Startup snapshot: Earn rental income by leasing solar panels to businesses in Africa

South Africa-based The Sun Exchange allows members to purchase solar panels and lease them to be installed at businesses, hospitals, schools and other organisations in developing countries. The solar panel owners receive rental payments in either conventional currency or Bitcoin. Abraham Cambridge, founder and CEO, answers our questions.

Give us your elevator pitch.

The Sun Exchange is an online solar marketplace, where anyone in the world can buy solar panels and then lease them to be installed into remotely-located commercial and community solar projects in sunny developing regions across the globe. The users of the solar panels gain access to clean and affordable solar power at no upfront cost, and the owners of the panels earn a 20-year income stream, optionally paid in cryptocurrency.

How did you finance your startup?

The Sun Exchange first raised funds through the crowdfunding platforms Indiegogo and StartJoin, raising around US$35,000 from donors from all around the world. With that we built a prototype platform and hosted pilot solar projects for which we secured angel investments from Boost VC in California.

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

We would use it to create a rotating solar fund that would be used to pre-finance our solar projects, which we would then refinance. This would increase the turnover of our ability to deliver solar plants.

What risks does your business face?

Uncertainties around cryptocurrency regulation present the biggest potential challenge. However, our model so clearly demonstrates the good and positive benefits to African economies, that it should be held up as an example of why crypto should be supported.

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

We like to get out there across multiple channels, both old school and new school. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook are essential tools, as well as presenting at events and conferences so the wider industry can learn and be inspired by what we are doing. This has also helped position us as thought leaders in the solar, blockchain and technology industries.

Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

When we received the first Bitcoin payment to buy solar cells from The Sun Exchange. It came from someone in Switzerland. This confirmed to me that our platform has international appeal and has no limits to success.

Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learnt from it?

Initially we were outsourcing tech development. This turned out to be very expensive and wasn’t building in-house expertise. We ended up teaming up with the company that we were outsourcing to, so it ultimately ended well.

In addition to your own industry, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

Waste recovery and recycling. There is so much packaging litter which can be recovered and made back into usable building materials. You know what they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.