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Meet 2020 Forward under 40 Award Recipients

February 6, 2020

People who live in off-grid communities have to find ways to create electrical power to light their homes and charge their phones. In sub-Saharan Africa, the  options are often inefficient, dangerous, or toxic — dim flashlights, diesel generators, or open-flame lamps that burn paraffin or kerosene.

Entrepreneurs Mehrdad Arjmand (at left in adjacent photo) and Aaron Olson (right) are positively changing this way of life. As cofounders of NovoMoto, a UW–Madison business spinoff, they’re bringing clean energy to these rural villages, starting with customers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

NovoMoto partners with manufacturers to install solar-powered electrical kits, which include a battery and LED lamps. The kits provide interior and exterior lights, charge mobile phones, and can even run DC-equipped televisions for up to five hours a day.

“As soon as [customers] have our system, they basically toss their kerosene lamp or flashlight,” Arjmand says. “They have no intention of going back to those old ways of using energy.”

These cofounders know people can only adopt alternative energy if they can pay for it. So they’ve designed NovoMoto’s product to be both sustainable and affordable. The kits accept monthly pay-as-you go plans via mobile phone, and they offer rent-to-own plans that help customers manage upfront costs for the equipment.

“For many of the customers that we work with, this is the first time they’ve been able to get any form of financing for an energy solution,” Olson says. “We know, over the lifetime of the product, we’ll be saving our customers money.”

For Olson, bringing clean energy to schools and medical centers isn’t just a professional accomplishment — it gets personal. Olson was born in Kikwit, DRC; he moved to Wisconsin when he was two years old.

Read the full story here.