(CNN) — Out of ideas for stocking fillers? A
Swedish tech start up has a suggestion: why not
give those in need the gift of electricity?
TRINE, which connects investors with solar
power entrepreneurs in East Africa via its
website, has launched a Christmas present
A voucher from TRINE can be invested in a solar
power project in Africa, with an expected return
of around 6% for the recipient.
The investments start at $26.5 (€25) and the
sky is the limit. So far, the company has raised
$354,000 (€333,000) towards seven projects in
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
But it’s not just gift vouchers. Launched in
February 2016, the platform is open to large and
small investors alike.
Co-founder and CEO Sam Manaberi says the
idea stems from his own experience of a lack of
opportunity for Europeans to invest sustainably.
A demand for funds
The aim is to open up business opportunities by
connecting people with disposable income to
African entrepreneurs, called “solar partners”,
who supply solar power kits to people who live
in rural, off-grid areas.
“Currently in Africa, there are great
entrepreneurs, a huge demand and proven
technology to deliver these sorts of projects, but
commercial finance is in short supply,” Manaberi
Investors can expect a return on their investment
once the entrepreneurs begin their repayment,
which can take between six months and two
years, according to the company.
TRINE makes no bones about being a for-profit
venture, and the company motto is enshrined the
name which meant triple, threefold or trinity, in
“It reflects and symbolizes our triple bottom line
thinking, where our impact is threefold — people,
planet, profit,” Manaberi says.
Different from charitable giving, this approach
will benefit all three sides, says Manaberi,
formerly Director at Bosch Solar Energy North
America. “The model is dependent on this mutual
relationship and can be extremely effective when
everyone pulls in the right direction.”
1.2 billion without electricity
The company wants the investments to help
local economies become more self-sustainable
and also provide a solution to the 1.2 billion
people worldwide who lack access to electricity,
95% of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa and
developing countries in Asia.
“It all comes down to sustainable development
across all levels and the end goal of achieving
universal access to energy,” Manaberi says.
The model could mean good business for TRINE
too, as they lend the money to the entrepreneurs
“The solar partners pay a 5% arranger fee for the
successful funding of their project, and between
10-16% interest rate on a declining balance of
The design and price of the solar kits varies
according to the solar partners and the project.
The end user typically pays a monthly fee for the
kit via a smartphone payment.
Powered by either a micro-grid or a small
individual solar panel placed on the roof, the
system is used for lighting and powering
appliances, cell phones and TVs.
The company hopes the kits will replace
kerosene lamps, which may cause fires and
health risks such as burns and poisoning from
TRINE has attracted attention from the likes of
the WWF Climate Solver and COP 22, in
Marrakech in November, where they were invited
to give a talk about the venture.
The risk with investing
However, investing is rarely free of risk, and
TRINE is no exception.
With all projects still being implemented, the
solar partners are yet to begin making
repayments, though they are due to start
trickling in within the the next few months,
according to the company.
Some projects are supported by investment
protection from UK Aid, such as one in Tanzania,
run by Solaris Tanzania, formerly Eternum
Energy, which raised $53,000 (€50,000).
With 27 employees with 650 customers currently
using their solar kits, and current investment is
estimated to add another 2,000 customers. “As a
small company, we found it difficult to get
commercial credit from banks,” says Eternum
CEO and co-founder Siten Mandalia.
“So what TRINE has done is create this platform
which connects investors who want to get into
this industry and provide that capital gap that is
missing for start ups like us.”
Through Mandalia’s company, Tanzanians can
buy a 20 watt system for $1.80 per week over
TRINE’s solar partners are not the only ones
selling solar power kits for monthly repayments
in countries like Kenya and Tanzania. Among
larger players are M-KOPA Solar, who launched a
solar-powered TV earlier this year.
The rise of crowdfunding
TRINE has global ambitions, but for now, the
platform is open to people in countries in the
European Economic Area (EEA), with more
projects across Africa in the pipeline.
Globally, interest in crowd-investment is growing
fast. The market generated an estimated $2.1
billion globally for start ups in 2015, with the
World Bank predicting it will skyrocket in
developing countries over the next 10 years.
Manaberi thinks crowdfunding ventures like
TRINE are particularly well-suited for Africa. “Our
model enables people to make a real impact, no
matter who they are or what they do.”