By James Kahongeh
As energy solutions company Bboxx marks 10 years since inception, it is also rebranding and looks forward to a decade of heightened activity towards transforming lives in the fast-evolving energy landscape.
Today, more Kenyan families have access to clean, affordable and reliable energy solutions, thanks to Bboxx.
Headquartered in Nairobi, the company operates more than 40 shops in 30 counties countrywide, serving 100,000 households.
“We strive to touch and light up families who do not have access to grid power, and act as back-up to those who have limited electricity,” says Jeff Vanden Berghe, the managing director of Bboxx Kenya.
Jeff adds: “Customers now enjoy better quality lighting and security. Children are also able to read longer in the evening without having to rely on candles. This is also a cleaner solution that’s healthier and sustainable in the long-term.”
Energy poverty is a major concern globally. About 840 million people in the world have no access to energy. Out of these, 650 million, or 77 per cent, are in Africa. Additionally, more than one billion people globally are connected to unreliable grid.
It is this challenge that Bboxx, a next-generation utility with presence across 11 countries, is helping to solve by developing clean, affordable and reliable energy solutions to “unlock potential and transforms lives”.
The company was founded 10 years ago in Europe by Mansoor Hamayun (CEO), Christopher Baker-Brian (managing director, product division) and Laurent Van Houcke (managing director, capital division).
Bboxx’s anchor product is BPower-50. “This product offers lighting and is flexible enough to add TV and radio, all powered from a small solar panel. We’re also in the initial stages of getting into the clean cooking space,” explains Jeff.
On what gaps Bboxx had spotted before venturing into the local market, Jeff says Kenya is one of the African countries where a significant section of the population still has no access to clean and affordable energy.
The evolution of technology, especially mobile money penetration in Kenya, he adds, is key to the business model used by the company. This infrastructure made it easier for the company to set up base here.
In the last 10 years, Bboxx has operated on a philosophy that the solution shouldn’t be merely a device but one that’s also monitored. “The system allows us to stay in touch with the customer and to actively monitor the service. We’re also able to proactively intervene whenever problems arise.”
While the philosophy has remained unchanged, the technology has transformed and the sector has witnessed tremendous growth.
“Without mobile money, for instance, the pay-as-you-go model would be virtually impossible,” he says, noting that the company has been scaling up its operations in the country. “We now have operations in most parts of Kenya.”
On key selling points about Bboxx, the MD says developing long-term relationships with clients is the biggest differentiator of the company from competition.
In Kenya, and across Africa, most players in the energy landscape provide gadgets with a short payment window, limiting the interaction between providers and users. Bboxx sought to steer clear of this model from the outset. “Our system is built to last and for the future. We also have long-term maintenance warranty.”
From innovation in the UK, manufacturing in China and distribution across Kenya, and ultimately down to the end consumer, the Bboxx team works tirelessly to ensure a seamless journey.
“Our products are carefully researched, tested and continuously improved to ensure the creation and production of affordable, long lasting, quality packages that our customer actually needs and wants,” says Jeff.
Kenya is considered a continental leader in the renewable energy frontier, with multi-billion shilling investments in geothermal and wind energy.
In terms of reception and adoption of new energy solutions, Jeff says the Kenyan market is as progressive as it is competitive.
He adds that the company serves both rural and peri-urban populations, observing that a significant proportion of Kenya’s peri-urban dwellers are still not connected to reliable energy.
Jeff notes that Kenya is a more mature market compared to others in the region, and adds that the presence of more players has pushed the curve of growth upward.
“When there are more service providers, it makes it easier to educate consumers because they already have some information about the solutions you’re providing,” he says.
It’s also an opportunity for players to offer quality. “As a company, we acknowledge the need to remain progressive so as to maintain our competitiveness,” he says.
Kenya, he says, is on the path of energy evolution, with more consumers expected to have access to energy in the next five years.
“We are also moving into the LPG space where we hope to reach more people in urban, peri-urban and rural areas,” he reveals.
To do this, Jeff believes having a solid entry point for customers is key. “We’re committed to ensuring that our system functions optimally for reliability.”
Last year was a difficult one for most businesses, owing to the economic devastations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Energy wasn’t spared.
“For instance, there have been delays in providing universal energy access goals that the government had identified,” Jeff says, but expresses optimism that the sector will come out of the ashes to flourish in 2021.
The growth of Bboxx is synonymous with the expansion of the sector, which was nearly non-existent a decade ago.
As the company marks the important 10-year milestone, it is also celebrating the fact that its products have transformed the lives of more than one million people around the world.
“We’re proud to serve happy customers who have walked with us for many years in Kenya. Both the volume and the quality that we offer have improved greatly,” says Jeff.
As part of its sustainability agenda, Bboxx is rebranding and bolstering its product portfolio. The company also hopes to open up more shops in Kenya.
“We want to provide products that are reliable and flexible, such that customers can start small and grow to bigger solutions based on their energy needs,” Jeff says.
Bboxx, he adds, is also gearing for more investments in the country: “There are a lot of exciting new things to look forward to this year,” he says.