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33-year-old who runs a multimillion-dollar start-up to help fight climate change: 'You can be altruistic and successful'

Samir Ibrahim
Photo: Prokraft Africa

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. 

Samir Ibrahim, the CEO and co-founder of SunCulture, a multimillion-dollar start-up working to fight climate change, can't emphasize this point enough. 

It's been 10 years since Ibrahim and his co-founder Charles Nichols launched SunCulture, which is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and aims to help farmers grow food without relying on rainfall by using solar-powered irrigation systems instead.

The pair used about $5,000 of their personal savings to get SunCulture off the ground, then borrowed an additional $200,000 from friends and family to build more prototypes of their solar irrigation system. As of April, SunCulture has raised about $40 million, raising about $26 million between 2020 and 2021 alone.

There's a misconception that climate entrepreneurship isn't profitable, Ibrahim tells CNBC Make It. One lesson Ibrahim has learned since launching SunCulture, however — and what he wants other entrepreneurs to understand — is that "you can be altruistic and successful, there doesn't need to be a separation," the 33-year-old says.

But the biggest piece of advice Ibrahim gives entrepreneurs, especially those working to fight climate change, is to take care of themselves.

"Get enough sleep, eat healthier foods, practice mindfulness," he says. "Do what you need to do to feel good, because entrepreneurship, especially climate entrepreneurship, is a lifetime of service — you need to make sure that you're resilient and ready to show up as your best self every day."

Between 2017 and 2021, SunCulture reports that it has prevented more than 67 million liters of diesel and petrol from being used – and over the next seven years, Ibrahim estimates the business will help reduce over three million tons of carbon dioxide from being released in the atmosphere. 

SunCulture has recently expanded to other African countries, including Ethiopia, Uganda and Togo, and Ibrahim dreams of taking the company public one day.

Until then, Ibrahim hopes that SunCulture's success inspires others to consider a path in climate entrepreneurship. "We need more climate champions," he says. "We need people to get involved in this work because at the end of the day, nothing else matters if we don't have this planet to live on."

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How I raised $40 million to give rural farmers solar power
How I raised $40 million to give rural farmers solar power