ECE alumni are scattered across the globe working to make the world a better and safer place, and it is not unusual to hear news of their accomplishments. Yet, it is always a delight when news floats back to us about their specific triumphs, and to see their name and their work being lauded in public fora for the world to see. One such alumnus is Eric Rutayisire.
Eric earned his bachelor’s degree in 2014, and his master’s degree in 2015 (both in electrical engineering), and was recently listed in Forbes Africa’s #30Under 30: Technology Category 2019, as one of the achievers the world should watch in the coming years. Eric is the founder and CEO of Rwanda-based Charis UAS, a company that “provides rapid and high-quality aerial imagery to various industries to support intelligent decision-making.”
For a young CEO running an even younger fast growing company, time is obviously at a premium. But we did get a chance to connect with Eric and learn about his motivation to set up Charis UAS, and his vision for the future of his company.
Q: Tell us about your background and what brought you to the University of Minnesota?
I am the youngest of 8 siblings, born in Kinshasa, DRC, of Rwandan parents who had taken refuge there due to the genocide against the Tutsis that was happening then. I finished my high school in Rwanda, then moved to the US to further my studies in electrical engineering. I started in Seattle, but when I found out about the engineering program at the University of Minnesota, and the opportunities it offered, I thought it was a good fit for me, and I transferred.
Q: Since earning your MS degree in electrical engineering in 2015, you have returned to Rwanda. Tell us what you are doing now.
I am the CEO of Charis UAS, the first drone company in Rwanda. Charis specializes in understanding our customers’ needs and does a system integration around drone technology to answer their needs. So we serve customers in disparate sectors ranging from health to construction, and mining to agriculture.
Q: Why Charis and why Rwanda?
I always wanted to do something for my country. The idea for Charis came when I was in the mentorship program at the University. I was paired with a mentor who was a drone technology hobbyist. So we started working together and built the first few drones which kick started our company. The deeper I dove into the technology, the more apparent it became to me that there was immense opportunity for it, and we have been providing more and more solutions since then.
Q: Building the company probably meant a lot of sacrifices. And it’s hard to get potential customers to take you seriously. Tell us about your experience building Charis UAS.
It was hard to build a company at a very young age because people wouldn’t take us seriously, and we lacked funding at that early stage. So I used my tax refunds while still at school to kickstart operations. Once we started providing solutions for free and people started seeing the value, we started attracting many more customers who had confidence in the service we could provide. Charis began to gain traction in the market when we introduced our mapping solutions. And it didn’t hurt that we had a meeting with the President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame; that made people really sit up and take notice.
Q: How has Charis UAS grown now?
Charis now has 18 full time employees, operating in 5 countries and still growing. We are expanding our services around Africa and that’s our focus for now.
Q: Has your experience as a student at the University, and in ECE been formative in any way?
It was through CSE’s mentorship program that I met a mentor who inspired me and guided me in the right direction. Without that experience, I am not sure I would have ventured into drone technology.
ECE provided me with a solid foundation. I was challenged to develop critical thinking skills, and was taught how to acquire and research information I needed to accomplish a difficult and unfamiliar task. That has helped me become who I am today and I am grateful for the training I received from the department.
As for us in ECE, we proudly watch alumnus Eric Rutayisire go from strength to strength, and wish him success in his endeavors.
Many thanks to Prof. Paul Imbertson who helped facilitate the connection with Eric.