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Solar device brings power to Congo

From the The next big thing: Highlighting innovation in the Madison area marketplace series
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NovoMoto customers in Mboka Paul, Democratic Republic of Congo, will use solar power to generate electricity instead of kerosene or diesel fuel.

In one of the last days in December 2014, I was talking to a couple of my classmates, Aaron Olson and Selamawit Zewdie, about taking the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) course in spring 2015 at the Wisconsin School of Business.

Although I was a Ph.D. candidate in engineering mechanics at UW-Madison at the time, I ended up doing my minor in entrepreneurship at WSB due to my passion.

I was not sure if WAVE would be a good fit for me, since I did not have any good ideas. During the conversation, Selam introduced me to a huge problem that has affected over 1.2 billion people across the globe: the lack of access to reliable electricity. The immensity of the problem immediately caught my attention and I decided to learn more about this problem and explore a solution through WAVE.

Fast forward to November 2015, Aaron and I founded NovoMoto to provide solar power to off-grid communities in sub-Saharan Africa while our friend Selam had to leave Wisconsin for a new position. We decided to start with Democratic Republic of Congo as our first market since Aaron was born there and still had connections in the country. Also, we found that DRC has one of the largest markets in SSA.

In fact, 91 percent of the Congolese population, over 68 million people, lack access to reliable electricity. Collectively, these people spend over $2 billion annually for lighting by way of kerosene fuel. This is one-third of their income for a dim and dangerous source of lighting.

NovoMoto provides solar-powered solutions as an alternative to kerosene and diesel. Our solar powered systems are cleaner, safer, cheaper and provide higher energy output. We provide this electricity by offering pay-as-you-go solar power packages.

The packages include a panel, a battery box and a set of efficient appliances. Customer pays $2.15 per week for our lighting and phone charging package (H20), which saves them 58 percent off of what they currently pay for kerosene, while they receive LED lighting that is brighter and lasts longer and they can charge their phones 3X more frequently. Customers pay for the package in increments over a three-year period and then they own the system.

Our target market is the entire country of DRC. Our pilot phase has started in Mboka Paul, located about 50 miles northeast of Kinshasa, the capital.

In 10 years, we hope to provide electricity to 5 million customers, which is equal to 37 percent of the entire country’s market. To date, we have acquired 8 customers in our pilot village and have received requests from potential customers in 6 villages.

Beyond providing access to electricity for our customers, we also help empower communities by providing lighting free of charge to schools and clinics in villages we serve.

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