Léandre Berwa’s choice to join CMU-Africa was deliberate and an opportunity to pursue his interest in energy.
Berwa was introduced to CMU-Africa as an undergraduate student studying electronics and telecommunications. As an avid member of Toastmasters, he interacted with CMU-Africa students at Toastmasters events and was inspired by their dynamism and intelligence. At the same time, he realized that he was no longer interested in telecommunications and wanted to shift his focus to the energy sector. Discovering a globally renowned academic institution based in Rwanda, that would allow him to pursue this interest through the concentrations offered within the MS ECE program, and that was also financially viable was a major highlight for Berwa.
“CMU-Africa was my best bet. It was a truly unique opportunity to go to a world-class university with all the concentrations I wanted to pursue, and with financial aid options that enabled me to attend,” says Berwa.
As part of his Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering (MS ECE), Berwa completed an internship with the Hitachi Central Research Laboratory in Japan. This opportunity reinforced his interest in battery storage for renewable energy adoption and electric mobility, and this became his primary focus not only throughout the course of his studies, but also as he began his entrepreneurial journey.
Being part of the larger Carnegie Mellon University community presented Berwa with the chance to conduct research at the CMU main campus in Pittsburgh where he worked with professors and colleagues on a project focused on repurposing a battery pack from a hybrid bus. “We were in a lab accessing a battery pack from the hybrid bus, trying to study the state of health of individual battery cells, how good they are for a second life application, and how best to approach putting together a new pack,” he explains.
This project, along with classes and projects at CMU-Africa, as well as his internship at Hitachi allowed Berwa to acquire the right academic and research skills to shift and pursue a career in the energy sector, a sector whose growth is rapidly growing on the continent, with the emergence of mobility electrification.
Berwa maintains that “academics really come first for me because, through my studies, I acquired the knowledge, as well as the professional and academic exposure I was looking for. I felt super confident about making this shift in my career.”
Academics really come first for me because, through my studies, I acquired the knowledge, as well as the professional and academic exposure I was looking for. I felt super confident about making this shift in my career.Léandre Berwa, Alum, CMU-Africa
Upon returning from Pittsburgh, Leandre joined forces with CMU-Africa colleagues Patrick Ntwali and Chris Karera who were also researching battery testing to launch a business venture called Second Life Storage. The company, which is part of CMU-Africa’s Industry Innovation Lab (IIL) was registered in 2021 and aims to give a new life to retired batteries.
My internship, my class projects, and my colleagues led to this exposure today. And things are looking great so far.Léandre Berwa, Alum, CMU-Africa
Although still in the infancy and research phase, the company’s prospects are looking promising. The team is working on its first prototype and market research on energy storage as a service for various market segments. The team is fueled by the desire to create affordable and sustainable energy and mobility solutions for the continent while also leaving a mark on the knowledge and research gap in the field.
“My internship, my class projects, and my colleagues led to this exposure today. And things are looking great so far.”