Amare Assefa is founder of Kenefas Energy Solution, an Addis Ababa-based start-up that seeks to design and manufacture micro wind turbines that generate up to 1KW for use in rural areas. The electrical engineering graduate started the business a year ago to address challenges households in rural Ethiopia face due to lack of access to electricity. Assefa tells How we made it in Africa about Ethiopia’s wind energy potential, and his most exciting moment as an entrepreneur.
1. Give us your elevator pitch.
Our goal is to provide energy for Ethiopia’s rural communities most of whom are not connected to the grid. Energy access will help address challenges such as children not being able to study at night, adults not owning mobile phones because they have no way of charging them, or families using wood for fuel leading to deforestation. Most people in rural Ethiopia live in highland areas which have abundant wind energy resources. We are developing small wind turbines that are portable and simple to use.
Our target is to sell to rural community groups because the kit might be too expensive for one household, plus 1KW is a lot of energy for one family. One system would cost around $1,000 but it can be used by several households. If the users only need it as DC source of power (to charge phones, for example) the cost would decrease significantly since they would not need to use a converter. The product can also be a back-up to grid-connected areas where people can use it when they suffer power interruptions.
2. How did you finance your start-up?
We raised the funds ourselves from our own savings. Since we are still building the prototype it is difficult to get external funding. But once the prototype is ready in a few months, we will approach investment agencies and the government.
3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?
We would buy a piece of land and set up a factory for manufacturing and assembly of the product. We would also hire some technical expertise and import raw materials such as electrical components and batteries.
4. What risks does your business face?
Adaptation to the technology. Our target market is the rural population, and most people there do not have a technical background. We might have to give them products for trials, let them use it for a while after which they will be more likely to purchase it when realising the benefits. The primary investment is high, but the running costs are zero and it can last for even 20 years. We will also give them free maintenance.
5. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.
As a child I was always curious about what would be my contribution to the country. Right now we are about to submit for patent rights for our product. It is exciting to design and build a product in Ethiopia that will benefit 84% of our population. Families will be able to own mobile phones and have access to information that can improve their agricultural activities. Health centres will work even at night, and children will extend their reading long after dark. I get excited thinking about what we could accomplish by getting this product to market.