A Pakistani entrepreneur took a gamble to bring power to 55 million people without electricity

27 January 2016

There’s a thin line between fearlessness and foolishness, and Usman Ahmad knows better than anyone how to walk it. The temerarious CEO of Nizam Energy, Acumen’s new investment in Pakistan, doesn’t just love a challenge?—?he has built his career on taking risks and defying the odds. In fact, it is his youthful bravado that led him, at 29, to create an energy company knowing next to nothing about the solar industry.

The second eldest of three sons, Usman could have easily followed his father’s footsteps and joined the family business, a fifth-generation consortium of companies that includes one of the largest manufacturers of humanitarian aid tents. And he gave that a try?—?for a while. After graduating from Indiana University in 2003, he returned home to Karachi to work for the family business, developing its hospitality and recycling arms and turning them both into profitable companies. Success came almost too easy and Usman quickly got bored.

Then, in 2011, a request came in from the UNDP Pakistan. Over the years, the family had provided tents to the United Nations, American Red Cross and other aid organizations, but this request was for hundreds of solar lanterns. On these occasions, Usman would usually fly to China for sourcing, but he started to think about how to build a solar business within Pakistan. He had heard about a former professor operating a small solar consulting company, one of the only ones in Pakistan, and became intrigued by the possibilities of solar energy. Usman saw an opportunity. Two weeks later, he made an offer to buy the company.