ZOLA Electric

It started with hitchhiking in Malawi.

The roots of ZOLA Electric date to a trip co-founder Xavier Helgesen took in 2007 to Malawi. After visiting literacy projects supported by Books For Africa , Xavier went hitchhiking. He ended up in a fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi and was invited to a local family’s house for dinner. As he walked through the dark city streets by the dim light of a kerosene lamp, he realized that the whole community had no electricity. Asking his hosts about their lives, he learned that they relied on dirty, expensive kerosene to light their homes. As he returned to San Francisco, he kept wondering why nobody he met had even a small solar power system. Was it really a technology problem, or something else?

Five Years Later, ZOLA Electric Was Launched

Xavier attended Oxford University’s MBA program and set out researching exactly why solar adoption was so slow in places where it was needed most. At Oxford, he met future ZOLA co-founder Erica Mackey. Erica had worked in Tanzania for a decade and deeply understood the African market. Joined by a renewable energy expert, Joshua Pierce, they worked together on a business plan that would allow customers to buy their own solar & storage power systems over time from the money they save or money they earn. This reduced not only the upfront cost, but the risk for the customer that the system would not perform as promised, aligning the company and the customer.

After working on the idea for a year at Oxford and raising the seed funding for the company, the founders moved to Tanzania in 2012, launching the company as Off Grid Electric. The idea was not to build technology first, but instead to first understand what customers needed and what they were able to pay for. From those insights, technology could then be developed that exactly met the needs of the customers.

ZOLA Electric Today & Vision for the Future

Today, ZOLA is the leading solar brand in the markets it serves, offering a full energy ladder that can scale to solve any energy problem. The company has its engineering based in San Francisco, its operations based in Amsterdam, and its team members located from Shanghai to Lagos. The company’s focus is building broad distribution for its products, so anyone suffering from expensive, unreliable or unaffordable power can enjoy 24 Hour Power.

Based on deep customer insight learned by powering over one million lives, ZOLA Electric has developed a unique design and engineering philosophy. ZOLA knows the quality matters above all when customers are relying on their solar & storage power system as their primary source of power. It needs to be easy to maintain and install. The system needs to be modular, have financing built directly into the hardware, and be beautifully designed.

The team at ZOLA sees an enormous global shift taking place over the next 20 years. Rooftop solar electricity already costs less than the national electric grid nearly everywhere. The first wave of distributed solar focused on the developed world, where customers offset their utility bills. The second wave will focus on emerging markets, where customers will directly generate, store and use their own power anywhere, this time using the grid only as a backup. This shift will be driven by fundamental economics as the cost of energy storage and solar continues to decline. If generating your own power is cheaper and more reliable than buying it from the power grid, why wouldn’t you do it?

ZOLA is launched as "M-Power" in Arusha, Tanzania, attracting its first 1,000 customers by the end of 2012.


ZOLA raises the first institutional funding in the pay-as-you-go solar sector, attracting SolarCity as its lead investor in its Series A. SolarCity founder and CEO Lyndon Rive joins the board. ZOLA launches its second generation hardware in Tanzania.


ZOLA rapidly expands across Tanzania, satisfying tens of thousands of customers. The company partners with the IFC on a $7 Million financing facility for off grid solar - another first in the industry.


ZOLA raises growth capital in a funding round led by DBL Partners. Nancy Pfund joins the board. ZOLA's third generation power platform is launched, increasing power capacity 10x over previous generations.


ZOLA expands outside of Tanzania into Rwanda. ZOLA and EDF announce joint venture to expand energy access in West Africa, starting with a launch in Ivory Coast.


ZOLA FLEX launches as the best-in-class plug-and-play, pre-paid solar system. ZOLA closes growth funding from Helios Partners and GE Ventures.


ZOLA launches into Nigeria, Africa's biggest market. Nigeria has more diesel generators than households by some counts. Unlike other markets, ZOLA's target is not only off grid households but those who back up the grid with dirty, dangerous and unhealthy diesel generators.


ZOLA’s products energize more than 1 million daily users. The company launches the INFINITY Integrated Power System - 24 Hour AC Power Anywhere seamlessly delivered from lithium batteries, solar & the grid as a backup if available.


ZOLA's Executive Team

Partner @ Fremont Partners / Calera Capital, EVP International @ Switch Lighting, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, MBA @ Wharton, BA @ UCLA

Bill Lenihan

Chief Executive Officer
Lawyer @ Clifford Chance LLP, Senior Banker @ ING, LLM International Economic Law @ UCT & UVA

Chris Würderman

Vice President, Corporate Finance
CEO @ Triffant Resources, Group CCO @ Helios Towers, Partner @ NEWE Partners, MBA @ Carnegie Mellon

Doye Ogionwo

Chief Commercial Officer
CFO @ eMeter, Finance @ Siemens, MBA, CPA

Guido Frantzen

Chief Financial Officer
Organizational Effectiveness, HR Manager @ Maersk; MPhil Sustainable Energy @ UCT

Cherilyn Vossberg

Vice President - Human Capital
EVP, Expansion - Coca Cola, CCO @ Airtel Kenya, MBA

Abdallah Khamis

Managing Director, Nigeria
MD @ Aggreko Sub Saharan Africa, MD @ Aggreko NZ Pacific, GM @ Gough CAT Power Systems, BSc (Hon) Commerce

Tony Hamilton

Chief Operating Officer
Executive Director Global Legal Affairs - General Counsel @ Heineken

Steven van Maasakker

General Counsel
Skoll Scholar + MBA @ Oxford, Co-Founder @ Better World Books, Indaba Systems

Xavier Helgesen

Co-founder, President & Chief Technology Officer

ZOLA Electric Board of Directors

Founder and Managing Partner of DBL Partners, JPMorgan, Hambrecht & Quist, MA @ Stanford, MBA @ Yale

Nancy Pfund

Co-founder and Managing Partner of Helios Investment Partners, TPG, MIT, Harvard Law, MBA @ Harvard

Tope Lawani

Co-founder @ SolarCity now Tesla Energy. Co-Founder @ Everdream, Board @ NatGeo, GivePower, World Spine Care. U.S. National Underwater Hockey Team member..

Lyndon Rive

Chairman of the Board
Skoll Scholar + MBA @ Oxford, Co-Founder @ Better World Books, Indaba Systems

Xavier Helgesen

Co-founder, President & Chief Technology Officer
Partner @ Fremont Partners / Calera Capital, EVP International @ Switch Lighting, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, MBA @ Wharton, BA @ UCLA

Bill Lenihan

Chief Executive Officer
Managing Director @ Vulcan Capital

Steve Hall

Principal @ Zouk Capital, JP Morgan, MA @ Columbia, MA @ Cambridge

John Higelin

Corp Dev @ Tesla, Apple, Goldman Sachs, MBA @ Stanford

Brian Scelfo



ZOLA Electric’s investment and advisory partners include Tesla, General Electric, EDF Energy, DBL Ventures, Helios Investment Partners and Total.

Helios Investment Partners
GE Ventures
DBL Partners
Vulcan Capital
ZOUK Capital
Omidyar Network
FMO - Dutch Entrepreneurial Bank
Power Africa
African Development Bank Group
Global Off-Grid Lighting Association
International Finance Corporation
Power For All
Energy Access Ventures
Sustainable Energy For All