More than 90 percent of the 80 million people living in the Democratic Republic of Congo do not have access to a reliable power grid. To get work done at night, to charge cell phones or to watch TV or power any other appliances, many people across sub-Saharan Africa rely on diesel generators, kerosene lamps, candles, flashlights, and charging kiosks.
When Aaron Olson was pursuing a PhD in engineering mechanics at UW-Madison in 2015, he was aware of the lack of access to reliable electricity in DR Congo because he was born in a clinic without electricity. But he moved to the U.S. with his family soon after he was born, and he had not returned to Congo as an adult.
Olson, along with fellow engineering PhD candidate Mehrdad Arjmand, took entrepreneurship as his required minor. As part of the curriculum, Olson and Arjmand partnered with some MBA students to develop a sample business plan for a new product. Their group created a business plan for selling small-scale solar kits in DR Congo with a pay-as-you-go financing model, after learning that several companies had been successful with a similar business model in other countries in East Africa.
After Olson and Arjmand both finished their PhDs, they decided to pursue the solar kit business and launched NovoMoto, a provider of rent-to-own solar electrical systems for families in DR Congo, in 2016. NovoMoto received a $50,000 investment from Doyenne in 2018 as part of the Evergreen Fund. Olson shared a peek into his entrepreneurial journey with me.
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