Patrick Ngowi: the Young Entrepreneur That Lit Up Tanzania

For those who do not know, Tanzania is one of those countries which is currently suffering from most severe energy problems. According to reports from 2009, the electrification rate in the African country has not even surpassed 15%. In order to put this in perspective, consider that in the same year, India – a country known for its energy access challenges – had an electrification rate of 66%.

However, if you are an entrepreneur, a challenge looks a lot like an opportunity. Thus, a couple of solar entrepreneurs have been investing into the Tanzanian renewable energy sector.

In this article, we’ll tell you the story of Patrick Ngowi, a green entrepreneur who has overcome many odds by starting a business from zero and, simultaneously, contributed to his country’s development.

Who is Patrick Ngowi?

But what makes Patrick Ngowi special? Before we give you the answer, you’ll have to answer our’s: what were you doing when you were 15 years old? Probably, playing or thinking about what you want to do when you grow up. Now, here is the difference: at that age, Ngowi was already doing business.

Phone companies had just arrived in Tanzania, when the young entrepreneur decided to sell vouchers. At that time, there were really few distributors and people who lived far from the big cities had to travel hours to get their vouchers. So the young Patrick Ngowi saw an opportunity and become an intermediary seller.

The business began in the high school where he studied, but grew quickly: he even established partnerships with the fuel station attendants who sold the vouchers for a margin of the total sales. What started as an informal way of getting his own independence grew to be an actual business.

By the age of 18, Patrick Ngowi took a gap year before going to the university. It was then that he discovered the advantage of importing mobile accessories from countries like China. The price was cheaper and allowed him to match the large demand of the Tanzanian teenagers for mobile equipment.

The beginning of the solar path

But what about solar energy? Patrick Ngowi’s first experience with renewable technologies came during those trips. “The electrification issue was a major one and I just figured out that Tanzanians might be receptive to an alternative energy source,” he said to Forbes Magazine.

Although the opportunity was ripe, Ngowi’s parents insisted that he should complete his education first. So, with 19 years, the entrepreneur decided to leave the mobile phone business and invest the money he earned in a course about renewable energy at the Denzhou University of China.

But the entrepreneur couldn’t keep quiet for long. While studying, Patrick Ngowi was building a new business based on some contacts that he established with people from the construction sector. Then he started exporting building materials and products that in one way or another were related to renewable sources of energy.

Coming back to Tanzania

When Patrick Ngowi completed his studies, he came back to Tanzania and opened his first store of solar products. He was in for a disappointment – the store wasn’t that successful. Solar energy wasn’t something many people knew about and, in his own words, there were times when he felt that he was in the wrong business.

Supported by his family, Ngowi continued to work and, in 2007, the business finally started to succeed. First, Helvetic Solar – the name of the enterprise – started to install solar panels in private houses and small companies. Sometime later, as the success grew, Peter Ngowi signed contracts with government agencies, non-governmental organizations and multinational companies.

Thanks to those partnerships and contracts, Patrick Ngowi’s enterprise has contributed to the development of Tanzania’s electrification rate, lighting up most rural areas, while creating a multi-million dollar business. Today, Ngowi is considered to be the best African young entrepreneur by Forbes and is among the top ten millionaires to watch by the same magazine.

Light 4 Life: Investing in rural communities

Light 4 Life (L4L) is the name of the foundation created by Helvetic Solar to support Tanzania and the East African rural community. Its mission is to improve quality of life, providing power solutions for people’s daily needs: from basic lightening to mobile charging.

Knowing that the future is in the hands of the young generation, L4L decided to support education by working with students of primary and secondary schools in order to embed sustainability in their thinking. Furthermore, the introduction of lighting in rural areas will boost the learning process, allowing people to study even after dark.

Reinforcing his commitment to development, Patrick Ngowi decided to donate his own salary from Helvetica Solar to Light 4 Life Foundation. Watch the video from CNN and learn more about the young entrepreneur who changed the energy scenario in Tanzania.


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Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan Kohli
Gayrajan is a staunch solar promoter, serial entrepreneur & management consultant. He has a decade of experience in solar PV, disruptive technologies and political consultancy in USA and India. He believes that development of solar and other renewable technologies is critical to India's energy security. Gayrajan holds a Masters and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from USA. Follow him on Twitter to gain daily industry insights.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Manoj Nair

    Nice article

  • GreenerGeek

    Inspiring!Making money by choosing to tread the path that does good to a lot of people and through renewable energy initiatives, indeed to look up for.

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