‘Europe has the money to innovate, but not the creativity. Africa has the creativity to innovate, but not the money.’ Xavier Ikejemba, PhD candidate and entrepreneur, is a strong believer in Africa’s potential. He’s battling the prejudice that you need money to succeed. ‘People always ask me where I found the resources to start my company. They think you need money for everything. But that isn’t necessary at all. I started with nothing!’
The Nigerian-born businessman grew up in Cape Town, amidst families who had no electricity. ‘We sometimes studied by candle-light.’ The experiences from his childhood directly influence Xavier’s priorities of today. ‘I started African Energy & Consulting, a subsidiary of African Sustainability & Development, because I wanted to give back to the people.’
Xavier’s company applies renewable energy to rural areas. The entrepreneur clarifies that it isn’t charity, though. ‘We have a solid, long-term business model. Ultimately, wind and solar energy are cheaper and have higher returns than fossil energy. Even today, we’re exceeding our forecasts.’
Next to an energy department, the company has a consultancy division to help European or Asian companies enter African markets. Xavier works in random sectors, like water management or community development, but is selective in the projects that he accepts. ‘Assignments should be sustainable and potentially lead to an increase in local employment,’ the CEO states.
Xavier gets requests to do feasibility studies, risk analyses or to help companies find their way through African circumstances. ‘The most common pitfall for European firms is that they think they know how Africa works, when they don’t,’ Xavier explains. ‘It’s all about networking and understanding the people. Even if you have official government permits, the local community has to allow you too. You need to count them in.’
But how does all of this relate to his PhD? Xavier is doing an individual promotional research, because ‘a traditional PhD doesn’t allow me to realize my dreams.’ Although his company is his first priority, he researches different topics that relate to renewable energy. ‘I’m publishing on the determination of locations for renewable energy parks, about the economic advantages of renewable resources and how to manage them best.’
After finishing his master in industrial engineering this year, no less than seven months before due time, he has already presented a paper at a conference in Japan. This work ethic seems to be defining characteristic of Xavier, who isn’t shy of expressing his ambition to become the president of Nigeria some day. ‘I work hard. Time doesn’t wait for me.’