Welcome to episode four of the African Entrepreneur Spotlight Series. In this episode, we feature the story of a remarkably outstanding African entrepreneur, Esse Okey.
Esse Okey is a social entrepreneur and biomas pellet producer who is aggressively helping close the energy access gap in Africa through a clean and sustainable energy solution. Okey is helping low income earners and the rural poor have access to affordable energy services.
His invention, a microprocessor controlled power cook stove allows users to cook decent meals very fast but with nearly zero carbon footprint. It also generates electricity allowing users to charge their mobile devices and electrical appliances while cooking delicious meals.
Okey’s power cook stove is a sustainable energy model that works very well for the Iya Risi’s who hitherto were restricted to using traditional firewood which is not only environmentally unfriendly and unsustainable, but also produces dangerous smoke that is dangerous to human health.
For this groundbreaking invention which has the capacity of not only preventing hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths (due to smoke inhalation) especially among rural women, but increasing access to electricity especially in rural communities not connected to electricity grids, Esse Okey has won no less than 20 prestigious international innovation awards.
Today, in this interview, Esse Okey shares with us his highly inspiring entrepreneurial story, giving useful insights as well as advice to aspiring African entrepreneurs.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do
My name is Okey Esse, am a serial entrepreneur with 15 years of experience in product development, marketing and sales and manufacturing. Currently, I founded Powerstove Energy, a company that designs, manufactures and distributes clean cookstoves that generates electricity and also biomass cooking fuel pellets made from wood and agricultural wastes.
What is your academic background?
I am a graduate of Physics Electronics from University of Jos, Plateau State
What inspired you into becoming an entrepreneur?
The challenges, financial freedom, flexibility in time management and ability to solve social problems
What informed your decision to venture into the business you’re currently doing, production of power stove?
I witnessed the horrific near-death raping of a teen girl that went in search of firewood. So, I decided to build affordable cooking alternative to firewood, charcoal and kerosene.
What has been the level of acceptance of your solution and what market segment are you targeting?
Acceptance is overwhelming. We just exported to Philippines
What were the challenges you faced when starting out as an entrepreneur?
Lack of trust from prospective users, local market and investors in our ability to produce high quality, export-ready clean cookstove that can compete globally.
Does your family have any background in business? Any business success story in your family before now?
Well, more like from my maternal side and that family gene shaped my doggedness in building smart stoves here in Nigeria.
How did your family and friends react to your decision to be an entrepreneur?
There was absolutely no support in the initial stage but its no fault of theirs because the rave then was, go to school, finish with good grades, get a job and settle down. But I am someone that hates status quo. I love to take risks, adventures, and exploration.
Has their position changed now that you are successful?
Definitely, my biggest support base is now my family…..hahaha.
You recently won the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum 2019 Pitching Competition. How did it happen? Do you mind sharing the moments you had there?
Hmm…The Award was like a homecoming to me. I gave everything I got to practice and preparation and am very happy it paid off.
Apart from the TEF Award, has your innovative power stove won any other award or recognition? If so, do you mind sharing?
Yes, Powerstove have won over 20 Awards and Recognitions globally and Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Forum 2019 Pitching Competition was the first in Nigeria and that was why I said it was like a homecoming.
Some of the Awards include: African Special Startup of the Year 2018 (Casablanca, Morocco), ATF Wild Card Award DEMOAfrica 2017 (Johannesburg, South Africa), US$25,000 from Cisco Global Problem Solver 2018 (San Fransico, USA), African Youth Energy Award (Johannesburg, South Africa), US Department of State GIST Tech.I 2018, United Nations Solutions Summit 2018, Recognition Award, Social Capital Markets Conference 2018 -SOCAP18 & SOCAP19, Champions of Science, Africa Story Challenge, 2018, Westerwelle Foundation, Berlin Spring2019, ChangeNOW Pitch Paris 2018 so much more.
What can you say is the secret to your success in business?
Tenacity, positive mindset and a supportive wife.
What has your business achieved so far and where do you see your business in 10 years?
To me, our greatest achievement is showing to Nigerian youths that you can build a successful global hardware startup here in Nigeria and in 10 years, we see one in two households in Nigeria using our Powerstove products.
Who is your mentor and how has he/she inspired you to success?
Harry Tomi Davies is my mentor, I cannot write my Powerstove story without having his name on every page. When Powerstove was still at MVP stage, he saw me in South Africa at DEMOAfrica in 2017 and believed in me and the vision we have for Powerstove. He is a great Mentor and Business Adviser.
What books do you read and what business courses have you taken so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
I love reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and for business courses I have passed through some many from Enterprise Development Center Lagos, Westerwelle Foundation Berlin to Global Entrepreneurship Network
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing startups in Nigeria and Africa?
Lack of patients from startups to build a strong product that have passed product/solution and product/market fit before rushing to the market.
In your opinion, how best can this challenge be tackled?
Startups should sign-up incubators, accelerators or attend business bootcamp or have mentor(s) who should guide them at the early stage of developing the products or services. Someone should help them do thorough fishbone analysis of their solution to know if they should continue building, pivot or iterate at the early stage.
What advice do you have for young Africans still contemplating about embracing entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is the future, most intriguing, entertaining and more surprising journey to take but not for the faint hearted. They should look around their environment, think deeply of how to solve a social problem and take the decision to provide a solution that meets the problem. I will not guarantee it is an easy route, but trust me, it is the most rewarding route for a youth.
Do you have an inspiring entrepreneurial story which you believe will motivate other young African entrepreneurs? You may want to share it with us. Just send us an email at email@example.com with the subject line “African Entrepreneur Spotlight Series” and we will be more than excited to share your story right here on Entrepreneurs’ Square.
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