed is called Mobile Solar Kiosk.
SA : Could you brief us on your latest product – ‘Mobile Kiosk Solar’ ?
HENRI : Mobile Solar Kiosk was an idea that I came up with in 2009 coming back from a trip in Burundi. I saw the rise of cell phones usage, and the issue of the energy crisis in the region. In 2012, we finished building our first prototype. Since then we developed three more prototypes to adapt it to the market place.
SA : What are some of the unique features of ARED’s ‘Mobile Solar Kiosk ’ and how does it work ?
HENRI : Our Mobile Solar kiosk is a one stop shop solution for telecom users. We are using low cost franchise business model. Our goal is to promote entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid. Franchisee(s) can charge any type of electronics, sale products or electronic vouchers and in the future, the kiosk will offer internet access using WIFI technology. One of the key feature of the kiosk is its mobility. Hence, it is a help in lowering the cost of transacting business.
We are working on the next generation of Solar kiosk. Our aim is to make it much smarter. It will be incorporated with GPS sensors and battery sensors so we can do pre-emptive maintenance on the kiosk and also be able to monitor the business 100% remotely. The software will be able to process the raw data into summary statistics, and aggregate these results so that we can keep improving on our technology, training of the agents etc…
SA : What’s the major goal of ARED ?
HENRI : Our number one goal is to develop technology for the African market in Africa By an African Company. Africa consumes foreign products but we barely make anything . Most atimes, I go to forums or international events about innovation in Africa and 9 out of 10 those innovations are owned by companies outside Africa.
Our second goal is to bring technology such as 3D printing in Africa so that we can design and engineer prototype products in house instead of outsourcing it to china, Europe, or USA.
Finally we want our product to reach the international market(because the local market is not our limit).
We want to break the cycle that the only thing we can export is raw materials or low tech products such as jewelry etc…. I want to inspire the youth that we can also lead in the tech industry.
SA : How many employees do you have so far and how do you work as a team to solve energy crisis in the East Africa ?
HENRI : We are a team of four – one project manager, a technician, a director of communication and myself managing director. We are based in Rwanda . We established ‘ARED’ four and half years ago. Our goal is to expand our product in the whole continent by licensing our technology to different partners. In Rwanda we work with Airtel Rwanda. We believe our technology can help a company increase their market share especially in rural areas because the mobile solar kiosk offers visibility and availability of the company’s products and services.
SA : How would ARED extend reliable source of energy to rural and remote areas in Rwanda ?
HENRI : The mobile Solar kiosk is a micro solution. I believe the decentralizing of the grid by creating smaller grids and adopting micro solutions like ours can solve the energy problem in Africa. We should not adopt the western approach of building large grid with high cost transmission lines. Our kiosk was designed for high traffic areas such as market place, bus stop, hospitals, etc.. We are mostly in areas where there is no electricity. Now people can use our kiosk to charge their phones and get other services.
SA : How significant is ‘Mobile Solar Kiosk’ to advertising agency or entrepreneurs in East Africa ?
HENRI :There is a huge challenge for companies to create a uniform distribution channels in rural areas. We are able to solve it with our Mobile Solar Kiosk. We design the kiosk to allow advertisement space on the kiosk so we can create high visibility for the client. Our goal is to create a new advertising media that is dynamic. A customer that sees the kiosk can actually know what kind of service the kiosk offers and will be able to get that product or service on the kiosk immediately without any delay. This platform can increase market share for any company especially in rural areas. I truly believe for companies to stand out. They need to partner with innovative companies so they can differentiate themselves from their competitors.
SA : State three reasons why Entrepreneurs or Mobile Users should consider ‘ Mobile Solar Kiosk’ as the panacea to energy crisis in the near future ?
HENRI : 1. Less than 20% of the population has access to electricity in East African but over 60% has a cell phone. Our mobile solar kiosk offers convenient charging solution at a low cost. If you purchase a product on the kiosk you receive the charge for free.
2. We offer a franchise business to empower people that cannot afford a big business. Our training, technology and assistance increase the rate of success for those people.
3. Most business in rural areas cannot sell electronic vouchers using POS because of lack of electricity. Now with our kiosk they can sell airtime, do mobile money and charge the POS on the kiosk.
SA : Any major achievements so far ?
HENRI :Well, We won the Siemens empowerment award, Energy global award, and 100 innovation pour le development durable en Afrique.
SA : How can our readers or franchisee contact ARED ?
HENRI : We have a website a-r-e-d.com
twitter @ AFRIKRED