Azuri bridges the worlds of phones and Pharaohs
Sub-Saharan Africa might not be the first choice of markets for most companies launching the latest in disruptive consumer technology, but it’s certainly paying off for one Cambridge-based Azuri Technologies.
Azuri is introducing solar systems to off-grid communities in emerging markets, allowing users to pay for solar power on a pay-as-you-go basis.
CEO Simon Bransfield-Garth said: “Emerging markets force you to think laterally and, contrary to popular perception, often the latest technologies are deployed in emerging markets before they get traction in the West (mobile banking is a good example).
“So, for companies with genuinely disruptive consumer services, it’s worth considering looking beyond just local or developed markets.”
In many of these countries. people’s lives are still constrained by the rising and setting of the sun, making solar power an obvious solution.
Bransfield-Garth added: “Modern solar power enables households to have light and electrical services, making a huge step change in access to the knowledge economy.
“It also provides clean, safe renewable power to families at about half the cost of the kerosene it replaces, without the need for any government subsidies or tariffs.
“It’s a strange world when individuals use phones for communication – a technology that has been around for about 20 years – and at the same time use oil lamps for lighting, a technology that the Egyptian Pharaohs would have recognised.”
While there was obviously a glaring need for this technology, reaching these markets has had its difficulties, as Simon explains.
“Rural Africa is one of the most challenging markets to go into. Many of the things we take for granted in the West (everything from Internet to reliable roads) are lacking or intermittent.
“On the other hand, it is that lack of infrastructure that creates the commercial opportunity for solutions. So the main challenges are firstly understanding in detail the local conditions and then putting in place, in partnership with local organisations, the distribution to deliver solutions at scale.”
While each basic proposition is the same from country to country, Azuri has discovered that each one has to be approached quite differently. Bransfield-Garth said: “Local implementation varies quite widely and so local knowledge is critical.”
One of the ways the company has approached this is through having people based in each of the countries.
Azuri currently has staff based in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania and presence in 11 countries across sub Saharan Africa.
Bransfield-Garth says: “It is essential to have local representation. Cultural, language, legal and operational differences mean that you cannot simply transplant a solution from one country to another without adjustment.”
Azuri has also used the services on offer from UK Trade & Investment. Simon said: “UKTI has helped us find the local partners to deliver our solutions and provided marketing support services on a commercial basis, such as using High Commission residences for important announcements and networking events.” This has included events in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam and more are planned.
UKTI East international trade adviser, Brian Stammers said: “I have known and worked with Azuri Technologies for some four years and watched its progress from early steps to a growing international business, active in a rapidly developing market arena.
“Simon and his team have invested time and effort in developing in-country resources that have proved essential and successful in gaining market penetration in the chosen markets. They have developed relationships with the country-based UKTI teams which have paid dividends.”
Azuri will continue to focus on sub Saharan Africa as there are still many more people to reach. “Some 600 million people still lack power and it will still be many years before everyone has access to modern services,” says Bransfield-Garth.