How to create a sustainable business with electric Motorbikes in Kenya

By Patrick Fassler

THE WHEELS OF CHANGE: Safe and Sustainable Motorcycles in Sub-Saharan Africa ©Jason Florio


Climate change is inevitably one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century for the international community. Creative and innovative solutions for CO2 reduction are needed. Janson Gras, CEO of the startup STIMA, has tackled this problem and has successfully contributed to the reduction of CO2 emissions. He shared his experiences in successfully founding a startup in electro mobility at a lecture at ETH Zurich. When you hear the term electromobility, you might think of a fancy Tesla driving through a major western city. However, other vehicles should be electrified as well. The report THE WHEELS OF CHANGE by the FIA Foundation indicates that in Africa alone, 50 million motorcycle riders are expected by 2030. These Motorbikes are predominantly gasoline-powered, so the potential for CO2 reduction is enormous. This was the motivation for Janson to start his company operating electric motorcycles in Kenya. 


Startup: What to consider 

Now the intention was clear and a sector with potential has been found. Financial support from state funds can be counted on in this sector as well. Now it is time to act. Of course, it is crucial how to use the limited resources. It is essential to know about the needs of its customers. That can be more difficult than expected and not at all consistent with intuition. “You have to understand what is important to customers, where they have expenses, and whether you can reduce those expenses with your product. But be aware that there is no plug and play solution.” By that Janson alluded to his discovery of circumstances that are counterintuitive in the first place. For example, you have to be aware that a self-service concept, which is very profitable from an economic point of view, will not work in a country like Kenya, where contact with people is very important. In addition, it is necessary to develop a motorcycle that not only has the necessary range but also scores in other aspects such as aesthetics, especially if the motorcycle as a business vehicle also radiates a certain status symbol. To take all these points into account you can collect information and data to create a picture that shows the lifestyle and problems of motorcyclists. But you can only find out about the true customer needs if you have contact with people on the ground.


How to grow

After developing a product, there is another big hurdle for any startup. And that is the search for investors. Without investors and the support of governmental organizations, a startup can hardly succeed. It is necessary to convince investors of the idea and to show them that the business model is profitable in the long run. What was a special challenge for STIMA was that it was not done with the development of the product. The entire business model had to be transformed during the growing phase. Because a special feature of e-mobility is that an electric vehicle alone is not useful. It also needs the necessary charging stations. It is even better to create places where you can quickly swap the empty battery for a full one, like STIMA did. So how do you build a nationwide network of charging stations for your electric motorcycles in Africa without the costs getting out of hand? The CEO's solution was to open up the business. With providing the necessary information of operating a charging station, private individuals can enter the market and build the crucial network. In return, a profit share was agreed upon.


Becoming successful in business is not easy. However, when it is successful, a lot can be achieved. In this example, the achievement of the climate goal is advanced, but also the fixed costs of local people can be reduced. Thus, have more money available for education, health and the family. 


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