In Abuja, Ahmad Sadiq has to offer everything.
Of all the pictures of Mark Zuckerberg in Abuja, Nigeria, there is one that stands out to Ahmad Sadiq. In this picture, the Facebook founder is asking Ahmad about the home automation products offered by Microscale Embedded, his company.
Microscale Embedded is a staple in the Nigerian hardware space: providing electronic components (both as a reseller and a producer) via its online store, and producing energy management products for the home. For the latter, the company also installs these products, such as change-over switches and power meters, in homes after performing prior consultancy to the client.
The focus on energy management was accidental, as Ahmad says:
“We started doing everything (hardware) as there was no data on the market, over time (and after a lot of consulting work) we narrowed it down to energy management”
To a Nigerian this is no surprise. Most households have multiple power sources: the national grid, a backup generator and, for middle income homes, an inverter. The off-grid market is also growing, currently representing a $9.2 billion yearly opportunity, with players like All-On investing actively in the space. This market has two sides (and there are makers on both): companies that focus on generation primarily through solar power like Rensource and Sunstretch, and those that focus on management and monitoring like Grit Systems.
Microscale Embedded is different still. Founded in 2007 by Ahmad, who is an engineer with NIGComSat, Nigeria’s Satellite Management agency, on return from a visit to China where he saw first hand the technology ecosystem responsible for that country’s growth. The company started selling electronic components to other hobbyists interested in building prototypes, in due course they started producing their own components for sale making PCBs by manual etching.
“Our goal is to help create an environment that helps makers thrive,” Ahmad says.
While this remains their goal, developing a product line to complement component sales is key to their sustainability. In this part of the world, makers can simply not afford to rely on one, or even, two service offerings.
Recently, the company split into two:
- The online store (which retains the name) will continue to sell components and evolve to become a forum with makers uploading electronic designs for sale, with the company still offering PCB/A services; and
- Wattling, which produces home automation products remotely accessible from web and phone interfaces.
Two new products that will show their leadership in the market are SmartKon and the Power Meter. While SmartKon is used to track power consumption in the home, the Power Meter controls metering from the grid offering analytics and measurement suited for mixed-use properties with unequal power usage. For the latter, they present a challenge (and a solution) to the local power regulation authorities who use foreign encryption and communication standards in the absence of a local one. With Nigeria facing a 54% deficit in installed meter capacity, they see an opportunity to not only meet this demand but potentially lead the market.
Central to these products is NodeWire, their in-house IOT development framework built from scratch that offers the interconnectivity of modules and data flow programming. Their new website (coming soon) will run on NodeWire and they have plans to make it open source in the future.
These big plans are not taken lightly by Ahmad or Uchechi Okwuegwo, a recent graduate of engineering, who is an intern at Microscale Embedded. She learnt first of the company while working on her senior paper as she required technical help which she could not get on campus. Such expertise is readily available and shared freely among the engineers at Microscale.
So I ask:
Is his outfit a component reseller or producer, a product manufacturer or a training institute?
Ahmad laughs at this question.
He has just come in from a real estate exhibition with an estate management firm with whom they have a business relationship, sales are necessary to fund operations here. Having raised no institutional funding in all the years of operation, the different service offerings (and revenue streams) is Ahmad hacking financing. He can not afford to wait on Zuckerberg.