A Solar-Powered Charging Station For Countries With Lots Of Phones And Little Juice

A Rwandan native returns to the country of his birth with a business plan: mobile kiosks where people can buy some power for their phones.

Mobile phone use is booming in the developing world. But access to electricity often still lags. Take Rwanda. About 55% of the population has a phone–yet only 16% have power. That makes charging a phone difficult.


Henri Nyakarundi saw this situation and wondered what he could do. His answer is a solar-powered charging kiosk on wheels. It allows up to 10 people to power up their phones at a time. “Even in the city, you have people working all day in the market, and they don’t have outlets where they can charge their phone. They’re outside working and depleting the battery,” he says. “In rural areas, there’s even more of a need for electricity.”

Nyakarundi left Rwanda in 1996 and lived in Atlanta until last year. He got the idea for the mobile kiosk while on a trip back in 2009, when he couldn’t charge his device. So far, he’s built five units. Now, he wants to roll out many more, as you can see from his Indiegogo pitch above:

Nyakarundi is asking for $30,000, which he’ll use to send out 20 kiosks to the countryside. Within four years, he wants to have 300 machines in Rwanda and another 300 in neighboring Burundi. He plans to use a franchise model, so he can grow the idea quickly.

“I really want to promote entrepreneurship. I don’t want to just hire a bunch of people on a salary. They’ll lease the kiosk from us, and we’ll take care of any of the technical issues they may have,” he says.

The design itself is straightforward: two 40-watt panels on top, a battery inside, and USB ports on the outside. Customers leave their phones with the person managing the unit. And, if necessary, Nyakarundi can reboot the system remotely using a mobile link.

Actually, Nyakarundi sees the kiosk as a “platform” for selling all kinds of things, including phones, air-time, and rechargeable lights. By staying mobile, he hopes to avoid the need to secure permits and theft, and retain freedom to go to the action.


“It will allow us to grow faster, because we’re more flexible. A location may be hot today and then in six months it might not be,” he says. “The goal eventually is to have these all over the continent.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.