NovoMoto’s stand-alone solar-powered systems are cheaper, more efficient, and cleaner than the kerosene and diesel currently used in these off-grid, rural communities.
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Product / Service Offering: Solar power to off the grid rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa
Co-founder Interviewed: Mehrdad Arjmand
Other Key Management Team Members: Aaron Olson
This article is part of our Business Startup Spotlight series featuring entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope that these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I completed my Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics at the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2017. Before starting graduate school, I worked in the oil and gas industry at SEISCO in Iran. I am passionate about working in the energy sector and also enjoy serving customers in emerging markets.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
In 2015, my co-founder, Aaron Olson, and I were both pursuing entrepreneurial minors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We met in a course where we had to work together to develop an idea for a business. There we laid the foundation for NovoMoto. We established the company in November 2015.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
NovoMoto provides clean electricity for off-grid rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa. NovoMoto’s stand-alone solar-powered systems are cheaper, more efficient, and cleaner than the kerosene and diesel currently used in these communities. We are starting with communities in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
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What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
We are the first company that offers pay-as-you-go in DRC. Our local connections in the area set us apart from other companies that would like to get into our operating region in DRC in the future.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge is fundraising at this stage. So far, we have received a number of prizes, awards, and grants from different organizations, which has allowed us to keep going. We are looking for private investors interested in the off-grid electricity market in sub-Saharan Africa.
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What resources have you utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
We had a great experience at gBETA program in Madison. We had the opportunity to receive feedback from the program managers, as well as mentors in the community.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
I think we had a great start for fundraising in the early stages of the company by participating in competitions and entrepreneurial events. Since later stages of the fundraising process depend on the growth of the company, we would probably have tried to facilitate the basis for a faster growth. This would allow us to reach out for private funding quicker.
What questions have you had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
One question in particular for me is how to start the conversations with relevant investors, philanthropists and foundations in the area where we are located, the Midwest.
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What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
- Logistics: We are trying to figure out all the details of the product shipment, customs clearance, storage at a warehouse and last mile delivery of our offerings.
- Fundraising: We are raising our seed round that enables us to serve 2000 customers by the end of 2018.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
This is a piece of advice that I always remember. It is important to remember that whatever we do, we are always dealing with other people. We have to treat them the way we would want to be treated. Being friendly and helpful with a nice smile on your face goes a long way!
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
We are a for-profit social enterprise. Based on our projections, we will serve 5 million households (25 million people) in DRC by 2026. We would love to reach out to mentors, advisors, and investors who understand the importance of the problem and are willing to support us to reach our goals.
Are you familiar with other startups you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them in the comments below!