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Join hosts Toni Okamoto and Paul Shapiro as they talk with some of the leading start-up entrepreneurs and titans of industry alike using their businesses to help solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Nov 1, 2019

You’ve heard the folklore time and again: a group of young idealists starts a company in their garage with dreams of one day changing the world. In the case of Fenix International, they too started in a garage, but this garage happened to be in Uganda, and those idealists happened to be a group of ex-Apple engineers.

The problem they were trying to solve: Lots of rural Africans just don’t have access to safe, clean energy. As a result, they either burn kerosene or local trees, both of which are polluting and create real hazards in the home, or they simply live in the dark when the sunsets.

Well, these engineers wanted to be a source of light for such families, literally. Their goal: create the cheapest possible solar panels and energy storage that could be affixed to roofs, often made of thatch, and help power homes that are too far away from any grid. They called their company Fenix International, and Lyndsay Holley Handler, employee #1, would be their CEO. 

As you’ll hear in the interview, Fenix got right to work, raising capital and inventing low-cost solar panels that help transform the lives of their new owners. Not only do test scores for kids improve in homes with the solar panels (since they can study at night), but local entrepreneurs like tailors can receive more income by staying open later. There’s also evidence that these solar panels are helping advance gender equality and even lowering birth rates. 

With a profitable business model that’s tangibly improving the lives of rural Africans and employing 1,100 people, Fenix solar panels are now sitting atop hundreds of thousands of homes in six countries, benefiting three million people. Not too shabby for a company that began in a garage in 2009. The startup went through series A and B financings before more recently getting acquired by a larger energy company, allowing for some cofounder exits.

This was recorded in October 2019, just a couple days after Lyndsay stepped down as CEO of Fenix. With such an impressive track record behind her, what will Lyndsay do next? Well, as the head of the Ugandan Ultimate Frisbee Association, maybe she’ll have a little more time to play. But then, she’s got new business plans to keep making a difference. Listen to the interview to hear her story!

Mentioned in this episode

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh