Small Giants: Nigerian Entrepreneur On The Power Of Solar And Staying Innovative

Published 16 days ago
By Forbes Africa | Chanel Retief, Nicole Pillay and Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
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From fintech to foodtech solutions; from beauty brands to biotech infusions, FORBES AFRICA’s inaugural list of Small Giants across Africa showcases the tenacity of homegrown businesses and their impact on the communities they serve. Their pan-African CEO-founders and leaders are making giant strides in progressing Africa’s growth narrative, prioritizing ideas and innovation.

By Chanel Retief, Nicole Pillay and Oluwatomisin Amokeoja
Art Direction: Manelisi Dabata
Videography: Thabo Mathebula
Photography: Katlego Mokubyane ; Assistant: Sbusiso Sigidi | Studio: NewKatz Studio, Johannesburg 
Styling: Deneal Van Wyk
Hair & Makeup: SnehhOnline Beauty

Tonye Irims founded WiSolar, an on-demand prepaid solar utility, in 2016. It focuses primarily on a power purchase agreement (PPA) business model. WiSolar installs and maintains the solar infrastructure in customer homes, and then sells that power to the customer via the app as re-quired per kWh – this could be for a 10- or 15-year term. According to the company, this business model allows property own-ers to install solar at no upfront cost.


When he first came upon the idea, Ir-ims set out to understand and learn more about solar technology. He also took a few trips overseas to find suppliers and de-termine how the company could connect mobile payments to solar electricity.

“When we started, it was kind of a dif-ficult time to sell solar to people because, first of all, people didn’t believe that solar electricity was the same as grid electric-ity – they felt that there was a difference in the electricity, so we had to explain to them [that] it’s the same thing, it’s just a different source,” he says.

Irims created packages to make it easier for the customers to understand. The on-demand solar electricity platform is currently available in South Africa and Nigeria, however, the com-pany has plans to enter Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, and the DRC in the future.

Irims advises future entrepreneurs: “It’s really a very difficult path. It’s not a sprint, it’s a long run. If you want quick wins, I don’t think entrepreneurship is for you… unless you’re ready to make a sacrifice, you’re ready to put in the discipline, and the consistency. And you also need to stay innova-tive as an entrepreneur – you need to actually look ahead. So, if you’re ready to sacrifice, ready to play the long game, it’s for you.”