While Tesla Motors is leading the electric car revolution in the Western World, a Nigerian entrepreneur, Chukwunonso Osakwe is also leading an electric car revolution in Sub-saharan Africa.
Through his company, Quadcycle Automobile, Osakwe aims to popularize electric vehicles in Africa and reduce not just the carbon footprint due to fossil fuel consumption by gasoline automobiles in Nigeria, but also the burden of the high cost of running internal combustion engines by Africans.
How did Osakwe come up with the idea of manufacturing electric cars? Why is he and his team so passionate about having every African have access to cheap and durable electric car before 2050?
In this exclusive interview, Chukwunonso Osakwe, Founder and CEO of Quadcycle shares his entrepreneurial story and his passion for electric car.
Could you tell us about yourself and the business you do?
My name is Chukwunonso Osakwe. I am an entrepreneur. I am passionate about renewable energy and working towards providing technological solutions that will make the world a better place. I am the founder of Quadcycle Automobile, an electric vehicle manufacturing company in Nigeria.
What is your academic background? Which Schools have you attended and what professional courses if any have done?
I studied Electrical Electronics and Computer engineering at the Institute of Management and Technology as well as at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. I have done professional courses in Entrepreneurship, Business management and Renewable energy.
What’s the story behind your entrepreneurial career? Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur?
My entrepreneurship journey started in 2002. I was still in the University when I started a computer business with two of my friends. There were many business centres with few people who could maintain and repair their computers and printers. We saw the opportunity and took it.
By 2010, I started my 1st solo business. This was in line with my passion for renewable energy. In the past 18 years, we have provided homes and offices with solar systems to help them be more productive, save money and at the same time be environmentally friendly.
Now I have taking it a step further to manufacture vehicles that will use solar energy as its main source of energy. This will help people save money and reduce their carbon footprint.
Building an electrical car can be quite daunting especially given the African business environment. What then informed your decision to venture into the business of making electric vehicles?
It really is a challenge trying something new in the African business environment. The world is changing. Climate change is real and we all need to do something about it. Electric vehicles are not new. Luckily, in the last decade, manufacturing parts have become cheaper and easier to acquire.
Electric vehicles make practical sense especially when in our case, solar energy is the source of power. This means free energy to drive our vehicles.
It then makes financial sense to invest in manufacturing electric vehicles.
What were the challenges you faced when you started out in business?
The first challenge I faced was the fact that nobody was doing it locally. So there was a lot of mistakes and wastage.
Secondly, I had limited funds and people actually laughed when I said I wanted to start manufacturing electric vehicles. With limited funds, I couldn’t setup a workshop or buy equipment. So for the 1st year, I worked with a roadside welder to build the first electric car.
Now, we have a fully functional production facility that is powered with solar energy and constantly improving on our vehicles.
Can we say that you derived the entrepreneurship success streak from your family? Any business success story in your family before now?
Funny thing is that I come from a family that believes in the civil service. My mother was a banker and my father was an engineer who worked for Nigeria Water Cooperation. They wanted me to graduate and get a decent job.
So, there has been no business success story in my family before now.
How did your family and friends take it when you announced your decision to be an entrepreneur?
I started early in my entrepreneurial journey. Initially, they couldn’t understand why I was busy trying my hands on different business ventures. There were many failures and few successes.
Has their position changed now that you are obvious a success story?
Perseverance, setting targets (sometimes impossible targets), staying positive no matter the situation and eventually succeeding have helped make them see things differently and respect my actions. In fact, its easier now to get them to invest in my business.
What can you say are the things that have contributed to your success in business?
My success is mostly based on me believing in myself and having the mindset of “there is a solution to every problem”. My success is also based on being trustworthy and surrounding myself with people with positive energy.
What has your business achieved so far? Any awards or recognition for your innovation?
We have received some awards for what we are doing. Most prominent include:
Top 50 entrepreneurs inAfrica from African Entrepreneurship Awards
Most Innovative Startup from Nigeria Innovation Summit
Corporate Honours Award from Nigeria Society of Engineers
What’s the big picture? Where do you see your business in 10 years?
We see Quadcycle Automobile growing to become West Africa’s most successful electric vehicles manufacturing company and have the largest renewable energy electric vehicle charge stations.
Who is your mentor and how has he/she inspired you to success?
My mentor is Jack Ma, Founder and CEO of Alibaba Group. He inspires me to know that you can go from nothing to building one of the most successful businesses in the world
Entrepreneurs succeed because they learn every day. What books do you read and what business courses have you taken so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be aware of everything that is happening in your industry, both locally and internationally. Competition can easily creep up on you or your products could become obsolete with better products coming out.
So you have to keep learning what is happening in your industry and find ways to keep yourself relevant. I read anything that has to do with science and technology, but the one book that helped me get my mindset right is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa?
The greatest challenge startups face in Nigeria is getting through the incubation stage. There are a lot of failures at the beginning of any business. Most startups do not have the right resources to get through the failures.
The other challenge is doing something nobody wants or has an existing similar alternative. For a startup to be successful, your product must be 10x better than the alternative.
In your opinion, how best can this challenge be tackled?
We have to develop a support system. It is unfortunate that most of the funding available is not coming from Nigeria. We cannot keep waiting for other people to help us solve our problems or grow our businesses. Also, as an entrepreneur, you have to listen to people. Find out if what you are offering is something people need or want before you waste money.
What advice do you have for young Africans still contemplating about embracing entrepreneurship?
If you have a dream, try to make it a reality. It’s usually difficult and painful in the beginning. You may even feel you are wasting your time and life. But if what you are trying to achieve can be beneficial to people and help solve a major problem, then stick with it. Believe in yourself. With hard work and prayer, all dreams can come through.