Quadloop is a Lagos-based electronics manufacturing company, leveraging technology to build sustainable hardware devices. It has created Solar-powered lamps and gas monitoring systems and is working to build eco-friendly solutions to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer.
For the interview, we had Dozie Igweilo, who leads Quadloop as the CEO. He is an innovator, passionate about solar energy, electronics and circular economy with Africa in view. He spoke to Komal Pattanayak of VCBay.
Komal: VCBay has recently released a report on Green Tech startups in Africa and we have featured Quadloop in it as we think it is a remarkable startup. Please tell us something about you and your company Quadloop.
Dozie: I’m Nigerian. I was born here in Lagos. I grew up in the Southwestern region of Nigeria, schooled in Ibadan. I love electronics because when I was in secondary school, I started fixing stuff like mobile phones and other stuff like that. I had more flair for handy stuff and technical stuff, so I was fortunate enough to join the team in 2015 during the IHS power swap projects. That was with the telecom company. So we were supposed to take out the diesel generators and install a solar hybrid system.
So that was my firsthand experience with solar panels. We went around to several regions of Nigeria to install solar panels and hybrid and DC generators. During that period, I saw that some people in certain areas don’t have light. And most of them were just coming to meet me and said please can we get some power to charge our phones, some lighting from the base station? I said no, we can’t connect you from the base station. But we can actually build something that can power small and basic appliances like phones and basic lighting as they have so much abundant sunlight, so why not? So that’s when I started thinking to form Quadloop.
Komal: Could you shed some light on all the products you offer?
Dozie: So, first we started with some prototypes of different products. We’re just trying to see products that could really solve problems. We first did a product that is called the gas leak detector. What that does is that some houses in Lagos have a centralized gas plant that feeds different flats. So we have cases of fire outbursts and stuff. We thought that if we have this device that could detect any leakages from one of the pipe routes into different kitchens and stuff, we can reduce the rate of fire and gas exposure. We did that prototype. We tested that bulb. It wasn’t something that has such a large market because the incident of fire is less and people are taking precautions. So, we wanted to put out something that has a real need and solves the real problem. We thought, what about maybe charging phones and lanterns, especially in rural areas, because they need that so much, most of the areas here in Nigeria are rural and off-grid areas. Again, we made a prototype, tested the market with 60 to 100 units and sold them out. People bought this thing for about 5000 – 6000 Naira at that time, that was in 2018.
So we realized that there is a need for this unlike the gas prototype that we did, which wasn’t really moving. We decided to do a better version of this because you can’t charge your phone on this. So the better version we did now, could charge your phone.
Komal: Africa comes second after Australia in terms of per square kilometre of solar radiation. Has this played an important factor in convincing people to move towards solar energy?
Dozie: Yes, I even read the news recently, that in the Sahara desert, they’re planning to put solar panels on the Sahara because of course there’s so much sunlight in the Sahara. Doing like a large mini-grid system in the Sahara is gonna help boost the production in terms of energy supply and stuff.
In Nigeria, we have a very good advantage because of the heavy sunlight. Panels like polycrystalline panels that are actually fading off the market still work best here because we have abundant sunlight. Regions like Kano, in the Northern region of Nigeria, has more sunlight than where I am.
I see so many opportunities in terms of the need and natural resources available. All we need is just to have more people like myself, that build indigenous products that will help to fill in that gap.
Komal: Who are your customers and are they mostly from rural areas? Or are they from urban areas as well?
Dozie: For the older version, that was mainly for rural areas. But the new version is more of an urban and rural and peri-urban area. The fully urban areas in Nigeria have constant power. They could afford power from PHCN so PHCN gives them constant light because they’d pay, if they don’t give them light, PHCN loses money. So then they are like A-listers, I mean, the premium customer. Areas like that might not need this version but people in peri-urban areas don’t really have constant power, and the people in rural developing areas might not have power at all. Those are the target market for this product. And of course, because it’s designed in a very fancy way, whereby users can use the remote control to control it.
Komal: In June 2020, 47% of the Nigerians were not able to get on the grid or access electricity. This has definitely stifled economic activity as well as job creation in Nigeria. Do you have any strategy to fill this gap?
Dozie: For that, we are planning to build our site. After this product, we are planning to move fully into solar home systems because people don’t really focus on solar home systems. They focus on the traditional inverter system. But appliances these days are low energy consumption, mostly DC-powered appliances.
The future is actually solar home systems whereby you can use a plug and play device that can power up basic appliances. People that will want to surf with solar home systems can have televisions, can have fans, can have a fridge, you know, so we are planning to work on building solar home systems in the near future. We are on the research already. We even have a prototype.
Komal: What has the growth trajectory of Quadloop been like?
Dozie: We’ve been able to get positive feedback. We’ve been able to hop on several kinds of incubation programs. Last year we were in Lagos business school where we got trained and got some sort of funding in terms of grants. We were able to move very fast from November 2019. We’ve attained some good traction in terms of exposure and in terms of investors.
And we are just working on trying to make sure we don’t do business as usual. We want to have a unique value proposition. We want to leverage electronic waste to build these products. That is what Quadloop is all about.
Komal: Are you planning to expand out of Nigeria in future?
Dozie: Yes, we are actually looking at some other African neighbouring countries that have similar power issues. I have friends in Tanzania, a few friends in Ghana. So I’ve been getting feedback and these guys are into the energy sector as well.
Most of them are indigenous citizens of Tanzania and Ghana. So, I get feedback from them but if we want to expand to any country, we are looking at Tanzania because we have similar scenarios, Ghana has a better power system.
Komal: Are there any challenges that you might face in terms of red-tapism or lack of resources when you think about expanding to different countries?
Dozie: For me, I believe so much in partnerships, because, most times you just have to have a win-win mindset because you can’t just come into some other person’s country and decide to dominate, you guys have to sit down and agree on a fair term. Of course, there will be challenges, but I believe in having a win-win negotiation power.
Komal: Please tell us something about your team, who has helped you realize your vision of building this startup?
Dozie: When I started out. It was just myself. Then at some point, I needed to bring a few guys in. So, I met a lady in a workspace and she really did help me. She was able to make me see potential in the company because at some point I felt like this thing is not working. But she was able to make me realize that we shouldn’t give up. Currently, we have a team of four, including myself.
I have myself, a lady called Osele, who is a member of the Energy Institute. She is a chemical engineer by profession and she’s really smart. I have my media guy, Mr. Bakare. I have a technical team, but they don’t work full-time. So we have both an in-house team and we have a team that we outsource.
Komal: How did you keep yourself and your team motivated during the pandemic?
Dozie: It was difficult, but we were at the stage of building our improved version. So we were talking to our key resource partner, doing some modifications, doing some, you know, some diagrams, sketch sketches and stuff. So we were not really moving so much, but making progress at the same time because of everything we need, we had to do it over the phone, maybe calling, sharing videos. So we’re making progress during the pandemic, we even made more progress during the pandemic because a lot of people were indoors. We came up with the improved version during the pandemic.
Komal: In December 2020, the Nigerian government announced a program that will focus on empanelling 5 million solar connections for off-grid communities. So, what are your plans for that?
Dozie: When you talk about Nigeria and the government, it is a very dicey situation because you don’t know the government, the government doesn’t know you so we are just trying to do our bits. If the government sees us, like ‘hey you can come on board and provide certain units of your products to a certain number of people, that’s a B2G business model, we can hop on, but we are not trying to push ourselves to the governments and say, ‘hey you want to do this?’ We just want to do what we could do.
Komal: What is the feedback from your customers like?
Dozie: We started selling this, our target market was hospitals in rural areas. Because we have several small hospitals in villages that have 12 to 15 wards. They were running on a generator, portable generator system, and those hospitals are mainly for pregnant and nursing mothers. Having those generators there wasn’t really helping. We had to target them first and they showed so much interest in having to acquire our product because they were already losing money on the generator, fuel and stuff and the noise. And of course the health effects on CO2!
Those are the people that bought more units than homes or schools. We got feedback mainly from doctors and hospital owners in rural-developing areas. So we leveraged on this feedback because initially, this wasn’t giving them what they wanted because, after a period of time, it goes off.
The lights stopped working maybe after six months. So we have to take them back. We have to iterate on that and we notice that our circuit had some sort of issue whereby, overtime during the charge and discharge process of the lithium-ion battery, it doesn’t work anymore. We had to go back to the lab to iterate on that. That is what brought about this improved version.
Komal: What’s in the pipeline for Quadloop?
Dozie: We are still planning to roll out the improved version before mid-year, around 500 units. We’ve already done a market survey and contacted some customers on our websites. We had the pre-order option, whereby people can order, but can’t pay, but it’s just that when you click on pre-order, we get your information, we’ll give you a call and put you on our list of customers. So far we’ve gotten good feedback on our online channel.
We are just trying to conclude on some components. And one of the major components of the products is the circuit. We don’t produce the circuit here in Nigeria. It is produced in China. COVID-19 has really caused some sort of delay in getting the circuit. If not, we would have just launched by April. Now, we are looking to launch by May or early June.
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