Henri Nyakarundi, a Rwandese computer science graduate of Georgia State University, runs his own solar-powered mobile kiosk phone startup at 19. His startup charges 80 cell phones simultaneously. African Renewable Energy Distributor (ARED) is the startup that helps charge many mobile phone handsets in Kigali and rural Rwanda.
ARED provides a network of proximity offering an alternative to traditional internet that is expensive for people at the base of the pyramid. ARED network is independent of any infrastructure, with no constraint or bound to a specific location or place, all this for the simple reason that ARED is operate mobile kiosks. ARED focuses on two key metrics to keep the business successful:
Social impact Metrics
Develop a strong business in a box platform by delivering key value added services such as airtime mobile money, prepaid electricity, internet/intranet and more so that the micro franchisees can maximize their revenue on the kiosk. All revenue generated on the solar kiosk is shared with the micro franchisees.
Digital impact metrics
ARED are also using their solar kiosk open WIFI platform on which other players could provide content like iPhone App Store and iTunes to bring together “producers” of digital content and end users in high-value exchanges in which the chief assets are information and interactions. These interactions are the creators of value, the sources of competitive advantage at no data cost to the end user using their proprietary software/hardware.
As the number of producers increases so will the number of users. This will create the “network effect”—a process in which the value snowballs as more production attracts more consumption and more consumption leads to more production.
Targeting 800 Kiosks
Henri’s vision is to create up to 100, 000 micro businesses (franchises) across Africa in the next two years in a planned massive role out of the kiosks. This should be possible when his dream of increasing the number of kiosk from the current 25 to 800 kiosks in two years’ time come to pass.
Henri’s idea was born out of a cause-effect scenario where the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa and particularly in his native Rwanda indicates that 70% of the population there own mobile phone handsets. However the catch-22 situation there is that only 18% of the population has access to electricity. This discrepancy is what motivated Henri to come up with this ideal startup to get rid of the headache of most people not having a source of energy to charge their handsets.
Henri’s innovative start up is a double edged sword with both social impact and creating micro businesses for unemployed people. There are 25 kiosks mostly in rural Rwanda. Now multiply that by 80 phones charged by each mobile kiosk and you get quite a significant number of phones charged and impacting directly on people’s reachability in cases of emergency and general passing and sharing of information from one end to another.
Engaging people for the road ahead
Henri banks on the high rate of employment to propel his idea by tapping into the high rate of joblessness in the country, meaning the availability of labour is not doubtful. Vendors make around 107 $ a month –a substantial amount in Rwanda able to feed a family and pay rent in a month. An initial amount of 100$ is required as capital for a vendor to be given a kiosk and subsequently an extra 200$ in installments spread over across months. However, persons with disability are exempted from the capital for the kiosks as an affirmative action.
All applicants for the kiosks must be 25 years or above and must have two recommendation letters from their community leaders. ARED makes a 1% commission from the franchise with the bulk of its revenue coming direct from advertising on the kiosks.
ARED is planning to roll out smart kiosks which will offer Wi-Fi, build its own local intranet and data collection services for its customers at a small charge.
This is a very transformative idea keeping people in Rwanda connected through their phones, and be able to access data services and basically increases connectivity among the people in Rwanda.