Nyakarundi seeks to solve Rwanda’s energy challenges

After graduating from college in the US, Henri Nyakarundi, had hoped to stay and chase the American Dream like the other people who go to the States. 
Nyakarundi demostrates how the device works (right and below). The solar powered apparatus was developed to help people who are not connected to the power grid. The New Times / Ben Gasore
Nyakarundi demostrates how the device works (right and below). The solar powered apparatus was developed to help people who are not connected to the power grid. The New Times / Ben Gasore

We are profiling young people who have conquered fear and ventured into the business world for the next 10 weeks. Today, Business Times’ Ben Gasore brings you Henri Nyakarundi, 36, who abandoned the elusive American Dream after a visit to Rwanda changed his life. Nyakarundi is now living the Rwandan Dream as an innovator and businessman. Nominate an enterprising youth today by sending an email to: business@newtimes.co.rw 

After graduating from college in the US, Henri Nyakarundi, had hoped to stay and chase the American Dream like the other people who go to the States. 

To realise his dream, he formed a transport firm in 2009 and also worked as a driver for a couple of years or so. 

However, the American Dream was elusive, but Nyakarundi is now living the Rwanda Dream as a renewable energy solutions innovator and entrepreneur. 

Nyakarundi, who moved to the US as a 16-year-old teen, says when the going got tough and the firm was not bringing in enough money as he had envisaged, he sold it and decided to take a vacation in Rwanda as he thought of what else to do when he returns to America. 

That marked the turning point for the 36-year-old; he never went back to chase the elusive American Dream. 

“When I was moving around in Rwanda, I realised that people were finding it hard to find a place to recharge their mobile phone battery. Even in places where such a service was offered, they used hydro electricity supply which isn’t economical,” he explains.

“This got me thinking how I could reduce costs for those in the business and increase their revenues. That’s how this enterprise was born.” He says when he went home he worked out a draft of a renewable energy apparatus that people could use to charge their phones. And his training in computer science came in handy. 

Kicking off the project 

I have invested around $100,000, 90 per cent of which was spent on research and developing the technology. 

“Developing your own product is the hardest thing you can ever do in life, but is so rewarding and fulfilling,” Nyakarundi, who operates under ARED brand name, notes. 

“Big companies hire people to think and innovate for them, but I don’t have that kind of money.”

Nyakarundi says he re-designed the mobile charging device he had drafted earlier, and wanted it to be assembled in the country “because it’s a low-technology device which I was confident would be done here”. 

“After that, I had to test the technology and the business model I had designed. In spite of the initial challenges, I was able to add features like durable solar energy batteries. I also designed inbuilt drawers for owners to do other businesses like selling airtime or SIM cards, and wheels to make the device mobile,” he notes. 

He adds that the business model he had developed gave him challenges at first “because the employees I recruited to run the kiosks weren’t doing a good job. So I now work with co-operatives because it is easy for members to make each accountable”.

Nyakarundi notes that he is now implementing a franchise business model, where business-minded individuals associations or co-operatives pay ARED a one-off fee of Rwf235,000) or Rwf335,000 to buy the device kiosk, plus a monthly charge of Rwf30,000 to service and support the gadget.

He said the 40-watt mobile phone charging kiosk, charges up to 16 phones at any given time. It is specially designed for Rwandans living in areas that are not connected to the national power grid or without regular access to electricity, and those in busy areas such as marketplaces and car parks.

The device was launched in February last year. The ever-innovative Nyakarundi says he is developing a programme that he hopes will be used to transact mobile money transfer services.

Private investors 

Nyakarundi has so far made four kiosks, with one in Kigali (Nyabugogo), two in the Eastern Province and another in the Northern Province. He says the kiosks altogether make an average of between Rwf135,000 and Rwf205,000 a day.

The initial investment for an entrepreneur who wants the kiosk is $1,000 (about Rwf690,000), which caters for training of the franchise owner, transporting the kiosk, jackets, charging plugs, and products and services that come with the kiosk such as cell phones, solar lights and airtime.

Challenges

Nyakarundi says the business concept looks complicated to many and hard to convince potential partners or financiers. “Many want to see your project succeed first before they come on board,” he explains.

Nyakarundi does all the bookkeeping himself, arguing that it is costly to hire an accountant, someone to write the proposals and others to design and market products”. 

Looking to the future

Nyakarundi sees the mobile phone charging devices as an opportunity for him and other Rwandans to sell more services like telecom and electricity cash power top-ups. He is also looking at going regional, starting with Burundi.

He plans to roll out 50 more kiosks in Rwanda and the other 50 in Burundi this year if gets funding.

He says he’s seeking $250,000 (about Rwf168.8m) to assemble 100 more kiosks to roll out the project to other rural areas. He also wants to buy a tracking software system so he can always monitor all the kiosks.

The goal is to have 400 of the devices in Rwanda “because once you have a system that works, what remains is duplicating and implementing”. This he says will create many jobs, especially for the youth.

Government support

Nyakarundi says he was recently given some tax exemption by the government. 

“The fact that the government recognises the kind of business I am doing and its impact on society boosts my morale to go on and do more,” he says with contentment written all over his face.

 

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