“Be genuine. If you don’t care about the work you are doing, you will burn out very quickly.”
Andrew is about as good an example as it gets of someone with a multi-faceted background and a lot of potential career paths to consider. In the summer of 2015, he got to experience an awesome internship with Off Grid Electric, an exciting Tanzania based solar startup who raised $45M last winter. Recently, he was kind enough to share some of his experience with us. Enjoy!
What is your name, title and organization?
Andrew Seelaus, Expansion Team (internship, summer 2015), Off Grid Electric Ltd.
What is your educational background (e.g., college, major, any graduate school or additional certifications)?
B.S. Civil Engineering, University of Notre Dame
Master of Environmental Management (MEM), Duke University
Master of Business Administration (MBA), Duke University
Professional Engineer, Maryland Board of Professional Engineers
How would you describe what you did for Off Grid Electric during your internship?
Off Grid Electric is a solar start-up headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania that provides solar home systems in un-electrified communities. I worked with the Expansion Team to prepare and execute the company’s first rollout in a new country. This included registering Off Grid Electric to operate in Rwanda, understanding the impacts of Rwandan regulations on the Off Grid Electric business, evaluating geographies to conduct a pilot, and building relationships with key government entities and local businesses.
Why did you first want to be a cleantekker?
Prior to graduate school I spent several years managing rural infrastructure projects in developing countries. Most of the communities where I worked were either not connected to the electrical grid, or received only a few hours of power a day. Energy access seemed like the best area for me to help connect new energy technologies with local entrepreneurial talent in a way that would yield sustainable, impactful businesses.
What were your two favorite aspects of your job?
The number one best part of Off Grid Electric is the people I worked with everyday. I was surrounded by brilliant, motivated, caring people from around the world. Everyone understood the impact of the work. The second best component of the job was the pace at which everything moved. Off Grid Electric selects hard and then invests in their people. They trust the team to execute in an open and communicative way, which results in a blistering pace of implementation and innovation.
If you were interviewing someone to replace you in your role, what should they focus on demonstrating in the interview to give themselves an advantage?
First, the candidate should demonstrate an ability to be a self-starter and that they take initiative to get things done without being prompted. This could be true of any job, but it is particularly important in a fast moving start-up. Come to the interview with an idea of how you could add value to the team. Second, the candidate should demonstrate flexibility and resiliency. In the East African context, things don’t always go to plan, so you need to be ready to pivot to Plans B, C, and D on short notice.
To perform your job well, what would be the most necessary skill or personality characteristic, and why?
Adaptability. To maximize each day with Off Grid Electric, you need to be able to shift quickly if plans change, which they will, often.
What is the one bit of advice you would offer a young person hoping to break into cleantech?
Be genuine. If you don’t care about the work you are doing, you will burn out very quickly. It’s not worth feigning interest in a widget for a glamorous job title. People can tell if you believe in your work or not.
What is something you learned in your internship that surprised you?
I didn’t appreciate the sheer scale of mobile-based banking like M-Pesa, MTN Mobile Money, and TigoCash. The number of previously unbanked people signing up for these services on a daily basis is astounding.
Other than the focus of your internship, which realm (technology, geography, or other) of cleantech is particularly interesting to you right now and why?
I think the opportunity within energy in emerging markets is absolutely huge, but I suppose that is the focus of my work. Domestically, the key words are aggregation and integration. Technological advances have unlocked massive opportunities for system optimization and the democratization of cleantech. Whether you are talking about coordinated behind-the-meter energy storage, home integrated demand response, or machine-learning home controls, the possibility of aggregating users across a network to achieve a desirable system outcome is exciting.
If you could be compensated for your work with something other than a paycheck, what would it be?
Unplugged vacation time and vegetable samosas.