INFINITY ENERGY’S QUEST FOR SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENTS
Over 80% of the population in Malawi uses biomass energy for cooking, either as firewood or as charcoal. The heavy dependence on biomass has also led to large scale deforestation such that some of the army have been deployed to protect some forest reserves. The challenge we face as a community/country is finding solutions that deal with both indoor pollution and the deforestation problem whilst still being economically viable for the masses.
Taking on this hefty challenge are two brothers, Marumbo and Aaron Kalua. They started their company, Infinity Energy Solutions, to produce “Nguyi Briquettes” which burn with no smoke and lasts 5 times longer than charcoal which burns for 4 hours, and are much cheaper than regular charcoal.
Marumbo, 28 , is an architect by profession. He did his BSC in Architectural Studies at Malawi Polytechnic and graduated in 2012. He is also a registered member of the Malawi Institute of Architects as a graduate Architect. His brother and co-founder, Aaron is 24 years-old with a BSc in Agricultural Economics from Bunda College of Agriculture.
After conducting their research, they found that a lot of effort in Southern Africa, specifically in Malawi, is placed on tackling diseases, such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, as being the leading causes of death in the region. However, further studies show that more people die from indoor pollution annually than those that die from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Unclean sources of energy produce a lot of smoke when burning and since women spend more time cooking, they are the biggest victims of indoor pollution.
With energy being the only universal currency, it is necessary to use it wisely and efficiently. In Malawi, girls and women spend hours looking for cooking energy in forests. The time spent sourcing firewood can be better utilized doing other things like studying and attending to business. In some cases, mothers tend to cook with their babies on their backs in smoky kitchens, slowly cooking themselves to death with the fumes. With this background in mind, the energy crisis is a matter that needs to be dealt with urgently from the roots; going beyond focusing on solving electric energy problems to dealing with cooking energy problems as these also affect majority of the population. Not forgetting the environmental benefits of sustainable energy sources which would lead to renewed forestation and a positive impact on the wildlife and tourism industries.
The initial start-up capital for Infinity Energy Solutions came from personal savings. Five months into the business beginning its operations, it became apparent it needed to raise more capital. With their family supporting them, they were able to raise more funds from their investing in the business as shareholders.
“Luckily for us, almost everyone we know has been overly supportive,” says Marumbo. He attributes this to having a small circle of friends who are also dreamers in different industries.
In a bid to scale up, they applied for the Growth Accelerator Malawi Challenge and were successfully selected as one of the ventures that got a grant to help grow their business. The same opportunity connected them to international investors from Netherlands who invested in the business in exchange for shares.
The experience from being a graduate architect has taught Marumbo the importance of having a detailed plan. Before building any structure, there is need to have a solid business plan to guide the business. The information helps the business to stay focused on the mission at hand and correct any deviations from the assigned goals in a timely manner.
Aaron, being an agro-economist, has a unique way of managing the few resources they have at their disposal to maximize output. This is an extremely handy skill as they have had to operate on strict and extra lean budgets, which are always a priority to manage well to ensure the company grows and expands.
The two brothers work together as a team, combining their different skill sets and experiences. Their advice to increasing the chances of being successful in securing grants and serious international investors, is for entrepreneurs to know their businesses inside out. It is important to know how the numbers work in the business and with precision, explain what the business is about, what problem it solves, the size of the market, competitors and other details important to various stakeholders.
Despite having doubts about their chances of success when they started Infinity Energy Solutions, the brothers envision themselves as the leading producer of briquettes in the country with a strong presence across all the regions within the next 5 years. Their biggest challenge has been scaling up the business in terms of production, distribution, sales and operations. Regardless, Marumbo and Aaron look forward to attaining knowledge and skills that will contribute to addressing energy issues in Malawi and across the region. As young aspiring entrepreneurs with lots of things to juggle and learn, they hope fellow young entrepreneurs who have done their homework, will simply “go for it.”