We had a chance to catch up with Samson Gichia, the founder and entrepreneur behind Cobitech Solar. Part of the Hivos sponsored Green Pioneer Accelerator, the Cobitech team is currently engaged in an intensive acceleration program hosted by our partners Growth Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. Want to meet this company in person? Join our upcoming DEMO day Tuesday the 9th of June 2015.
Please pitch your business:
Cobitech Solar seeks to promote off-grid solar solutions like solar energy kits to rural poor households that use kerosene for lighting. Since most of these households cannot afford to pay up-front for the solar kits, we have established partnerships with MFIs and SACCOs who provides them with micro loans to buy the kits for 12 months repayment, making them more affordable as a result.
What inspired you to start this?
I was inspired by the need to provide simple and affordable lighting solution to over 70% of Kenyan who are not connected to the national grid and mainly uses kerosene for lighting.
What problem are you solving?
– Problems associated with use of kerosene for lighting due to indoor air pollution like respiratory and eye diseases
– Very high up-front cost of connecting to the national grid and subsequent monthly bills
– One off up-front payment of solar energy solutions is out of reach by many off-grid households and therefore need for micro-loans
Can you describe your target market? What is the size of business opportunity?
– Our target market is mainly plantation farm workers who are provided with housing by the employer but not supplied with electricity. These workers pay for our solar products from their salaries through check-off system. Our target plantation farms have over half a million total number of workers in different sectors of the economy like sisal, flower, tea, sugar and coffee sub-sectors.
– Micro-Finance Institutions who sell our products on loan to their members who are mainly community groups. These community group members co-guarantee one another and therefore no loan security is needed. So far Cobitech Solar is working with Micro-Africa (Letshego), a leading MFI with 25 branches in Kenya. We are in the process of recruiting more MFIs based on their regional presence and strengths.
What is the innovation you bring about? What is the impact opportunity?
– Flexible micro loans on solar energy kits with repayment done on weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Also repayment can be done seasonally like after 3-4 months to farmers based on their crop harvest season/payment cycle;
– Our solar energy kits are fully insured at least during the 1 year credit period against theft, technical malfunction or damage;
– Our marketing approach targeting salaried plantation farm workers who pays through check-off system and therefore reduced risk of loan repayment default.
Please highlight what has been achieved so far. What are the key milestones?
– Currently we are supplying solar kits to over 3000 sisal plantation farm workers at DWA sisal Estates in Kibwezi, Makueni County. Dwa is a subsidiary of REA vipingo a listed Nairobi Stock Exchange company with over 10,000 workers in sisal plantations. So far we have supplied 150 solar kits and another 270 to be supplied in June 2015;
– An agreement entered with Harvest Flower Farm in Athi River to supply solar energy kits to it 900 workers through their SACCO. We have so far received the first order of 100 solar kits to be supplied in the first week of May, 2015;
– An insurance policy agreement entered between APA Insurance, Letshego (Micro-Africa) and Cobitech Solar.
Why did you join the Green Pioneer Accelerator and how are you leveraging this program?
I joined green accelerator programme to enhance my management skills on running a successful, profitable and self sustaining social impact venture. The program is also an avenue to raise capital and partner with investors/donors required to scale up this venture.
Where could you use additional support? How can the members of the VC4A community help you?
– Additional support will much be needed in raising capital mainly for procuring more inventory of Cobitech solar kits so as to meet the huge market demand
– Members of VC4A community can help in fund raising for this venture
Do you have an ask for investors?
We are offering investors a 20% (ordinary shares) stake in our company for $100,000. We have not raised capital in the past.
What is your advice to other startup entrepreneurs out there?
Entrepreneurs need to believe in themselves and be tenacious enough to pursue their dreams. Promote your ideas by networking, not fearing to share your ideas with others or to seek expert opinion and guidance through mentorship.
What do you feel needs to happen to spur more innovation in green?
There is need for green investors (and the funds they represent) to engage at an earlier stage. Green technology innovators need support as they move new innovations through proof of concept, seed financing, pilot and post pilot feasibility.
Part of the Hivos sponsored Green Pioneer Accelerator, the Cobitech team is currently engaged in an intensive acceleration program hosted by our partners Growth Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. Want to meet this company in person? Join our upcoming DEMO day Tuesday the 9th of June 2015.