UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For many, the idea of being one’s own boss is appealing — you can make your hours, run the business and see to it that your vision is being carried forward.
Tony B. Adesina, a 2008 Penn State industrial engineering alumnus, took these ideas to heart when he approached his business partner, Agenor J. Jean-Louis, also a 2008 industrial engineering alumnus, and launched their five green energy businesses in Rwanda, Africa.
Adesina, co-founder of GURARIDE, SAFIRIDE, SAFIRUN, EVPLUGIN and Safi Universal Link (SUL), began his journey to entrepreneurship as an undergraduate engineering student with interests in multiple engineering disciplines and a flair for business. He found industrial engineering best combined his interests and challenged him.
“When you’re in your industrial engineering classes, you’ll ask yourself ‘will I ever use this?’” Adesina said. “You always use it because everything you’ll learn in industrial engineering is useful for both life and business. I still see my education being used in our day-to-day operations today. I smile when I think about it; it takes me back to Penn State and the Leonhard Building.”
Toward a greener future
Adesina classifies himself as a serial entrepreneur. His interests lie within transit system solutions via green electric mobility (e-mobility) transport systems in Africa.
He explained that he is committed to the sustainability of green transport in Africa to help cities reduce carbon emission, pollution and make getting from point A to B more convenient and affordable.
“I always had a dream of going back home to Africa,” Adesina said. “My entrepreneurship journey began in Nigeria, my home country, after graduating from Penn State. My passion for electric mobility and reducing pollution in our environment led me to Rwanda, which was the perfect place to start. There is such room for growth in Rwanda and their pro-green agenda was excellent for e-mobility. I don’t need to lobby for green transport here; that vision has already been around for a long time.”
According to Green Growth Knowledge Platform, the Rwanda Vision 2020 explains how the Rwandan government aims to transform the country into a middle-income nation where people are healthier, educated and more prosperous. A part of this plan is to make personal travel, accessibility and public transport easier on its citizens.
With this plan comes the idea of green transportation — Adesina’s ticket to a cleaner future. Through his business ventures, he is helping to not only create cleaner ways to move, but he is also generating unique job opportunities through capacity building and developing programs focusing on women empowerment.
Adesina and Jean-Louis began working in Rwanda in 2017 by initially creating GURARIDE and SAFIRIDE. Though both companies offer convenient green transport services, their approaches are different.
GURARIDE is a public bike-share transport system company committed to the sustainability of micro-mobility in Africa. GURARIDE offers smart bikes, electric scooters and electric bikes from its app to enable users to choose their ride preference. Users simply pick up their choice of bike and drop it off at the next charging station.
Adesina advises students to work hard, believe in themselves and to focus on the bigger picture.
SAFIRIDE is an on-demand, ride-hailing electric motorcycle transport services company that uses cutting-edge technology, a cashless payment system and a mobile app to provide unique services to individual customers and organizations via their drivers, known as “captains.”
SAFIRIDE not only provides rides to customers, but it also provides jobs to community members along with its introduction of women captains to its fold. All employees are professionally trained to operate the vehicles, designed and produced by SUL, Adesina and Jean-Louis’s mass production assembly plant. SAFIRIDE’s goal is the migration of transportation using innovating technology from fossil fuel-based energy to other renewable low carbon transport options.
While working on these projects, Adesina recognized there was a need to further expand, which led to the establishment of three more companies: EVPLUGIN, SAFIRUN and SUL.
According to Adesina, EVPLUGIN is the most reliable and leading public electric vehicle (EV) charging network in Africa, with a focus on helping everyone make the shift to e-mobility.
“We are committed to creating a worldwide awareness on the importance of e-mobility to our environment while providing a user friendly and the best EV charging experience for everyone,” Adesina said.
SUL assembles and sells smart bikes, electric bikes, motorcycles and scooters. SUL also provides service and maintenance along with capacity building, training courses for technicians, mechanics and riders with an emphasis on women empowerment.
SAFIRUN, currently in operations, is an eco-friendly delivery and logistics technology company that connects people with the best local restaurants, wine and spirits, e-commerce, shopping platforms, grocery stores and personal pick up and drop off services in their cities. SAFIRUN works with the use of mobile app and via electric vehicle transport.
Empowering the future of Rwanda
Adesina and Jean-Louis hope to empower Rwandan women and youths to learn a technical trade in order to generate steady income, sustain their lifestyle and to grow their community overall. For the pair, it’s about community.
“Our projects aren’t money-driven,” Adesina said. “We are providing technical skill training for women and youths to enable them to be ready for the labor market while also working on promoting green technologies. It’s about impact. Empowering people empowers me. You can be whatever you want to be, and with these ventures, we can train people from scratch and help them be independent.”
Ideally, Adesina wants to provide the assets and training to create new job opportunities in as many African countries as possible.
Adesina advises students interested in entrepreneurship to stay on track and remain focused.
“If you can dream it, you can achieve it. You just have to believe in yourself,” he said. “You’ll hit obstacles, but you need to keep pushing forward. Surround yourself with like-minded, hard-working and positive people. Don’t take no for an answer and never believe in failure. Failing is a second chance to get it right.”
Adesina said that Fortune 500 companies are all “started by individuals just like you,” and that if students apply themselves and find their niche, they can be successful.
“Finding your purpose is the best way to find happiness and fulfillment, which is the most important thing in life,” he said.
The alumni spotlight series from the Penn State Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) highlights innovators, makers and those that personify engineering excellence in industry and academia. Established in 1908, the department has graduated more than 8,000 industrial engineers who can be found across the world in varying industries. The department, home to the first industrial engineering program in the world, made a name for itself in the engineering industry through its storied tradition of unparalleled excellence and innovation in research, education and outreach. To learn more about IME and how to get involved, visit ime.psu.edu.
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