Rwanda-based platform-as-a-service startup ARED, known for its “Smart Business in a Box” solar-powered kiosks, has made Uganda its first international market.
Launched in January 2013, ARED develops solar kiosks – known as Shiriki Hubs – that are run mostly by women and people with disabilities using a micro-franchise business model.
These kiosks offer key services such as Wi-Fi, intranet solutions for offline users, and phone charging services, while its app offers additional services such as airtime, mobile money, prepaid electricity and tax payment services.
ARED has now moved into Uganda, rolling out a total of 10 kiosks in the capital Kampala and also the refugee camps of Arua district, where citizens belonging to lower income groups can charge their mobile devices, buy airtime and access the internet.
The expansion was funded by US-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital under its gender lens sector agnostic portfolio coLABS. ARED is now aiming to have 100 micro franchisees serving around 3,000 customers a month by 2020 with this market expansion. It presently provides digital services and meets the connectivity needs of 55,000 customers in Rwanda and Uganda.
“We will work with partners whom we call area developers who will franchise our model in the different areas of Uganda. Our focus is on NGOs and private sector enterprises whom we’d like to be roped in. They will buy the hardware – the kiosk; train micro franchisees and use our licensed software. ARED will of course support them along the way,” said Henri Nyakarundi, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of ARED.
Apart from leasing the kiosks via the franchise model, ARED is also planning to partner telecom service providers in Uganda to build distribution channels at the community level.
While the rationale behind entering Uganda was the similarity of culture and proximity to Rwanda, ARED is looking at rollouts further afield in 2020.
“We will be looking to target countries in Western Africa next year. While the cultural ethos may differ, what remains common pan-Africa is the unreliability of power supply. It is this adversity that we’d like to convert into an opportunity,” said Nyakarundi, adding that ARED has begun working on a pilot in Ivory Coast.