A solar-powered, portable kiosk selling mobile services and creating jobs for Rwandans was the winning idea for Rwanda at the 2014 Energy Globe Awards.
Henri Nyakarundi received one of the 161 sustainable energy prizes awarded to one project per country by Advantage Austria.
He now stands a good chance of winning the most prestigious award, the International Energy Globe Award, according to Advantage Austria spokesperson Kornelia Kirchweger.
Investment and training:
Nyakarundi's company, African Renewable Energy Distributor, launched in January 2013, has four franchise kiosks on the streets in the country selling mobile recharging, airtime and mobile products.
A Rwf850,000 investment provides an individual franchisee with their own kiosk, three days of training and support from African Renewable Energy Distributor.
"When you franchise, you minimise your risk and they minimise their risk," Nyakarundi said. "You're doing business as a team."
Nyakarundi said African Renewable Energy Distributor takes 0.8 to 1 per cent of each kiosk's sales, depending on the product, with 80 per cent of the company's revenue coming from advertising on the carts.
"We didn't want to squeeze too much money off the franchisees," Nyakarundi said. "We want them to be happy."
The Energy Globe Awards jury was particularly impressed that the kiosks are powered completely by energy from the sun.
"Power from the sun is available everywhere and for free to everyone," the judges said in a statement. "This year's National Winner of the Energy Globe Award in Rwanda harnesses this power to charge mobile phones in areas where electricity still is widely unavailable."
Nyakarundi said the choice to use solar energy was as motivated by business strategy as it was by environmental concern.
"We make it so the cost of doing business is as low as possible and revenue is as high as possible," Nyakarundi said.
Nyakarundi said he has invested $120,000 (about Rwf81 million) of his own money into the company, 90 per cent of which goes toward research and development.
The kiosk was designed with assistance from Gasabo 3D, a Rwandan design firm, but the prototypes are constructed in China.
Nyakarundi said he is looking for money to buy a 3D printer so that he can design and test prototypes completely in Rwanda.
"We're working on the fifth prototype right now, and for each prototype it costs me about $20,000," he said. "It could cost me a fraction if I had all the equipment I need to do it in-house."
Nyakarundi said the company is close to signing a deal with Airtel to exclusively sell their airtime, which will create more revenue for investment and expansion.
And Nyakarundi has big plans for expansion. He said he hopes to introduce Wi-Fi service for kiosk customers soon.
He is also developing software to provide his franchisees with remote maintenance and support for their kiosks.
Nyakarundi wants to have 20 kiosks on the streets by the end of the year and 400 in business in Rwanda over the next two years before he expands to other countries in East Africa.
He said a lack of funding is the biggest challenge holding him back.
Traditional investors such as banks find businesses such as his too risky to invest in. But he is optimistic African Renewable Energy Distributor will continue to grow.
"We already have some interest, especially in Nigeria," Nyakarundi said.