In 2003, the Canadian-American business mogul, Elon Musk, co-founded Tesla Inc, a car maker that specializes in electric plug-in cars. In less than 15 years, the young and ambitious startup sold over 186,000 electric cars worldwide to be the second largest electric automaker globally, and its cars covered more than 3 billion miles.
KarmSolar, an Egyptian startup that was founded in 2011, and specializes in solar technology and its integration into agricultural, industrial, tourism and business sectors, is on tracks to reiterate the Tesla success story. However, Ahmed Zahran, the company’s CEO, is not a big fan of the comparison. “I do not like the Elon Musk model. I hate comparisons in general”, he says. “We can be our own community’s creation. We work in a different environment, with different problems, and different opportunities. We are totally different”, he adds.
In just 6 years of operation, and with a small team of energy52 engineers, KarmSolar is currently Egypt’s largest private off-grid solar integrator. The company supplies the region’s largest off-grid hybrid pumping & irrigation system (147 kW), and successfully raised more than 50 million Egyptian pounds in 2016. KarmBuild is a subsidiary of KarmSolar that designs and builds energy efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings.
A locally inspired team with a deeply rooted interest in renewable energy
The name “KarmSolar” was originally inspired by an off-the-beaten-track ecolodge in Saint Catherine, called Karm, that the co-founders once visited. Meaning “a fruitful vine” in Arabic, Karm signified the initial market that the brand revolutionized, the pumping and irrigation systems market.
“Our first project was to utilise solar energy for irrigation”, Zahran says. None of the co-founders had any background in the field of solar energy, they used to work in the field of renewable energy for a number of multinational companies. And while they always wanted to invest in building something in the renewable energy domain, the company they used to work for didn’t have a research and development (R&D) division in Egypt. As the company decided to end its operations in Egypt, the team of co-founders decided to continue to pursue what they initially dreamt of.
Fair chances and knowledge acquisition, the core brand values
KarmSolar is built on a set of brand values inspired by the popular January revolution of 2011. The brand exemplifies the values of fair chances, knowledge acquisition, and research & development. “We make money, but we pay our taxes, we treat our employees fairly, and we give back to the community”, explains Zahran. To achieve this, the company relies on recruiting local backers who believe in the same ideals, rather than seeking international investors.
The co-founders believe that the value of knowledgeable people is much more powerful when they work in a system. “We are trying to create a system that can utilize knowledge to the maximal extent”, says Zahran. The company innovates sustainable and economically sound products and technologies that utilize solar energy for power generation, energy management, water pumping, and energy independent buildings.
KarmSolar is training highly qualified solar energy technicians from local Wahat residents. The company also sends them abroad for training. “We believe in the near future Wahat will be internationally renowned for the most talented solar energy technicians all over the world”, Zahran optimistically says.
A community-inspired brand identity, and a brand culture based on employee ownership
The brand culture emphasizes its set of values. KarmSolar is based on a culture where employees have a sense of ownership of the company. The company operates a transparent payroll policy, where employees can expect how much they will be paid when they get promoted. Promotions are based on achievements, and employees get equity in the company as a part of their benefits package. “We want every Karmsolar employee to believe he can be the company’s chairman one day”, Zahran explains.
With a 100% solar powered workers’ village located in Bahariya oasis, KarmSolar is building its own community-inspired brand identity. Providing local farmers with small scale irrigation systems, as well as building small solar power systems for mosques in the area, KarmSolar represents the best of what the local community has to offer. The company is not trying to replicate any other internationally successful brand, it rather wants to create its own brand experience.
An annual forum, where the media and other interested clients and public figures will be invited, is planned to announce recent launches, and to allow employees to celebrate their creations. The company still plans to focus on developing solutions to explore the huge potential of the uninhabited Egyptian deserts, accounting for almost 92% of the country. “Our strength come from the value we add to the community”, Zahran concludes.