Tanzanian startup Juabar – the winner of the country’s local leg of the Seedstars World competition – is on a mission.
That mission, according to Juabar co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Olivia Nava, is to enable East African solar entrepreneurs to provide electricity access to unelectrified communities.
The startup does this by leasing solar phone charging kiosks on a month-by-month basis, which the entrepreneurs can then use to launch their own businesses by having community members pay to charge their phone at the kiosk.
“At the time that we started there was not a lot of solar companies focused on phone charging as the fastest way to adopt solar in rural communities,” Nava told Disrupt Africa.
“Most companies were focused on solar lighting. Today, it’s crazy to dismiss the phone charging aspect but in 2011 it wasn’t as obvious a need. Our insight was that there were all these great solar lighting products that nobody in rural Tanzania seemed to know, so we wanted to create a location that could charge phones and be a trusted retailer for solar lighting products. We were meeting these great solar lighting product companies that were Lighting Africa vetted and felt we could help with two problems: phone charging and lighting distribution.”
The Seedstars World jury was certainly impressed, and Juabar will head to the global final early next year to pitch for up to US$500,000 in funding. Not bad for a startup that actually began life in 2011 as a research and product design project for another solar company in Tanzania.
“The initial solar company passed on the concept but we continued the idea after positive results from an initial product pilot with our implementation partners in Dar es Salaam,” Nava said.
“We came back to Tanzania in March 2013 to continue the work as a viable business offering and continue to work on it to this day full time.”
Though Juabar faces competition from solar companies that can meet the same capacity as its kiosks and are targeting the same business customers, Nava believes Juabar has a different concept in that it is developing more products that fit business applications beyond phone charging and that can grow business opportunities for our entrepreneurs.
Juabar – funded by a combination of angel investors, strategic partnerships, philanthropic funding, crowdfunding and revenue – currently reaches 6,600 households via 22 kiosks in Tanzania, but Nava said the company plans to expand to Kenya and Uganda in late 2017.
On the rise, then, but Juabar has faced challenges along the way. Nava said the startup has had difficulties figuring out the right way to message its leasing model.
“People are not accustomed to paying for something without one day owning it, but it makes sense when something breaks down, which is why it’s useful for us to be around,” she said.
“But it also put our feet to the pedal for continuing to offer other opportunities to grow their business and demonstrate lasting value for working with Juabar.”