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. He ended up in a fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi to a local family’s house for dinner. 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 initially known as Off-Grid Electric

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. ZOLA Electric has developed a unique design and engineering philosophy based on deep customer insights learned by powering more than 1 million lives. Solar’s first wave focused on the developed world, where customers offset their utility bills with distributed systems. If generating your own power is cheaper and more reliable than buying it from the power grid, why wouldn’t you do it?

Off-Grid electric (ZOLA Electric) 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

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

Bill Lenihan

Chief Executive Officer
Doye Ogionwo
CEO @ Triffant Resources, Group CCO @ Helios Towers, Partner @ NEWE Partners, MBA @ Carnegie Mellon

Doye Ogionwo

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

Cherilyn Vossberg

Vice President - Human Capital
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
Robert Falcon
VP @ EOS Energy ,GM @ ERIKS, GM @ EVI (Electric Vehicles International), Manager @ Apple

Robert Falcon

VP Manufacturing and Supply Chain

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 and Director
Bill Leninhan - CEO
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



ZOLA Electric’s investment and commercial 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
The Shell Foundation