ZOLA Electric

It started with hitchhiking in Malawi

ZOLA Electric’s roots start in 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 was without electricity. He learned that his hosts relied on dirty, expensive kerosene to light their homes. He began wondering why nobody he met had even a small solar power system. Was this 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 and storage power systems over time with the money they earn. This approach could reduce upfront costs and the risk for the customer that the system would not perform as promised, aligning the company and the customer.

The founders moved to Tanzania in 2012 after working on the idea for a year at Oxford and raising seed funding, they launched a company, then called Off Grid Electric. The idea was not to build technology first, but instead to first understand customers’ needs and what they could afford. From those insights, the team could then develop technology that exactly fit customer demand. 


ZOLA Electric Today and Our 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’s engineering is based in San Francisco, its operations are headquartered in Amsterdam, and its team members are located from Shanghai to Lagos. ZOLA’s focus is on building broad distribution for its products so anyone dealing with expensive, unreliable or unaffordable electricity can enjoy 24-Hour Power.

ZOLA Electric has developed a unique design and engineering philosophy based on deep customer insights learned by powering more than 1 million lives. ZOLA knows that quality matters above all when customers are relying on the company’s solar and storage power system as their primary source of power. The system needs to be easy to maintain and install. It must be modular, have financing built directly into the hardware and be beautifully designed.

The ZOLA team sees an enormous global shift taking place over the next 20 years. Rooftop solar electricity already costs less than national electric grid rates nearly everywhere. Solar’s first wave focused on the developed world, where customers offset their utility bills with distributed systems. The second wave will concentrate on emerging markets, where customers will directly generate, store and use their own power while using the grid only as a backup. Fundamental economics will drive this shift 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.


In its Series A venture capital financing round, ZOLA earns its first institutional funding in the pay-as-you-go solar sector. The company attracts SolarCity as its lead investor. SolarCity founder and CEO Lyndon Rive joins the board as ZOLA launches its second generation of hardware in Tanzania.


ZOLA rapidly expands across Tanzania as tens of thousands of customers start choosing the company’s products. ZOLA partners with the International Finance Corporation on a $7 Million 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 launches its third-generation power platform, which increases power capacity 10 times over previous generations.


ZOLA expands into Rwanda. ZOLA and EDF Energy announce a joint venture to expand energy access in West Africa, starting with Côte d'Ivoire.


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


ZOLA begins operations in Nigeria, Africa's biggest market. Nigeria has more diesel generators than households. Unlike its approach in other markets, ZOLA's target is not only off-grid households but also those that are connected to an unreliable grid that demands the use of dirty, dangerous and unhealthy diesel generators.


ZOLA’s products energize more than 1 million daily users. The company launches the INFINITY Integrated Power System, which provides 24-Hour AC Power Anywhere with lithium-ion batteries, solar panels & 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 Würdemann

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
CTO @ Schneider Electric, Board Member @ Warm Heart of Africa Foundation, P.Eng @APEGBC., B.Eng

Sau Ngosi

Chief Technology Officer
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

CFO @ Tesla, DJO Global, Dell, Applied Materials, US Army, MBA @ Thunderbird School of Global Management

John Madden



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