IFTIIN (meaning ‘light’) is a for-profit high impact business venture that has been formed to import and distribute solar lights to the Somali peninsular. Jeremy, one of the founders, explained that the vision behind Iftiin was to provide environmentally-friendly electricity in order to decrease poverty and improve the quality of life for millions of low-income Somali households through offering them high quality solar products at affordable prices. Currently, no other business operating in Somalia provides solar lighting products for households. However, there is definitely a market out there because in other sub-Sharan countries, competition among distributors and retailers is fierce.
Like many young social enterprises, Iftiin initially found it virtually impossible to find funding. Jeremy said, “ Myself and my business partner had to put up over $25,000 of our own money just to get started. We are still struggling for investment.”
We first became aware of BfE through online research. The opportunity to help build a business case for investors and connect to investors was too good to turn down.”
Andrei and Kian, two of BfE’s student team members, worked with Jeremy from November to January to find solutions to the financial issues that Iftiin was facing. They said that the first step of the engagement was to become informed about the industry of solar energy as a whole: “Jeremy, gave us important insights about the market which we complemented with our own online research. We also divided the tasks amongst ourselves according to what we felt most comfortable and skilled to complete. This ensured that we could work on the project efficiently and productively. Throughout the engagement, we strived to understand what Iftiin wanted to achieve and what it really needed to move forward and become successful in this market. Our engagement approach of understanding the client and delegating work amongst ourselves to most efficiently solve their problems did not change over the course of the engagement.”
They added, “Our biggest challenge was finding the right way to add value for the client as the project was from an unfamiliar region, Somalia. As Iftiin was also at very early stage, there were still many unanswered questions regarding the validity and feasibility of the business model that had to be managed.”
“Even though, initially, we worked thoroughly on the business plan, our findings led us to conclude that we should switch our focus from the business proposal to a pilot test.”
“We also overcame many of the information issues by reaching out to our BfE Network for more details regarding fundraising and investments in the solar energy industry. We also exhausted the internet and the BfE databases for information regarding the funding opportunities in Somalia.”
When asked what the engagement with Iftiin had taught them, it was clear that one of the greatest revelations had been how dramatically business climates and cultures can vary across different countries. In addition, it demonstrated to them how entrepreneurship is sometimes about pushing through uncertainty.
Reflecting upon the nature of entrepreneurship and his own journey, Jeremy commented that the two top tips he would give to someone thinking of becoming an entrepreneur are: “Firstly, have limitless passion and patience for what you are trying to achieve. And secondly, be determined.”
Iftiin has been an inspiration to many of the students in BfE as it seeks to benefit local communities with boundless passion, patience and determination. Everyone in the team would like to wish Iftiin all the best as it continues to seek investment and to provide solar energy to communities in Somalia.