MyJouleBox poised to conquer the African market by leasing solar installations

Winner of the first edition of the “Bridge Africa” open innovation programme organised by Societe Generale, MyJouleBox supplies energy to households and small businesses in remote locations, thanks to its solar installations sold under a leasing arrangement.

Interlinking technology and payment

Each month, the installation sends notification to the central system. “If the customer has paid his monthly instalment, everything continues to operate as normal. But if a payment issue arises, the system shuts down. It only starts working again once payment has been received. If the customer has an Internet connection, the installation reconnects automatically. Otherwise, we send the customer a code by text message, which they then enter into a keypad.” MyJouleBox has partnered up with a network of local independent fitters. The company provides them with the solution, equipment and funding, but they are in charge of finding customers and maintaining the systems installed. “Over the next few months, we plan to extend our network to include 1200 professionals. Our solution transforms their business. Thanks to us, they now have a foothold in recurring markets with high added value, with the added bonus of receiving regular income. MyJouleBox’s business model therefore has a structuring effect on local economies.“

The project begins with a meeting of minds

The story of MyJouleBox began with two students who met and struck up a friendship.  “Léonide Michael Sinsin - my future business partner - and I were coming to the end of our graduate course at the IFP school,” recounted Paul Berthomieu, co-founder of the startup. “After completing our 6-month internship, he invited me to accompany him to Benin, his home country. My three-week stay won me over, and we decided to use the €2000 we’d earned during our internship to set up “Aress”, a company specialising in the installation and distribution of high-quality solar power systems. The Benin-based company grew very quickly. It now employs 30 people and has a turnover of €500,000. But we faced a major challenge. Our customers didn’t have enough cash to buy the installations outright, so they preferred to purchase poor-quality products that needed replacing every 6 months, rather than opting for our solutions, that come with a 5-year guarantee. To overcome the issue, in 2015 we started letting our customers pay in monthly instalments. Although customers did start buying our systems, often, when we’d go around the villages collecting the money, nobody was around to pay. So that’s when we decided to create a system that would stop working automatically if no payment was made. In parallel, we offered our customers the option of financing the installation via a leasing arrangement over 36 months. This is the model of our new startup, MyJouleBox, a play-on-words for a power supply system that works like a jukebox."

Investing in quality

The negative perception of solar power in Africa was largely due to a combination of two factors. On the one hand, aggressive competition due to cheap but unreliable products imported from Asia. And on the other hand, the use of installations that were not sufficiently adapted to customers’ needs in terms of power supply. “By offering our customers a leasing arrangement, we give them real financial breathing space. Based on our technical recommendations, they can select a high-quality installation that perfectly matches the level of power supply they require. We offer attractive financing options, because they are spread over 36 months, and our all-inclusive kits start at just €40 for a light spot and cell phone charger.  This constitutes a very competitive offer that is in line with income levels in a country such as Benin, where average household earnings are €60 per month."

600 million Africans without electricity

The stakes underlying MyJouleBox’s business model involve society as a whole and the entire African continent. At present, around 600 million Africans - that’s almost half the population - still don’t have access to electricity. “In Europe, almost everything is already in place. Africa is bursting with opportunities, and there are lots of market segments still to be invented in sectors as diverse as the farming industry, road infrastructure and energy supply. I really feel that what I do is useful, and that’s what drives me to get my projects off the ground.” Recently, a barber had a small solar installation fitted and his revenues shot up straight away.  “It’s completely logical that our systems are installed in rural areas without access to electricity. In addition to fostering local economic growth, they also help combat pollution, because many people currently use very polluting power generators.” For children, it’s also a way of ensuring they carry on their schooling correctly - it’s easier for them to do their homework with an electric light source than by candlelight.

Bridge Africa, a growth accelerator

“We took part in the Bridge Africa programme because our aim is to speed up the growth of MyJouleBox. By the end of 2017, we’d already fitted more than 100 systems as part of a pilot phase in Benin.  We’re now duplicating our expertise in Burkina Faso, Togo and Niger as well as Cameroon.  By the end of the year, our goal is to install 10,000 small systems and 1000 large systems designed to supply production equipment such as industrial refrigerators, for example.  Our 3-year objectives are particularly ambitious - we plan to have installed 400,000 systems.” One of the key factors poised to determine MyJouleBox’s growth is the identification of a financial partner to handle the leasing side of things, since the company prefers to focus its resources on developing the technical solution and its local network of sales agents and fitters. “It's a particularly attractive investment opportunity for banks, because most of our customers have never had a bank account or been part of the banking system. It’s therefore a way of getting a foothold in an emerging market."

8 months at Le Plateau, Societe Generale’s incubator

Building on its success at Bridge Africa, MyJouleBox has been hosted by Le Plateau - Societe Generale's incubator for the most innovative startups, located on the outskirts of Paris - since November 2017. “We’d already been hosted by other incubators, but this one is particularly inspiring and helpful. There is a high turnover of new projects and this dynamic atmosphere stimulates our own project. Even though our activities vary, we’re all confronted with the same issues, such as the need to obtain funding, identify new partners and boost our visibility. Another bonus is that, thanks to our presence at Le Plateau, we have access to experts from Societe Generale, which opens new doors that were previously inaccessible.  All these discussions have taught us how to speak the same language as the people we interact with in the business world - a language which didn't come naturally to us. We now put forward proposals that are much more structured from a financial point of view, and above all, easy to understand for people with no prior knowledge of our business or activities. We’re also highly motivated to remain proactive, because it’s up to us to prove that our project will provide our partner with a good return on investment. We hope that our time at Le Plateau will lead to real synergy between MyJouleBox and Societe Generale, meaning that we join forces to boost growth in Africa.”

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