By Paul Ndiho
A Rwandan start-up firm that uses a mobile solar kiosk to provide low-cost phone charging, airtime sales and mobile money transfers is generating interest and rapidly becoming the leading distributor of renewable energy solutions to rural and urban communities.
“My name is Henry Nyakarundi; I’m the owner of ARED, we developed a patent technology that can deliver key services to the end user.
Henri Nyakarundi is Rwandan innovator who has developed a cutting edge technology which offers a one-stop shop for mobile phone users looking for low-cost and convenient phone charging services.
“We do charging, we sell airtime, we can do mobile money transfers and very soon we will be able to do data connectivity for the end user. We are using a franchise business module to promote entrepreneurship at the base of the pyramid.
Nyakarundi grew up in Burundi and moved to the United States in 1996 to pursue further studies in computer science. After graduation, he ventured into other business pursuits including transportation and real-estate development. In 2013, has returned to his native country Rwanda to start ARED a grassroots social enterprise that empowers the local community.
“We are working on the next generation kiosk, which is doing data connectivity with internet, as well as content distribution using a built in WiFi network.”
ARED makes use of a franchise model for its kiosks, allowing people with little capital to start their own business.
“I actually believe this is one of the entrepreneurial and innovative businesses that you will find right now in Africa.”
Started under the African Renewable energy distribution, ARED is already making their mark on the global stage. The Tech firm has so far attracted both national and international attention — winning the American Society for Mechanical Engineer’s Innovation award, a global competition for hardware-led social ventures.
“We can charge up to thirty five (35) phones at one time on this system. The agents working out of these kiosks run their own business so to speak. And we have twenty four (24) kiosks on the ground right now in Rwanda.”
As an experienced entrepreneur, Nyakarundi knew a good opportunity when he saw one and he’s part of talented group of Rwandans trying to find home grown solutions to some of the problems Rwandans are facing. He says thinking out of the box is what is drove him to be innovative. He says that his business model has the potential create jobs, for unemployed people in the country.
I built this business to have a social impact, and when you work at the end user the Base of the Pyramid, their revenue are so small, they make $2 to $5 a day, so they cannot afford this kiosk. So I have to create a module where partnership was a key.”
“We design the technology in Rwanda and do the manufacturing in China, but in the future, most parts will be manufactured in Africa. The problem of Africa is, if you not manufacturing huge volumes, the cost is very high and in China it’s different.
Despite THE challenges the young innovator is focused on perfecting his brainchild.
“You know when you develop a technology, you always have to change different modules, so this is the fourth module we have, it’s a fourth generation kiosk and what you looking at, for example it doesn’t have a door, so we added a door for security reasons.”
Furthermore, ARED has partnered with Airtel offset the cost of the kiosk.
“If you look at the kiosk for example, it brings visibility; so companies that we partnered with are very interested because we can brand the kiosks, as you can see they are all red because of Airtel.”
ARED is already planning to expand the brand to sell on the regional market in Burundi, South Sudan and Uganda. Tech analysts say Rwanda’s fast growing population and rapid urban development means they’re more people likely to use the technology. Therefore, having a mobile smart solar kiosk could ease the burden for people in rural areas with no access to electricity.
Paul Ndiho is a Ugandan – American video journalist/ executive producer, Africa Innovations & Technology based in Washington D.C with interests in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. He is passionate about mentor-ship and developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Paul Ndiho and Twitter: @pndiho