School: Fox School of Business, 2017
Major: Entrepreneurship & Innovation Management
Company: SONTEFA ENERGY
What is your hometown?
What are your hobbies?
I love traveling around the world, meeting new people, and learning other cultures. I also enjoy watching soccer, especially FC Barcelona.
What is your favorite food?
All of my mom’s cooking!
What business stage is your company?
SONTEFA ENERGY is in its early stages. We are focused on raising capital. We are also in the process of developing partnerships with solar panel suppliers here in the US, China, and South Africa.
What inspired you to start your own company — especially a company with a social impact?
Looking and analyzing the map of Africa has always left me with a deep sadness. To see this amazing continent in the dark in this 21st century is disheartening. This inspired me to find a solution for my fellow Africans. Therefore, I believe that providing electricity to the people of Guinea, as well as to Africa as a whole, will be the greatest thing that I can ever accomplish. The myriad of cultures that are found in my country have always emphasized the importance of helping others.
How has your company made an impact on society?
In Sub-Saharan Africa, over 600 million people never had access to electricity. In Guinea, more than 74% of the households lack access to electricity. More importantly, it is estimated that the overall total population in Africa will reach over 2 billion by 2050. Therefore, being able to provide clean energy to this populace will be the biggest challenge that the continent will face in the future. Renewable energy has multiple impacts on society. For example, renewable energy improves people’s health and save lives by eliminating the smoke caused by the use of candles and kerosene lamps. Renewable energy also helps improve education by allowing students to study extra hours at night.
Could you provide a personal statement about your entrepreneurial journey and the role that Temple/IEI may have played in that journey?
As a student at Temple in the IEI program, I gained important knowledge through the different courses on how to successfully start, manage, and grow a company.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Our greatest challenge is raising capital. It is difficult to find investors that have an interest to invest in Africa. Most of their investments are in companies operating in the United States. In addition, we are young and a startup. To address these challenges, we are focused on applying to business plan competitions sponsored by different universities and organizations.
Can you explain your experience competing in the IEI competition (either Idea Competition or BYOBB)?
The BYOBB is a one of the largest business plan competition in the nation. Therefore, it is really difficult to make the final. My teachers told me that many companies try many times before being selected among the finalists. Therefore, my goal was to be a finalist and win once I decide to enter the competition. Thus, I started preparing for the competition since fall 2015 in my Innovative Business Model and Creativity Innovation Entrepreneurial Thinking classes. I collected data by conducting research, interviews, and surveys to potential customers. In each of these classes, I used the class materials to better understand business development. Then, in the spring 2017, I used my Finance Your Ideas class to complete and submit the business plan for the BYOBB. The various professors I had, other faculty members, classmates, mentors, and friends were very helpful.
Who is your idol and why?
My father, peace be upon him, is my idol. He used to tell me: “Thierno, you will never see a billionaire among employees. Always do your best to be your own boss and always think to give back to the community.” In honor to the different ethnicities in my country, he was the one who proposed the name of the company. SONTEFA (SO-N-TE-FA) is formed by words of the name of the sun in the four main languages in Guinea. He encouraged me to apply to Temple University. He was also so proud of me being accepted to Temple that he always tells his friends that his son is a Temple student.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I think it is important to observe and be attentive to things around you. By being aware to your environment, you will be able to identify a problem, need, or opportunity that you will commit yourself in order to help make changes.
What’s next for you and your business?
I graduate in a few months, so I’m very excited about that! We plan to enter business plan competitions nationwide and worldwide to raise necessary funds before we launch the company next year in Guinea. With SONTEFA ENERGY, we will change the lives of millions of people for the best by providing efficient, stable, and affordable electricity to households in urban and rural areas in Africa through solar energy.