Next up in our Founder Spotlight series are Benedict Owanga and Chinelo Adi of Owanga. We sat down with them to discuss their founder journeys and key highlights from DivInc’s Clean Energy Tech accelerator program. Read highlights from our conversation below, or watch the full interview on youtube.
Owanga is an on demand electricity service. When you look at Africa, the biggest issue that we currently face is the lack of electricity, and this leads to a lot of people using inefficient ways to maintain that, such as kerosene generators and candles. So our solution allows customers to rent out our portable battery packs for $2 a day and it has the capacity to power up a one bedroom house or an entire shop in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In terms of the experience, the customer would use the product as a plug and play solution. So you would come to our store, grab the battery pack, and then plug everything in that you would like to use in your house; similar to a portable charger for phones, but on a bigger scale.
One of the really great things about our product is that it is run by solar energy. With traditional generators you have to pay for oil and gas in order to fuel it up which can cost a lot of money, and this is in a country where people are only making $10 a day and it can cost them $30 to fuel up these traditional generators. So with us, we charge the battery packs with the solar panels that we have at our facility and then it allows users to use the battery pack without super high costs for the fuel. Also, with the kerosene lanterns, they're quite a fire hazard, and so we're giving a safer option there as well.
It started through personal experience. I was in school and had an internship. During my training, I actually lost power for two hours and it took me about two weeks just to fully understand what I was doing at my job. This really got me thinking, I lost power for two hours and it took me two weeks just to do something that's really basic. What about people that don't have power for months or for years, where are they in life? This led me down the rabbit hole of a lot of research on renewable energy and how different communities work when they don't have power. I then reached out to Chinelo with the idea and she was really interested in that as well.
We were looking to go from company to actually having a prototype. So we were doing a lot of research on programs out there and DivInc really caught our eyes. The grant money is amazing in itself, but not only that, DivInc actually cares about the founders. We saw that from the first day we applied to the program.
One of the big things that we also wanted to get from this program was mentorship. Such as the ability to speak to people working in energy and people that worked in African countries so that we could get some guidance on that, and we've definitely been able to do that throughout the program. It's been really great.
I also really like how collaborative everyone has been. We've definitely been able to learn something from each and every founder here. It's been a great experience. There are a lot of things that as founders, we don't know, but there are people that have come before us that have the knowledge to prevent us from making specific mistakes. Such as when we created our prototype and our plan was to start developing more and then delivering it to the Congo. Then I spoke to Kobby, one of our cohort members, and he recommended not to do that because what happens if we develop fifty, and forty of them break? What's the next step? And I was like, yeah, I never really thought about that. We've just learned so much. DivInc has really been a great part of our company journey.
For anybody that’s at the “idea on a napkin phase,” one piece of advice that I have is to say, just do it because even if it fails, at least you did it. And if you don't do it, you'll never know if you fail or succeed. The most important thing is just giving things a try and even if it doesn't work, keep going and keep going again. When I started this, I was afraid of failing, but I was like, if I fail, at least I tried something. So that's one piece of advice.
Going off of taking the first leap and trying, also definitely surround yourself with people that are encouraging you and that can offer you further advice on your specific idea and company that’s coming into fruition. Whether that means creating a team or at least having people that you can bounce some ideas off of, it's really important to be able to get some other ideas from people. Everyone has a different viewpoint and even if everything isn't going to be helpful to you, it might get you to the right direction that will lead to something. So definitely try to surround yourself with people that can offer some advice.