While growing up in Bangui, the capital of war-torn Central African Republic, Gabino Guerengomba and his family would strive to fully utilize the electricity when it came on for just four hours every day across the entire town. The rationing was because Enerca, short for Energie Centrafricaine, the national energy utility company had to be creative seeing as he electricity supply was never enough to power up the entire city at once.”
The situation was so bad that he and his peers would go the streetlight down the road, with book and pen in hand, just to study after sunset. “I recall that as a student in High school, we had to resort to going to a part of town where electricity was available or of to the nearest street light”, he says.
“This indeed affected my resolve and my determination in solving this issue so the future generations of Africans especially Central Africans, can have access to reliable and cost effective electricity.”
So he set about building a solar energy company to alleviate the suffering of his compatriots.
But first, he had to take the long walk to freedom, gaining experience in business after finishing his education. While working as an engineer at the Discovery Channel in Washington, DC where his job included providing technical support for crews on remote shoots, he found out something. “One of the biggest frustrations in that role was the inconsistency in electricity flow in high insolation conditions environments and the plastering on solar panels would cause them to melt in extreme heat. ”
So he began Integrated Solar Technologies (IST) a business which is designed to address both this frustration and his childhood struggle to get electricity. “We founded IST to find an off the grid way to deliver reliable electricity and broadband at a price point that would suit the African consumer market.”
The young boy from Bangui had finally come through and was about to deliver reliable power and affordable internet to his people. Because of the scale of his dreams, he needed help. And help came in 2015 in the form of investor and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu through his eponymous foundation, which he founded in 2010.
In 2015, Guerengomba was selected as one of 1,000 entrepreneurs from across 52 countries in Africa to participate in the inaugural edition of the Foundation’s flagship initiative, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme.
“It felt like I won the lottery”, says an elated Guerengomba. “I could not believe that a young boy from a war torn country would be among the most elite [gathering of] African Entrepreneurs in the world, so I set up to distinguish myself within the group so I can inspire the upcoming generations in my country.”
Armed with the first phase seed capital of $5,000 as well as 12 weeks of mentorship and training on a dedicated platform, he arrived at the bootcamp in July 2015 where he networked with the rest of the 1,000. He rates the friendships and business leads that have come out of it, as sterling. ” The TEF Entrepreneurship Programme… is my primary source of business leads, professional support and put me among the only people in the world that will not only bring Africa into the global economy but redefine it.”
And he is grateful to the man behind it all too. “I am now a mentor who is recognized within the global business community. This has opened a tremendous number of doors. I will always be grateful to the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme and Chairman Tony Elumelu for being our first biggest endorsement of validation.”
“As a person, Chairman Tony Elumelu has had a transformative impact on my life, because he is the ultimate living evidence of self made in Africa success story. While the money was extremely helpful, I have benefited more from Chairman Tony’s continued support and advice. I look forward to developing both our personal and professional relationship.”
IST now has eight employees and 20 subcontractors and is looking to quickly establish a solid African footprint that will eventually reach his home country. “In October 2015, we won an $80 million concession to provide 20 MW of solar energy for the Government of [the Republic of]] Benin. As part of this agreement, we are building youth training facilities and will be inviting 4 engineers from Benin between the ages of 18-35 to Pittsburgh where we will train them on our technology and therefore making them into Master Engineers. Then they will be charged with building the professional capacity of engineers in Benin.”
“We have [also] recently reached an MoU to do a pilot with Akon’s Lighting Africa initiative and under those terms will be deploying our innovation to 15 countries within the next 2 years.”
IST claims to be the only solar technology providers designing solutions tailored for Africa in line with its goal to provide cheap, reliable electricity and internet connectivity to entrepreneurs in other sectors, providing them with the infrastructure they need to build global level businesses.
In all of this, Guerengomba’s humility shines through and he attributes his success to being part of the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, stressing that: “I have the credibility to do this thanks to being part of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.”
“The TEF Entrepreneurship Programme to me is …the birthplace of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Thomas Edisons, JP Morgans, Henry Fords of Africa… The programme is led by one of the most charismatic, very accessible global visionary man, who not only knows our story but has surpassed all expectations, beat every odd and redefined in what it means to be a successful African businessman.”