sustinability

The Initiate programme have chosen Kingsley Akpeji, as the winner of their latest edition of the Young Talent Challenge 2021. Initiate is the Enlit Africa hub for start-ups, innovators, postgraduate students and young talent to meet the utility professionals, corporate executives, public sector innovators and investors to discuss, share and pilot ideas.

The Young Talent Challenge is an annual competition aimed at postgraduate students from around Africa, meant to encourage learning from and networking with the energy sector beyond their textbooks.

Akpeji, a University of Cape Town PhD candidate from Nigeria, was chosen from 12 finalists who had to present a five-minute overview of a business solution, originally presented in a comprehensive abstract entry to the Young Talent Challenge. The question of a viable business solution had to be contextualised on the supposition that an intra-continent energy committee for Africa is a reality. Within that context, finalists were asked to present a plan for setting up an energy business focusing on renewable energy that would take advantage of such a strategy.

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Akpeji won a R3,000 cash prize along with local and international mentorship from the South African Institute of Electricial Engineer’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation chapter. Plus, access to the perfect platform to enhance his personal brand in ESI Africa.

ESI Africa and Initiate will be keeping a close eye on Akpeji as he starts to develop his business idea. Akpeji’s idea springs from understanding the paradox of the energy sector in Africa: “the continent is blessed with abundant energy resources, especially renewables, but is energy poor”.

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Nazlee Fredericks, Initiate Special Projects, Brands and Stakeholder Relationship Manager said finalists had to research all aspects of setting up a business and had their creativity and innovativeness tested, as well as the ability to be agile and think on their feet, in just a week of prep time.

A panel of judges comprised of energy experts from Africa and abroad deliberated on the post graduate students’ entries. They first scored all abstracts presented before choosing 12 finalists who presented their ideas virtually. From those finalists the judges created a pool of four outstanding candidates, before settling on a winner.

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Sietske Jacobs, Initiate director, said it is important to have challenges like the Young Talent Challenge: “Not only for us to understand the talent that is out there, but more important to give the next generation of talent a platform and an opportunity to show their passion and creativity.”

Thato Oloo, Innovation and Digital Economy Working Group Leader for the SAIEE’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation chapter, said judging the abstracts was not an easy process, but an insightful experience nonetheless: “The innovative ideas and the visions they described gave me a perspective on where young minds are sitting in the energy sector in Africa, and its underlying challenges and opportunities. More importantly, how prepared they were, how they were willing to immerse themselves to find solutions that would impact our continent sustainably.”

Young Talent Challenge encourages thinking about energy in Africa in holistic fashion

Christian Zulberti of the Enel Foundation, a partner to the Initiate programme, said he noticed several good, sustainable solutions for the development of energy in Africa in the submissions. “I saw a very high level of preparation, both on the side of technology, and also on the impact of the solution on the development of the continent. For example, solutions that talked about the impact of the solutions on policy, society and development in terms of energy solutions that are sustainable.”

Yolanda Mabutu, Divaine Growth Solutions CEO, picked up two themes from the abstracts – how important sustainability was to all entrants, and an overriding drive to make sure Africa’s utilities becomes smart utilities: “I am excited, knowing that South Africa and Africa needs young and fresh idea that we can take into the market and change the status quo or our energy sector. It does not stop here, it has to continue.”

Addressing the post graduate students, judge Meike Wetsch, programme manager of the Coega Development Corporation’s Human Capital Solutions said she saw contextual thinking coming through in the abstracts, which looked at not only solving the problem in an Africa context but were mindful that the continent is the last frontier for industrial energy needs and a tradeable energy network is needed. 

She encouraged the participants to be bold and question official narratives. “We face enormous environmental, social and sustainability challenges on all levels. You have a choice, either you could spend your energy fighting what is or you could focus on building something new that would solve these problems.”

You can watch the Finale announcement online and hear more about what the judges thought about the various ideas presented in the Young Talent Challenge.

Coming soon: Keep an eye out for the interview with winner Kingsley Akpeji.