Startup snapshot: Electric bicycles powered by the Namibian sun

Start-up SunCycles Namibia provides Namibians with alternatives to fuel-driven transport and grid-reliant energy. The company produces various electric bicycles, electric scooters, solar-charging units and solar home systems that incorporate lithium-ion battery technology and are powered purely by the Namibian sun.

“We combined two of our greatest passions – carbon-neutral mobility and clean energy – and created a unique enterprise as a solution to pressing local needs,” says SunCycle founders Marita and Bernhard Walther.

They briefed How we made it in Africa on their business’ operations and what they hope to achieve in the future.

1. How did you finance your start-up?

Our seed financing came from a business angel, who allowed us the possibility to implement our prototype phase. Further support was received through prize money from a variety of business competitions.

2. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

We’re constantly working on expanding our reach through additional projects and partnerships, and one of these is the SunBox concept. This is a modified shipping container, where the basic model is equipped with e-bikes and solar power and recharge facilities to cater to off-grid and rural needs. It is further customisable for health, education and small businesses needs, and other community requirements. If we were given US$1m to invest in our company, it would go towards production of 100 of these SunBox containers to create a unique sustainable network between rural villages in northern Namibia.

3. What risks does your business face?

We haven’t been able to secure a suitable financial partner willing to provide loans or other payment solutions to the low-income population interested in switching to sustainable alternatives. This creates the risk of making our products and services inaccessible to our main target market.

4. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Direct marketing has proven most valuable for our efforts –like face-to-face interaction and personal demonstration of our products and services.

5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

Shaking hands with His Excellency President Hage Geingob at the Invest in Namibia Conference, where we were invited to exhibit our products and projects.

6. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what you’ve learnt from it.

Our biggest mistake was that we didn’t pursue our entrepreneurial spirit much earlier and that it took us so long to find a more sustainable solution for our immediate environment. Personal experience proved that working an 8:00-17:00 job doesn’t provide you with enough time to develop your own ideas, and that the only way to improve your environment is by recreating it.