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Ali Abdel Hafiz, founder and CEO of iSolarWorkx, says that he set up the company, which creates DIY educational kits for educators and students, “to help the young generation understand science in a practical and creative manner, give them an opportunity to understand practical applications related to renewable energy (RE), and help them to be creative and innovative through the DIY features of all our product.” The 42-year-old entrepreneur, a MSc in Bioinformatics grad from Imperial College, UK with a background in energy trading and risk management consultancy, says there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of how renewable energy works in practice, and iSolarWorkx aims to close that gap with its kits that are essentially experiments derived from science curricula from the British, American and IB systems.
Launched in March 2014, iSolarWorkx is currently in fundraising stage, with Hafiz saying that a number of angel investors have expressed interest in the startup. The company’s business model has R&D, sales and marketing worked on in-house, while production, distribution and e-commerce will be outsourced. Its first product, a solar car kit, encourages children to learn by doing- they get to assemble the car, fix the solar panels and then test the speed of the car using solar panels of different power wattages.
Talking about the MENA region’s startup ecosystem, Hafiz notes the shortage of local resources in the UAE -in terms of staffing- as being a major hurdle for entrepreneurs here. “You do not have the luxury of recruiting from overseas easily, unless you can afford to pay for visas, flights, living expenses, etc. for your new recruits,” he explains. Lack of funds for ‘treps at various stages of their ventures and lack of financial support in the form of grants from local governments in the region are other struggles Hafiz mentions, saying, “The availability of these grants is very important to encourage entrepreneurs to implement their ideas, fail and learn from their mistakes.” His advice for his peers in the industry? Start a business with the consumers’ needs in mind, build a strong team, and focus on growing locally first, and then internationally.
Why do you feel there's a need for iSolarWorkx?
[To] increase the awareness of the importance and potential of RE resources, we want to encourage the young generations to think about RE applications and how to solve real life problems in their local environment. [We also want to] increase the interest in science education. Our work comes at a very relevant time in line with calls to support science education in the UAE and the entire region- iSolarWorkx helps to instill the love of science from a young age, and therefore encourages students to pursue a higher education and a career in science. A more long-term impact is to help build a market of green job opportunities. When we get our young generations interested in RE today, we are directing them to a prosperous and greener career in the future.
How do you motivate your team?
Our team is motivated by the positive feedback we receive from our customers and this is in the fact best motivation technique for any team. We are always proud of what you do and the changes we are trying to make to the society. During school visits to schools like Repton [School] Dubai, which ordered our first product, exhibitions at GESS (Global Education Sustainability System) and at the 8th MIT Pan-Arab Conference in Kuwait, where we were [a] semi-finalist, we received some great comments, encouragement and support. At the MIT competition earlier this year, one of the judges approached us and asked to pre-order the car for her children, as she really liked the idea of science education using renewable energy!
What are some interesting trends and changes do you notice in your industry?
A number of countries have taken some serious steps towards adopting renewable energy, but there needs to be more support from local governments to encourage people to learn, understand and adopt renewable energy more effectively. Also, education in the region is seeing more major changes towards more learning by doing rather than relying on traditional methods of learning.
Which MENA-based startup incubators do you think are making a difference in supporting ventures in the region? How so?
I think all of them are making a good effort to develop the ecosystem in their own way. Among the particularly active [ones] in the region [are] C3 (Consult and Coach for a Cause), they are very passionate about supporting social entrepreneurship in the region and have a number of very active and passionate coaches; in5 help entrepreneurs in many ways, particularly providing office space and issuing a trading license at a reduced cost; TURN8 for managing to attract very good entrepreneurs from across the region to enrich entrepreneurship; [and] Flat6Labs for having a strong management team and solid training to help entrepreneurs understand various aspects of their business namely, business model, building a financial statement, etc.
How do you manage your time?
Lists, and be strict with what you need to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Build a plan, and stick very closely to that plan.
What is your source of personal motivation?
My passion about education is my biggest motivation. I think education is the key to develop prosperous societies. [At] iSolarWorkx, [we] strongly believe that effective education can deal with many of the economic and social issues we currently face here in our region.
What app do you often use?
I often use the app SmartUp. It is very clever and has great deal of good and professional advice from world-class entrepreneurs.