Tanzanian entrepreneur, George Mtemahanji, knows a lot about the inconveniences of living without electricity. He was born in and spent the first nine years of his life in Ifakara, a community in the Morogoro region of Tanzania, where power supply was poor. In 2003, he moved to Italy with his brothers to join their mother who had been living there prior. In 2007, he enrolled at a technical college, the IPSIA Ferrari in Modena, Italy, graduating as a renewable energy technician with a specialty in big component solar energy. While on a vacation home in 2011, he found that the power situation has remained largely the same since he left.
“Either people were not connected to the energy grid or those that were had poor quality connection with frequent outages,” he said in an interview with Afterblixen.com.
This was when he thought to put his education to use, taking advantage of the abundant sunlight in Africa.
On his return to his base in Europe, Mtemahanji partnered with a friend, Manuel Rolando, and began to work towards importing solar technology to his community. In 2014, with money saved while working in Switzerland, and with extra help from a relative, he launched SunSweet Solar LTD, a company that designs and builds solar-powered systems. It imports photovoltaic products and builds affordable power plants for homes and businesses, with the objective of lighting up rural communities in Tanzania.
Mtemahanji has said that around the time of setting up the company, they got really lucky. “We bid for a contract with a Swiss Foundation to install solar panels at a girl’s secondary school in Ifakara. It was a bit overwhelming, and a lot of responsibility. It was the ultimate test to see whether we had what it took to set up our own business. But we did it.”
The solar installation which Mtemahanji and his partner designed and constructed in 2015 at the Benignis Girls Secondary School is the largest photovoltaic plant in the Kilombero district. It has a storage capacity of over 27 KW and the ability to power 236 lights, dozens of fans and computers, a bar and a recreation room.
In addition to big installations for institutions and communities, SunSweet Solar supplies solar-power kits to homes and small businesses and is exploring the possibility of a business model that would enable clients to pay in installments.
In 2015, aged 22, Mtemahanji was named a finalist for the Anzisha Prize for young African social entrepreneurs. Since then, demand for his product has outgrown supply—he has five employees. He gets request from several villages every month, each with an average of 30 clients. His has avision of installing over 10,000 systems in rural areas over the next five years, particularly in the education and health sectors. He also wants to extend his impact to other East African communities and create awareness about renewable energy solutions.
Lack of knowledge of the benefits of adopting solar energy, he has said, is a challenge to his business. Other challenges are the poor transport infrastructure, since he works basically in rural areas. But the biggest challenge of all, he said, is the lack of support for SMEs. If he could do something to improve the condition of entrepreneurs in Tanzania, it would be to make start-up funds available to young innovative entrepreneurs.
Mtemahanji has advised that these challenges should not deter aspiring entrepreneurs from trying to achieve their dreams.