“Innovative solar technology can also come from Africa”

Bertil van Vugt
By on February 27, 2015

Local manufacturing of key products for the African market has been mentioned many times as one of the solutions for the high unemployment rates across the continent. This is exactly what the company Nadji.Bi aims to do for solar devices. We contacted co-founder Ismaël Mohamadou Djida (on the left on picture above) to learn more about about their plans, and to find out why they are looking for funding.

Nadji.BiPlease introduce Nadji.Bi?

“The name of our brand ”Nadji.Bi”, literally means “light of the sun” in the local wolof language. Our founders Julien Potron, Elhadji Demba Sène and myself met a bit more than 10 years ago in the Senegalese town of Ndiaganiao.

After spending time in the village, we realized that living without electricity was a real problem for everyone. Children couldn’t study at night, women couldn’t work when the sun was down, and even cooking was a big problem. Mobile phones already started to be used in the village at that time, and charging was a big issue too.

As Franco-Senegalese, Senegalese and Cameroonian citizens we were ashamed of this situation, and after long discussions and debate, we felt that the sun was the key to this problem. Well, back then ten years ago, we were young, without money and without experience. Solar energy was expensive, and we didn’t know how to start. We decided to keep studying and we promised ourselves that one day we will be able to solve this issue!

Two years after that, Julien and I went to China to study Solar Energy and International Business. And Elhadji went to France to study management. After a strong experience in the Chinese solar industry (and also thanks to some good savings), we registered the “Nadji.Bi” brand in 2011, and starting operations in 2012. The issue for us was to develop a high quality device (with Made-in-Africa target on our focus). We hired Dr. Campos, a high level engineer in order to support our R&D. And we started developing our operations in Burkina Faso, in Cameroon, in Senegal and in France.

Today, we already developed 3 products: a Solar lamp, a Solar mini-kit, and a Streetlight. Now we are working on TV solutions, Freezer solutions and another device I cannot reveal right now.”

Nadji.Bi sales person explaining the products to potential customers.

In your communication you say that you want to become the ‘African Apple’?

“When we say that we want to become the ‘Pan African Apple’, it’s because we strongly believe that the time of Africa has come! Our continent is full of energy, of brains and of motivations.

We think that technology is the key to our problem, and that Nadji.Bi, with its R&D center and its factories in Africa, will be able to develop disruptive innovations during the next decades. And therefore demonstrate that the values of innovation, technology and ambition are not only shared in Asia and in the Western world, but also in Africa!”

Can you explain how you want to include low-income groups as consumers, distributors and employees?

“Right now we are distributing our products through distribution networks in Francophone African countries. We are selling to distribution channels and also to small retailers through a franchise concept. We are in touch with NGOs, in order to give them the opportunity to sell our products through their teams of women. And to increase the revenue of those low-income groups.

We are also in negotiation with Microfinance Institutions (MFIs), and local governments in order to distribute our products with pay-as-you-go systems, enabling mobile phone payments.

Furthermore we plan to offer literacy lessons to our workers and to open a ‘FabLab’ at our factory in order to support local young talents in electronics, coding and design. And lastly, of course, our solar devices are by themselves strong tools for environment protection, education improvement, and socio-economic development.”

What are the main challenges to produce solar devices in Senegal?

“Well our main challenge is to get electricity in our factory… In order to overcome this issue, we plan to built an electricity plant, enabling us to produce more energy that we are going to use. It may be the first factory of this kind in the African continent.

As you can understand, financing a factory manufacturing electronics devices in Sub-Saharian Africa is a big challenge. Access to finance is much more difficult for people like us than for some US brands or Chinese manufacturers, since our financial industry is almost only focusing on the mining industry.

The IB Accelerator community could help us to demonstrate that: Africa is not the continent of mining and cheap and low quality Chinese products imports, but Africa is above all a great opportunity for inclusive manufacturing and industrialization!

We need support to spread the existence of our brand all over the place, help us to raise this funding round and support us by providing us support by presenting us to some key contacts in Western Countries, such as NGOs, and Development Banks.”

Nadji.Bi solar

The Nadji.Bi work place in Senegal.

For many people living at the Base of the Pyramid the price of a product is a crucial factor when they decide to purchase a product. How can you compete against the cheap but low quality solar devices from China? And how do you convince people to choose your product if it is more expensive, but better quality?

“At Nadji.Bi we have a challenge and a target. We want lighting and small electricity supply issues for rural areas in Western Africa to be over by 2025.

First of all we have nothing against Chinese products, we just regret that importers in Africa are mainly driven by high profits and don’t offer high quality products.

Back to your question and to our challenge, if we want to reach this target, we must set up manufacturing plants in our own countries and we must reach mass production in order to decrease the costs of available goods locally. We strongly believe that industrialization is the key of development and competitiveness.

At Nadji.Bi we have a cost killing spirit when it comes to design and production, so our products are not more expensive than others. It even seems that our products are the most competitive products available in Western Africa today.

Our pricing strategy seems to be the right one since the demand of our products is very high. We are even facing difficulties to answer to this demand, mainly due to production capacity limitations, i.e cash flow.”

You are currently looking for funding, how will you use the investment when it comes in?

“The investment will mainly be used for machinery and assets investment, components and production charges provisions, sales force and marketing investment and to complete our pay as you go R&D program to complete our mobile phone payments system. This funding will enable us to assume a structural production capacity increase and to reach our full production target in few years.”

What are your plans for the future?

“This factory is a model factory, and will be named “Nadji.Bi Africa 1”. It should be the first of many Nadji.Bi factories all over our African continent. Our list of new devices and concepts to be developed in our R&D center is well established, and we believe that by increasing our production capacity and distribution activity, we will be able to keep delivering state-of-the-art disruptive solar device innovations in Africa and in the world!”

Visit the company profile of Nadji.Bi.