It’s only been a year since RED, or Renewable Energy Development, came into being, but since then the socially conscious start-up has been waking waves. Aiming to supply ‘clean and affordable energy to rural areas’, the company strives to ‘build sustainable communities’ from the ground up.
The founders, Hlanganiso Matangaidze, Thomas Gray and Natalia Consumi, have already reached high levels of success, coming second out of over 500 candidates in the Sussex Innovation Centre Social Impact prize ’for exceptional contribution to sustainable development’. The company currently has offices in the Sussex Innovation Centre, yet their influence spans much further than the boundaries of Sussex campus. The Badger caught up with co-founder and CEO Hlanganiso Matangaidze to talk about their work abroad, and the disproportionate number of people without electricity in places such as Malawi and Zimbabwe that inspired the company’s creation.
“Having been born in Zimbabwe I witnessed first hand the frequent power outages as well as seeing millions of people living off the grid, and being dependent on outdated lighting methods such as candles and kerosene lamps, which results in dermatitis, respiratory irritation and carbon monoxide poisoning. After finding out that a staggering 67% of the population of Zimbabwe currently live without energy access, I decided to look into a practical low cost methods to address this issue”.
“Our main company goal is to provide a low cost clean energy solution to the billions of people living without it in developing parts of the world. By tackling this goal were able to address several other issues as well. Our product lowers the energy cost barriers making it more accessible for those living on the lowest income to get on the energy ladder. Once these people have access to electricity, their living standards will improve significantly, children will be able to read and study after dark, which should cause a reduction in primary school drop out rates, which is currently at 42% in sub-Saharan Africa”.
“Our product will also help offset CO2 emissions and foster local economic growth as we hire individuals in the local community at a fare wage, empowering the community. We strongly believe that Entrepreneurship is a catalyst for development and economic growth, so by tackling this one big energy issue, we’re able to cause other positive knock on effects that help the areas we aim to operate in.”
I witnessed first hand the frequent power outages as well as seeing millions of people off the grid.
Whilst the facts speak for themselves, getting the project off the ground has been the initial challenge for these entrepreneurs, yet this has not stood in the way of their success. “Back in March we managed to form a partnership with an electronics manufacturing company based in China. Through this partnership we were able to get MVPs that we distributed in Mutare. We are now currently looking to work with another manufacture based in Valencia and Tanzania. With these new off grid kits we’ll be able to track and monitor our stakeholders energy usage as well as introduce an innovative PAYG (Pay as you go) option that saves our consumers money in the long term, and makes energy access more affordable”.
After a trip to Zimbabwe, the company decided to reevaluate their commitment to the potential of wind energy, instead opting for social energy for their future prospects. Hlanganiso says, “Our trip to Zimbabwe gave us incredible feedback, and really helped prove that there was a massive demand for low cost clean energy solutions. The only issue it flagged up for us was how we could effectively scale up our operations and help to provide clean energy to more people”.
“Since we’re a start up its too early to be committed to using one solution for our problem. Following the Lean start up approach allows us to be more flexible and easier to adapt our business model as we progress with our project. We initially thought of using wind energy as we came up with a low cost method of using recycled washing machine motors to create a 200W wind turbine. Despite this being quite a resourceful method, it was a logistical nightmare in terms of getting the parts, setting up an assembly line and exporting them out of the country. So we then decided to look into bio/plant based energy before ultimately choosing solar energy, which turned out to be the most cost effective and reliable method out of the 3”.
I’ve always had an interest in business and coming up with creative solutions since I was a child.
Whilst their ethos and website suggest a professionalism that far surpasses that of a student start up, Hlanganiso has suffered his fair share of set backs. “This is probably my fourth venture as an entrepreneur. I’ve always had an interest in business and coming up with creative solutions since I was a child. My first venture I started at 14 with some of my schoolmates. We used to buy personalized silicon wristbands in bulk and sold them to schools for trips and events in Surrey. My second venture I started at 18, when I realized how high the resell price for YEEZY’s where online. I came up with a method of purchasing exclusive/rare shoes online during their initial launch in bulk and reselling them at a competitive rate a few days after the launch. My third venture was originally meant to be an events business which then pivoted into PR & ticket reselling, where I would help student run events market themselves effectively using social media as well as offering discounted event tickets. I’m pretty sure last year we were selling Boundary festival tickets for the cheapest price on market, we even managed to undercut the prices on the official boundary website.
“The greatest challenges I’ve faced so far is trying to both strategize for the future whilst getting my team to execute the work we have now. Being a 21 year old entrepreneur in the Energy sector is also a bit of a challenge in itself, especially when a lot of the people I’m competing against have had 20-30+ years experience in this industry. But as long as you really know your stuff, know the right people, and have a near inhuman work ethic, you can really make some great strides, and impress yourself with what you accomplish”.
Their recent move to the Sussex Innovation Centre has built the foundations for the company’s future and has been integral to their development. “It’s given us a solid base of operations for my team to collaborate and experiment on new ideas. Its also given me a lot more structure in my day as I aim to get to the office for 9/10am and leave by 8pm on a good day and 10/11pm on a busier day. I tend to do my best work later in the evening, which is why I’m quite happy to work late”.
Coming second in the Sussex Innovation Centre’s Social Impact prize was a huge achievement, yet the team is eager to maintain the momentum they have been gaining since the company was founded in 2017. “Placing in the social Impact prize was a great step forward for me and the team, but we’re trying to avoid the habit of getting complacent, so we’ve already begun applying for Grants, SEIS and pitching to business angels”.
“We have an ambitious seed-funding goal this year so we’re really trying to take advantage of every investment opportunity we can find this year. We are currently in talks with two investors interested in helping with our next pilot scheme that aims to roll out 900 off grids kits before the end of 2019 in Kasungu. If we can reach our seed-funding goal and successfully distribute 900 off grid kits, we will have provided over 4,050 people with clean energy access in the developing world”.
Do not be afraid to fail, as failure is a prerequisite for success.
When asked about what advice he has for young entrepreneurs attempting to set up their own company Hlanganiso says, “Honestly, just do it. Do not be afraid to fail, as failure is a prerequisite for success. Every time you make a mistake learn from it and try again. I made so many mistakes with my first business ventures, but had I not made them, I probably wouldn’t have made it this far with RED”.
“Once you adopt this growth mindset your perseverance will go up, which is such a key thing in entrepreneurship. Once you realize anything you actively work on gets better with time and practice, you can bounce back from rejection and failure so much quicker. Don’t doubt yourself no matter what others says, you are just as capable as anyone past or present to set up a successful company, you just need to have the confidence, be willing to learn from mistakes and ultimately JUST DO IT!”
It’s easy to be inspired by their success, but RED’s story stands as a testament to the hard work put in by these young entrepreneurs. Whilst the company still has a long way to go, the future for RED is bright and exciting. To find out more visit their website www.red-africa.org or email Hlanganiso at firstname.lastname@example.org.