There’s no denying that technology is always evolving and people everywhere are coming up with new ideas to make the earth a better place for humankind.
Such one company that has come up with innovation to make the world a better place is Athel Technology. Founded in 2019 by Robert Nguma, a youth from Kasemeni, Kwale County, Athel Technology Limited was funded by the World Bank after he took part in a competition and he got to win making him awarded the grant. Athel Technology Limited was created as a result of finding solutions that could help communities in Kwale County, the whole country as a whole, and also create employment and solve the issue of deforestation, all this led to the birth of Athel Technology Limited.
Athel Technology manufactures solar cookers. It is made up of a team of engineers and business professionals, who have come together to embrace technology and come up with green efficient ways of conserving and generating energy.
Athel Technology’s first workshop was set up in 2019, in Kwale County, at a place called Mazeras.
Driven by the need to reduce the use of firewood for cooking, as was common with members of his community, Robert developed briquettes that would assist in reducing carbon emissions.
The first project that the solar cooker company ever started, was manufacturing briquettes which were sold to the people in his community, and in schools that used firewood to cook, in Kwale County.
Through this briquettes initiative, Athel Technology managed to create employment for the youth around Kasemeni area in Kwale County and provided training to various youths and women who were interested in the new cooking fuel.
“With the experience, I got from the briquettes business, I managed to understand the challenges people face in the cooking environment. I also learned what they needed most and how best I could help them. This drove me to think of a new environmentally friendly cooking solution that would create a permanent solution for the people.” says Robert, the young innovator.
The great reception of the briquettes spurred the idea to develop a cleaner cooking solution for his community. As a young innovator, he couldn’t settle with seeing people have to pay for cooking fuel, especially in these hard economic times in Kenya. Through his endless research, he created and invented Athel Technology’s very first solar cooker prototype in mid-year 2020. The solar cooker prototype was big and heavy and thus was not easily portable in the kitchen.
In November 2020, this solar cooker project was selected by Kenya Climate Innovation Center where Robert underwent training on Business management and how to make his invention work effectively.
The year 2020, was a slow year for Athel Technology Limited as it was for a lot of companies. People were facing hard times and didn’t want to spend money since most of them were not working due to layoffs at work or because they wanted to save money for food. This was due to the economic tough times the country was facing that was created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But in early 2021, Robert was among the winners who were selected by MbeleNaBiz; an initiative of the Kenya Government, where he received a grant which enabled him and his team to create a better version of the solar cooker and increased solar cooker production.
The solar cooker prototype was redesigned into a small, portable solar cooker known as EcoMpishi.
“Solar cookers have no emissions and use free solar energy which is accessible worldwide. The solar cooking technology is keen on reducing deforestation as it is less costly as compared to other alternative cooking solutions such as firewood and gas cookers, which need constant refills,” says Robert, the young innovator.
Solar cooker is an innovation that allows families to cook for free. It utilizes sun energy, which is a highly untapped source of energy.
In early 2021, Athel Technology Limited began manufacturing EcoMpishi solar cookers and there are two types of EcoMpishi solar cookers; the Single Burner Solar Cooker and the Double Burner Solar Cooker.
The solar cooker company made its very first solar cooker sale in early 2021.
“The first solar cooker sale that we made was in early 2021. This sale made me more energetic since I felt that someone saw the good in the cooker and it worked,” say’s, Robert, the young innovator.
Though they made their first sale in 2021 it has not been a smooth ride for Athel Technology Limited. The solar cooker company has faced a lot of challenges along the way and the biggest challenge for them was convincing people that they can actually cook using solar that is because many people believe that is impossible.
“Another challenge we have experienced has been during recommending the specifications of which battery and panel size are to be used for proper and efficient use of the cooktop to our clients. Some clients want to buy something cheaper online to cut down on their costs. This has led some clients to buy batteries from online shops which are not working well… thus affecting how the client’s solar cookers work. We have been keen on educating our clients on the important things to consider when purchasing both batteries and solar panels, in case they opt not to purchase them from us.” added Robert, the young innovator.
Though the challenges have been tough Athel Technology still received a great reception for the EcoMpishi Solar cooker has made the company expand to other cooking gadgets. They have now started to manufacture solar cookers with gas burners, solar electric grills for barbeque, and solar electric ovens for baking. All products come with backup batteries and solar panels.
The solar panels absorb sunlight as a source of energy to generate Direct Current electricity. The energy which is created is then stored in a battery for later usage when there is limited solar energy. The induction cooktop is able to access its energy from the battery which has been charged.
The battery continually auto charges during the day even while cooking and at night, the cooktop continues to draw energy from the backup battery for cooking. The solar cooker uses DC current and hence does not need an invertor.
For proper and efficient use of the cooktop, one needs the following:
– 400W panel, 300Ah battery, and 3.0 charge controller for the Single burner solar cooker.
– 800W panel, 600Ah battery, and 3.0 charge controller for the Double burner solar cooker.
“Without my team, there will be no Athel Technology Limited. Every single person has played a big role in building this company. Our hard work, sleepless nights, and long meetings have made Athel Technology accomplish so much. And with this, I thank God to have them.” says Robert as he smiles.
In 2021 November, Robert pitched the Solar Cooker project to an NGO in South Africa through the African Shared Value Leadership Summit. The solar cooker project was seen to be extraordinary and he won the competition. The competition was looking for the best innovative project started in Africa.
“Renewable energy is the future which will save people from climate change and endless bills. Our dream and goal as Athel Technology is to be able to pre-install solar cookers in rental houses. So that when someone moves into a house, they already have a solar cooker installed by the real estate management or the landlord. Our solar cookers are cooking solutions that will help Kenyans save money.” says Robert, the young innovator.
They currently have two workshops, one in Mazeras, Kwale County, and the second one in Shanzu, Mombasa County.
They are looking into installing the cookers in hotels, apartments, schools, and even the low-income residents and “mama mboga” through monthly payment installments.
Since they are looking into hitting the market with different strategies compared to other cooking fuel companies, they are working on getting collaborations with real estate developers to have pre-built solar cookers installed in homes.
“With the rise of fuel and gas prices, it has seen a lot of people trying to get different cooking solutions. We are glad to have new clients who continue to purchase our solar cookers since they see the EcoMpishi solar cookers as a better solution,” added Robert, the young innovator.
Athel Technology hopes that Kenyan Universities can embrace the technology. Which would allow students to have a safe, affordable cooking solution that would reduce the electricity cost incurred by students who use electric coils which make such institutions have huge electricity bills.
In April 2022, Robert pitched the EcoMpishi solar cooker project during Total Energies Startupper of the Year Kenya 2021-2022. In May 2022, the solar cooker project was selected among the top 15 finalists at the Total Energies competition. The EcoMpishi solar cooker project was awarded among the top 15 best businesses in under 3 years.
Athel Technology through their Solar Cookers; looks into solving the issue of deforestation by reducing the use of charcoal and easing the issue caused by increased gas prices which have seen a lot of Kenyans going back to using charcoal and kerosene fuel.
“I would like to encourage more people to embrace EcoMpishi solar cookers. Please don’t shy away from change. New technology like the solar cooker will help you minimize the costs you spend on gas refills hence enabling you to save money. Our solar cookers are the beginning of a new era where people would not be thinking of buying cooking fuel anymore. Get to experience the products that innovative Kenyan youths are creating or inventing to change the world.” says Robert, as he passionately expresses himself.
This entrepreneurship journey has taught Robert the value of patience, consistency, and hard work. He has learnt to always believe in his dreams and never to give up.
“Always believe in your dreams. It might take a long time to accomplish your set goals and objectives, but if you have the right team working with you, then the dream will be a success. Without my team, there will be no Athel Technology Limited. As a team, we form the Athel Technology family. I don’t have any regrets. It has been a wonderful experience. The ups and downs we have experienced; have helped me and my team at Athel Technology grow to have a bigger dream.” says Robert, as he concludes.
Their long-term objective is to produce an eco-friendly, affordable, clean, reliable, and efficient cooking solution for every household.