How This Entrepreneur Raised $1 Million and Is Leading an Energy Revolution Before Age 30

The path of the entrepreneur is a bold one. At every stage of the journey, you continually make bold decisions and take bold risks.

This has certainly been the case in my journey as a founder. We started a smart home company (in 2013) when everyone said we were crazy. We saw the vision and moved toward it in the face of uncertainty and risk.

When I was starting, I identified other leaders who were making bold decisions. It helped to feel like I was not alone along the path. I followed entrepreneurs accomplished their goals, and other young leaders blazing a new trail. I recently encountered an inspiring story that demonstrates just how bold we can be.​

Ugwem Eneyo is the co-founder and CEO of Shyft Power Solutions, an energy technology company that’s working to enable an energy revolution for underserved consumers in emerging markets. Eneyo, a graduate student at Stanford University, and a member of Forbes 30 under 30, has secured more than $1 million in funding from investors and participated in the 2019 Ameren Accelerator program. GreenBiz named her a 2019 VERGE Vanguard honoree to recognize her dedication to helping advance Nigeria’s energy infrastructure.

Personally, I feel inspired by Eneyo’s bold ambitions to create solutions in an emerging market with a nascent entrepreneurial system – especially in an industry as demanding as energy. I interviewed her to learn more about her role in energy, Shyft’s path to raising money and how accelerators can be a beneficial platform for entrepreneur success.

1. How did you get interested in energy technology?

Ugwem Eneyo: My family is from the Niger Delta, a region that suffered negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts as a result of the extractive industries. After directly seeing the challenges and how they affected my family and communities in the region, I became keenly interested in the nexus of energy, environment and development.

I actually spent years working as an environmental and regulatory advisor in the oil and gas sector, trying to mitigate the impacts and drive change from within the organizations. I eventually left to pursue my M.S. and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, still focused on the theme. Shyft Power Solutions is a byproduct of my work at Stanford.

2. How was your experience in your industry different as a Nigerian-American?

Eneyo: There’s an increasing interest within the industry around solving energy challenges in Nigeria and, more broadly, emerging markets. The local knowledge is often an overlooked critical asset in doing so.

My previous work in the industry, and in emerging markets, shows that it’s often non-technical issues that cause projects to be delayed or fail. The intimate local knowledge allows for an understanding of people’s values, culture and thought processes, and that can better inform how we solve problems and how we deliver solutions. This has certainly been the case with Shyft Power Solutions.

3. What approach did you take when raising money for your business?

Eneyo: In the early stage, I leveraged grants and non-dilutive capital, given the longer and more capital-intensive development timeline for building industrial-grade hardware. We also raised traditional venture capital, as well as funding from strategic corporate investors.

The corporate venture capitalists played a key role in our fundraising strategy, as they often had more market knowledge and connections, which complemented the primarily U.S.-based traditional venture capital. And Shyft Power Solutions received $100,000 in seed capital through our participation in the Ameren Accelerator this year.​

4. How did your experience with the 2019 Ameren Accelerator program advance/benefit your business? What’s your relationship with Ameren and the accelerator now that the program has ended?

Eneyo: The Ameren Accelerator, alongside the Ameren employees who served on champion teams as mentors, provided important technical and business development expertise that offered valuable and unique insight into how Shyft’s platform can add value to utilities at scale. Part of our longer-term planning required Shyft to have better insight into utilities, and we were able to leverage Ameren in the process.

Although the accelerator has ended, my team and I have remained in contact with many of our technical champions, who still provide advice and references. Additionally, the accelerator program team has remained supportive, still introducing us to valuable startup resources.​

5. How do you see the energy technology industry changing? What changes would you like to make?

Eneyo: In emerging markets, there will be a leapfrog over traditional central energy infrastructures; instead, we will see digitization and decentralization of energy infrastructure that may work alongside whatever central grid is available. The flexible and intelligent use of distributed energy resources will be necessary to make this possible, and Shyft is developing the technology to do so.

I want to see clean, reliable, and affordable energy for all — urban and rural — and want to see energy demands being met by rapidly growing emerging markets. I’m excited to be leading an organization that’s at the forefront of this energy transition in markets like Nigeria.

By Andrew ThomasFounder, Skybell Video Doorbell

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Source: How This Entrepreneur Raised $1 Million and Is Leading an Energy Revolution Before Age 30

The Key To Unlocking Africa’s Economic Potential Lies In Its Power Supply

If one had to name a single resource key to unlocking Africa’s economic potential, including job creation, access to knowledge, agriculture and industrial transformation, the power supply would have to be high up on that list.

According to a 2016 study, approximately 43 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa – up to 600 million people – live without access to electricity. While most of that population lives in rural regions, city dwellers also face access challenges; in fact, electricity only reaches a third of the urban sub-Saharan population. And this lack of power is stifling economic growth, as well as hindering improvements in health and education.

Connecting African cities, towns and villages is the next step to enabling development on a larger scale. Supporting the power infrastructure that would create this environment, however, creates significant challenges, with inadequate infrastructure making the expansion of grid networks financially and logistically infeasible for many countries. When your roads are nothing more than dirt tracks, how do you build and supply what is needed for a power grid?

Although national, centralized grids may be too costly an option for some governments, projections see electrification across the entire continent rising to a rate of 70 percent by 2040, bringing electricity and power to 800 million more people. Connection to a grid will change daily life for hundreds of millions.

So, what technologies will achieve this level of electrification? For maximized impact, the future of power generation technology in Africa lies in a mix of traditional power plants, some small-scale kits for individual households in remote areas and mini grids which operate at the village level. What’s more, they’ll all operate at different scales. Combining central plants and local grids will keep this demand going – and help people access the power they need.

Creating Reliable Grids

The majority of power generated in Africa still relies upon fossil fuels, alongside hydro-electric power from dams, to scale up energy generation. As urbanization across the continent increases and industry outputs continue to grow, it is likely that residents will see greater access to on-grid power. But even where grid power exists, service can often be unreliable, and daily outages are the norm.

In fact, about five out of nine countries in Africa experience regular power shortages and blackouts, costing their economies on average two percent of their GDP, according to the Africa Progress Panel. And a recent report by the Center for Global Development (CGD), which studied energy demand in 12 African countries, found that among those with access to grid electricity, at least half of the population suffer electricity outages at least once a day.

When the central grid is unreliable, it means that off-grid and mini grid solutions, such as generator sets, become the essential technologies enabling people to meet their basic needs. Even in urbanized areas, where grid networks are usually at their most developed, the mini and off-grid options are integral to everyday life. For example, in Nigeria, the CGD study showed that on-grid users in urban areas rely on generators more heavily than those with grid power in rural areas (51 percent versus 43 percent).

To meet Africa’s growing energy needs, these solutions, which are cheap and quick to install, are already filling the gaps left behind by on-grid systems.

Getting Off-The-Grid Power In Rural Communities

In many parts of rural Africa, kerosene is the most common energy source for cooking and electricity. But that fuel gives off toxic smoke that is harmful to human health and the environment. It also produces poor lighting, is expensive to buy and can be a major cause of fires.

Luckily, there are now modern, high-quality off-grid lighting and energy products on the market that offer real, sustainable alternatives to kerosene – mini grids and solar home systems.

Solar home kits typically include solar panels and a battery that supports power sockets, mobile phone adapters, and light bulbs. As the name suggests, home kits operate at a household scale and are very affordable.

Investments in solar kits have begun to boom, providing a simple way for companies to enter the market in Africa with limited risk. Initiatives such as Beyond the Grid, from the United States Agency for International Development’s Power Africa program, are part of this wave, with the organization encouraging development of future power access.

This growth effort creates positive results; according to a 2018 report by Reuters, at least 11 power companies providing solar home kits have moved into West Africa, with most making a noticeable impact since 2016. Speaking of development, off-grid providers have even been labeled “the new development banks”, as they give customers small loans to connect their households to the new systems. The provider can use the repayment records of each customer to create individual credit scores, allowing them access to power upgrades and further loan options for other household or business appliances. In other words, getting households connected now plugs them into the world for the foreseeable future.

Mini Grids – Another Decentralization Tactic

Off-grid solutions are on the rise, but with increasing demand for energy-intensive appliances, especially televisions and refrigerators, the small size of off-grid products cannot serve every need.

That means there is an emerging role for mini grids, which use a mix of renewable resources such as solar, biomass or onshore wind turbines, as well as udiesel generators. Mini grids are built at a village scale and require less capital investment. Importantly, though, they provide more power than off-grid systems, allowing rural areas to use machinery and equipment that enhance their own productivity.

Compared to expansions of a national grid, mini grid options are a much faster and cheaper option. They can also bolster national grids without eliminating them, instead providing continuity of power during interruptions.

Resilience In A Pinch, Dependability For Years

In 2015, two of Algeria’s main generating plants suffered power outages during the holy month of Ramadan. It was crucial to restore electricity to the population as quickly as possible. The Algerian state energy company turned to PW Power Systems, part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group, for an emergency solution.

Four mobile gas turbine units, providing 30 MW each, were completed, commissioned and brought online in less than three weeks, and they are still running to this day. Using natural gas as its fuel, these mobile gas turbines also produce significantly fewer emissions than diesel generator set solutions, pushing power generation closer toward the needed energy transition of the coming decades.

This example from Algeria shows how mini grids can be used to increase the resilience of existing electricity systems. When power cuts hit, businesses and households of all sizes can be affected, and restoring services quickly is not always easy. Mini grids, like the one installed in Algeria, ensure consumers have continuous access to power.

Future Expansions

The flexibility of power provided by mini grids will be crucial to expanding power access. Most mini grids in Africa are powered by diesel or hydropower systems. No system is perfect; diesel systems are at the mercy of fuel-supply disruptions and cost fluctuations; renewable energy generation still depend on weather and seasonal patterns, since consistent storage solutions are still in early stages. To remain as reliable as possible, mini grids can be built as hybrid systems, combining diesel with solar or wind power to mitigate these risks.

While significant investment is pouring into small off-grid systems such as solar home kits, the reality is that both grid electricity and off-grid solutions are currently inadequate to meet many African consumers’ modern energy demands. Mini grids ultimately fill that gap as helpers, rather than competitors, to off-grid solutions.

Ultimately, the emergence of mini grids shows that both on- and off-grid electricity can bring power-related social and economic benefits to millions of people across the continent in the coming years. By combining technology across different infrastructure platforms, the future for power generation in Africa looks bright.

A leading industrial firm, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group (40 billion USD annual revenue) is finding new, simpler and sustainable ways to power cities

Source: The Key To Unlocking Africa’s Economic Potential Lies In Its Power Supply

African Agri-tech Startups Boom With 110% Growth Since 2016

Investments in agriculture technology in Africa have seen $19-million invested in the past two years, with a new report showing agri-tech startups have grown 110% in the period.

There are 82 agri-tech startups operating across the continent at the start of this year, 52% of which started in the last 24 months, according to the Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 report by Disrupt Africa.

Kenya and Nigeria both lead the agri-tech markets, followed by Ghana, and collectively account for over 60% active startups in the sector.

Although the report tracks annual startup activity in the agri-tech space since 2010, the authors say it began to boom in 2016, after which 43 new ventures were launched.

“The research shows that while Kenya was the early pioneer of the African agri-tech sector, accelerating interest in West Africa over the past two years means this region now dominates the market; and is home to two of the top three agri-tech ecosystems on the continent,” Disrupt Africa co-founder Tom Jackson said in a statement. ““Everyone knows how important the agricultural sector is across Africa, but until very recently it remained relatively untouched by tech innovators. That is suddenly changing as entrepreneurs and investors realize the scale of the challenges facing farmers, and spot opportunities to reach huge addressable markets.”

Fundraising grew 121% from 2016 to in 2017 alone.

“The scope for innovation in the agricultural sphere is vast – a refreshed take on the sector could unlock huge value for the whole of Africa,” says Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Nairobi-based Disrupt Africa. “Behind the scenes, there has been formidable acceleration in the agri-tech market recently, and it is one of the most interesting spaces to watch in Africa today.”.

The report shows how the continent’s entrepreneurs are already disrupting the agricultural industry, she adds, especially in using e-commerce agri-focused platforms accounting for 32.9% of startups.

One such entrepreneur is Ntuthunko Shezi, whose startup is called Livestock Wealth and sells a “share” in cows in South Africa. Calling it “crowdfarming” he believes people can invest in cattle, which have traditionally been a signifier of wealth in Africa, instead of stock markets.

“Given the space that Africa has, this business model could help the continent once again become the breadbasket of the world,” Shezi said at TEDxJohannesburg’s #HackingTheFarm event in Johannesburg in March.

“We can grow through crowdfarming. Sole ownership isn’t possible for a lot of people, but partial ownership is.”

Thato Moagi is a 27-year-old farmer in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, who traded the upmarket Bedfordview suburb of Johannesburg for the Legae La Banareng Farms, where she is he managing director and overseas crop and livestock production.

“Young people don’t have access to finance, which is why the average age of farmers is high, 60 years old. This is also why young people aren’t getting into farming. There is also no direct focus on a particular sector of the industry. The private sector right now are entirely unincentivized to fund young farmers,” says Moagi, who was chosen by the South African National Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as the Young Farmer of the Year in 2015. She was also named the Female Entrepreneur of the Year 2015.

“Agriculture isn’t very sexy,” says Joshua Ngoma, a mining engineer who now works with entrepreneurs through the Enterprising Africa Regional Network (EARN) Group he founded in 2013.

How do you change that perception? he asked the TEDxJohannesburg audience. “You change this by introducing young people to the tech that changing farming. Solutions to society shouldn’t be complex. Take luggage. If you were born in my time we had to carry everything giving us bad backs and pinched nerve – until someone decided to put wheels on their bag. Those wheels have change the way we travel for the better.”

“How do you put wheels on agriculture?” he asked.

His solution is to train young farmers but also to give them business and technical skills training. “We also need to change the exit plan. This is a 360 degree model; while training progresses the program looks at funding options for the, either by buying land from the government or tribal authorities. Once they’re settled they can begin work and start producing.”

His network also offers access business and agricultural specialists to help operate the business much like other startup initiatives do in the tech space.

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine. Based in Johannesburg, his TED talk on innovation in Africa has had more than 1.4m views.

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