Sandra Chukwudozie: The Energy Trailblazer
Sandra Chukwudozie is a Nigerian cleantech entrepreneur and corporate executive. She is the Founder and CEO of Salpha Energy, an energy solutions company that enables people to access energy at all levels. She recently appeared on the Forbes 30 under 30 for 2022, as one of the continent’s brightest achievers under the age of 30.
Born into a family of six by entrepreneurial parents with a business conglomerate spanning manufacturing, real estate, oil and gas, naturally instilled considerable pro-business values in her, which inspired a successful career path today.
In this interview, the graduate of Economics and Political Science from the University of Manchester, UK, talks about her career, making the Forbes 30 under 30 list, family background, her definition of feminism and future goals.
You recently made the Forbes under 30 list. What does it mean to you?
I am proud of myself that a modest, young, Nigerian woman like myself through passion, determination and hard work, gets to represent Nigerian entrepreneurism in such a progressive light. I’m proud of what this exposure does for the psyche of the average Nigerian youth in these remarkably tough times.
I’m proud that the international media is paying attention to young Nigerian (women), who, are making real impact in the renewables sector.
Can you tell us about your career path, your role in your company, and why you chose your line of business?
From a young age, I was exposed to the energy industry through the family business. However, I gained a new perspective on energy when I started my career at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. I learnt that energy had to be clean, safe and sustainable. Even more, that closing the energy access gap had to start by reaching the furthest behind first. It was at that time that, I found an outlet where I could actively work on effecting change. This change was none other than the energy transition. As a young woman in Nigeria, I understood the importance of having a dream this big, the impact it would have on the country, and the flame it would ignite in the hearts of young people; the underdogs, the underestimated who had something to prove. I wanted to channel the energy of the youth in order, to usher in this change.
How long has your company been in business and what services does it offer?
Salpha Energy “Salpha” is a solar company that was founded five years ago, which, designs and distributes a range of solar systems for homes and businesses that are off-grid and with unreliable grid access, which constitutes a greater proportion of the Nigerian population.
Salpha’s business model is based on the understanding that pricing and the reduction of upfront costs is key to capturing the target customer base. The Nigerian energy market is bottom heavy, so our strategy is to bring the underserved and unserved homes and businesses in rural and urban areas into focus, and up the energy ladder.
What was your mission and goal when you were starting out your company? Is your mission and goal same as the outset?
My mission was simple and consistent over the years. Firstly, to reach the furthest behind in energy poverty first, by providing clean and affordable solar energy products across Africa.
Secondly, to harness the energy, passion, and intelligence of the youth across the nation and continent, towards accelerating access to clean energy.
What are some of the books you have read that have really stuck with you and has helped shape the way you think as a female entrepreneur?
Psychology of Money – Morgan Housel
Life Visioning – Michael Bernard Beckwith
Power of Character in Leadership – Myles Monroe
Who was your role model growing up and who is your model now?
My role model growing up were my parents because I was inspired by all they were able to achieve with sheer hard work and team spirit.
Tell us a bit about your background. What is it about your parents that inspired your career path?
On a personal level, I grew up watching my entrepreneurial parents grow the family business into a conglomerate spanning various sectors including; Oil and Gas, Manufacturing and Real Estate. Naturally, growing up in such a household inspired me and instilled considerable pro-business values in me, helping me realize that through our commercial endeavours, we can very much have a positive influence on other people’s lives.
What were some of your fondest memory as a child?
I had so much fun growing up. I was a very playful, cheeky and inquisitive kid that loved exploring the neighbourhood, playing pranks and video games. My fondest memories were me and my cousin Pascal, sneaking out of the house with our bmx bikes and racing against each other, also beating my brothers in our family fifa tournaments.
As a young entrepreneur who just made the Forbes under 30 lister, what does female empowerment mean to you?
I always love to quote this line “Female empowerment means being brave enough to question and go against social and gender norms — to go against what one is taught. It means redefining beauty, power and womanhood as a whole.”
What are the pressures that comes with being a young female entrepreneur and how do you maneuver them?
Having to assert myself more and prove myself constantly in situations in which I think that a man would not need to do such things. Though over the years, people have come to accept that I’m a young female dominating my field.
Although, proving and asserting myself was not difficult because, from a young age, I was surrounded by entrepreneurial women because my family business was structured in a way that gave men and women equal opportunities to thrive. I watched my mother in her mid 20s, manage a wide portfolio of companies and she was also a serial entrepreneur. My parents also gave me a seat at the table and always made it clear that my voice mattered.
I am also a leader that believes in working as a united front and creating an empowering work environment to inspire future-oriented thinking and celebrate diversity.
What’s your typical day like and how do you unwind?
I run my own business alongside my family owned business. So, sometimes, my typical day involves going to multiple places. I could go to the mainland where my office is at Festac or Apapa where my family business is. I could also be in Victoria Island. So, in one day I could shuttle around these three places and what am I doing? Checking on the teams to see how they are doing, basically troubleshooting.
Honestly, I’m a nerd and workaholic. So I unwind by meditating. Every evening, I shut everything off and tune into myself. Call it a spiritual practice, I feel that it really helps you ground yourself and asides that, I love to read. I’m very nerdy, so that keeps me very relaxed and in the know of what is happening. I chill with my family too and play video games with my oculus VR set.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I am on a style journey, but it also goes without saying my style is intended to build reality to my tagline, which is chic, classy and clean.
Anyway, I am simple and sophisticated, I always believe in simplicity with a dose of sophistication in attaining a great look.
In my closet, you will always find a statement handbag, a classic blazer, high waisted Jeans and a pair of sneakers.
What are you most grateful for?
My resilience. I have gone through many tough things in my life; however, I’ve always had a positive disposition and built resilience to keep bouncing back.
Describe your life as a young female entrepreneur in one word?
How do you measure success?
Happiness and peace of mind. Full alignment with my true and authentic self.
What is your biggest inspiration and where do you see yourself and your company in the next ten years?
My biggest inspiration is to be an exemplary and visionary leader, who is an unapologetic advocate for the next generation of young leaders.
At Salpha, we envision a strengthened market position by building relationships with existing customer segments, and extending our products to prospective customers in other industries across the African continent, while providing technical support and responsive after-sales services.
Finally, Alphas On the Move (AOM) is a company-wide initiative for talent acquisition and development. The purpose is to empower the Salpha workforce, to chart stronger career paths.