On July 27, 2018, Powah Limited, a Ugandan solar solutions company received US$25,000 ( about Shs92.5m) grant from Trade and Development Bank (TDB) Group to construct and design a solar run lab and livelihood centre in Nakivale Refugee Settlement. The hub is a livelihood centre constructed and developed from a container and run completely on solar using internet and computer access resources.
It was a very big milestone for Esteeri Kabonero (EK), a 27 year old entrepreneur behind the solar company that hopes to construct more solar run labs across the country with an aim of improving livelihoods of local communities.
Having grown up and studied in America, one would think Esteeri was destined to stay there, but she decided to come back home to help in the economic transformation of the country through offering solar energy solutions.
Business Focus (BF) interviewed the innovative young entrepreneur about her business journey and a wide range of issues related to energy.
Below are the excerpts of the interview;
BF: Briefly tell me about your entrepreneurial journey?
I am Esteeri Kabonero, 27, a Ugandan-American because I grew up in the United States of America.
I hold a Bachelors Degree in Business with a bias in Finance and Information Systems from Boston University which I attained in 2013.
After graduating, I went to Rwanda and did some projects in the energy sector. I met many entrepreneurs in Rwanda’s Klab, an open space for IT entrepreneurs to collaborate and innovate.
When my contract was about to end, I went back for Masters in 2015. I mastered in Global Innovation Strategy in three different Universities in France, China and the US.
The course helps one to see problems in different fields and offer solutions to them.
BF: What inspired you to start Powah Ltd?
EK: I developed the idea to go into solar energy business when I was in Rwanda. I wanted to do something that pushes development and this was energy. This is because almost 80% of Ugandan homesteads don’t have access to electricity energy. I also realized that many solar and energy companies in Uganda are not locally owned.
And in August 2017, my idea came to fruition; Powah Ltd was born. We are a team of six.
BF: What specific products and services do you offer?
EK: We are a solar solutions company with many products including solar for productive use. Power hub is one of the unique products we have. This is aimed at creating development among people with no access to energy. It’s made locally here. Our first power hub will go to Nakivale Refugee Settlement.
Our power hubs can be customized and the costs depend on the uses/ functions it offers.
We also provide solar installations; we do back-ups for schools, offices, hospitals and homes.
We also do product distribution; solar lights, solar radios, solar phone charges and the cheapest go for as low as Sha30, 000. We work with different companies in US, China and Germany especially for solar panels.
BF: Why are you targeting vulnerable communities like refugees?
EK: In the refugee settlements access to power, information, and basic necessities are inadequate. There are numerous entrepreneurs, students, and farmers who have can create opportunities for themselves. However, lack of basic infrastructure hinders many people in these camps. With access to internet and energy, we can raise the standard of living for many in this community. In order for communities to be sustainable, there needs to be phone charging, lighting, and internet access to create income generating activities. The Powah Hub is the solution to this dilemma.
It is also important to note the hub will also benefit surrounding communities.
BF: There are many fake solar products on market. How do you ensure that you have genuine products?
EK: One of the ways to determine fake solar products is to look at the prices. Many customers tend to go for lowly priced products, but most times they are fake. Solar panels are supposed to last 20 years.
We want to be a quality company, so we don’t entertain fake products. To reduce on prices of solar products, government should offer subsidies.
BF: What key challenges are solar companies facing in Uganda?
EK: Some people think solar doesn’t work, but it does. Solar upfront payment is also still expensive, explaining why government should come in and offer subsidies. We also need positive solar policies in place.
BF: What key business lessons have you learnt so far?
EK: It’s important to get the right team. Investment capital isn’t much important as your team.
BF: What are your future plans?
EK: We are looking at water pumping and irrigation products in the next phase. We also want to be the number one energy solutions provider in rural and urban areas of Uganda. We want to have many power hubs based on needs.
BF: What advice do you have for your fellow young entrepreneurs?
EK: Have a vision and follow it. Create a product or a service and test it with one customer or a few customers and see the outcome. It’s also important to take one step at a time.
BF: Your last word…
EK: Uganda has the best location for solar energy in the world. So Uganda can be the leader in solar energy and Powah Ltd hopes to be a leader in it.