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Eternum Energy is October's Featured Business of the Month

Fri, 30 October 2015

Siten Mandalia, came up with the idea for his business, Eternum Energy, when he was 23 years old. The company focuses on creating affordable solutions for energy access in rural areas of Sub Saharan Africa.
Can you tell us a bit about the work Eternum Energy does?
The business creates affordable energy solutions in rural Sub Saharan Africa – from a small householder needing good lighting for their family at night to a business requiring power for small appliances such as refrigeration, IT and media equipment. Since solar energy is relatively expensive, our customers pay for their system weekly via mobile phone, which allows the system to activate. Finally, our team on the ground help provide un-matched service to deliver, install, give guidance and provide after-sales care to each customer.
How did the business fare in its early days and how is it doing now?
The business has changed extensively since the business started, especially related to how close our company deals with our customers and the technology that we use. In the early days there was a lot of market testing and product-fit analysis, this led to a lot of changes to the business model and product. However, the overall aims of the company to focus on affordable energy access in deep off-grid areas has always remained.
What was the inspiration behind Eternum Energy?
There were many layers of inspiration that build Eternum Energy; pragmatically it was that my family have a history in East Africa and that gave me deep insight into the problems of energy access, while my career/education in engineering allowed me to create the initial designs and prototypes. More generally it was learning of the scalable impact that businesses make on the world and that there was scope for businesses to direct that impact towards big issues people are facing – and not necessarily at the expense of profits.
How did you get into entrepreneurship? Did you always want to go into business for yourself?
Yes, I always wanted to go into business for myself – I was fascinated by innovation, technology and how it was applied to create new products. I got into entrepreneurship by trying a few ideas out and experimenting, by speaking to as many people about it as possible, reading about other people’s experiences.
What challenges did you face when setting up your business?
Building a strong motivated team and funding. Starting a business with little to no funding makes it very difficult to make progress especially without a team. Finding team members with complementary skills who are passionate about the same project is key, but means a lot of networking and patience. Often funding makes the project more attractive for team members to have confidence, or alternatively a team can secure funding more easily.
What is your proudest achievement to date?
Seeing the product being used and getting positive feedback from the first customers.
You won a Shell LiveWIRE Award back in 2010, how have things changed for you since then?
The founding team strengthened with two new members, we raised funding for the project from various sources. We set up an operation in Tanzania with its own team. The business was incubated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology under the Climate KIC group and has advisory from an experienced team. The product has been redeveloped to meet the key needs of this huge market and is seeing very positive demand and growth.
What’s next for Eternum Energy?
Eternum Energy is raising more funding to scale the operations in Tanzania and support a franchising model, starting with Senegal and Uganda later this year. In the next 3 to 5 years we aim to deliver over 150,000 Solaris systems, and impact over a million people.
What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs?
Focus on a passion, learn as much as possible about the sector. Read about other people’s successes/failures. Try to build a strong team while getting validation as early as possible. Start-up competitions/grant programmes are great to build confidence and resources early.
Got a Smart Idea for a Business?
Do you have a smart business idea that will provide a solution to the world’s future transport, food, energy, or natural resource challenges, or make our urban environments cleaner and more sustainable places to work and live in? If so you can apply online now for funding!


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