Henri Nyakarundi is the founder of Rwanda-Headquartered ARED Group. ARED stands for African Renewable Energy Distributors. The company describes itself as a HaaS, a “Hard-tech as a Service”. It recently expanded to Uganda making it its second market.
Born in Kenya, Henri grew up in Burundi before moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in the U.S. in 1996. He graduated in 2007 with a computer science degree. But later moved back to Rwanda in 2013, as he says, “to develop a project that was really dear to me called ARED.”
ARED, a business in a box solar kiosk, “empowers mostly women and people with disabilities using a micro-franchise business model.”
Both Henri and his company have attained many milestones in the recent past. From a CNN feature, winning energy innovation awards to raising funding.
I had a one-on-one with him and we discussed a couple of things. Ranging from scepticism surrounding grants to challenges facing innovators in Rwanda and Africa.
There are many challenges affecting entrepreneurs across Africa. Yet, some are unique to a region or country. This is the case with Rwanda. “The problem in Rwanda is that access to funding is harder compared to Uganda & Kenya,” Henri pointed out
The Rwandan government has been very supportive of entrepreneurship in the recent past. But this hasn’t helped save the situation.
For example in May 2016, RDB, Rwanda Development Board announced the launch of its flagship project, Kigali Innovation City. It is also one of the key supporters of the country’s first Hub/Incubator, kLab.
Yet Henri thinks that “because we have a culture that is very government-driven” is the reason Rwanda is still lagging behind.
Government taking the lead implies the private sector has become “non-existent compared to other countries.”
The Rwandan government is doing what many across Africa have always wanted theirs to do. Yet, that seems not enough to spark investment and growth the startups.
When you look at countries like Kenya and Nigeria, it has been the efforts of the private sector. The governments have only played catch up.
Henri says the way things are doesn’t encourage companies moving on beyond the startup stage. “You find startups staying startups for years and years,” he says. “Because there is no way for them to grow like access to funding. The market is also a small one.”