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Start-ups have been disrupting every industry they have entered and local start-ups in the energy industry are no different. Local start-ups are an important energy resource for the development of the off-grid sector that can no longer be neglected.

Many of the international companies that dominate the African off-grid industry today were creative start-ups not long ago in an industry sector that was largely untapped at the time. Some of the pioneers from that time are now idols for a growing number of young Africans who want to found their own start-ups with new ideas.

Their goal: strengthening a decentralised energy supply in their country.

The advantage of local start-ups compared to international companies often lies in their proximity to the specific social and cultural requirements of the new energy products. In fact, African energy startups focus mainly on developing solutions to everyday challenges. Many of their products and services are innovations that also provide important impulses for non-African energy companies.

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Start-up support: a task for the international off-grid industry

Today, however, local entrepreneurs usually only come to the attention of international off-grid companies if they can promote the sales of their own products as possible distribution partners. This is undoubtedly legitimate, but too short-sighted. It ignores the growing start-up scene.

Unlike traditional distribution companies, local start-ups are about scaling innovation that drives the development of the distributed energy sector through new or significantly improved products, services, processes, forms of cooperation or business models.

Increasingly, there are strong innovations in Africa with which creative people want to set up their own businesses. They break through established procedures and processes and think in a completely new way. The buzzword for this is ‘disruption’. It stands for new beginnings, change, renewal. And it is this disruption that can be invigorating for the African energy market and the development of the international companies active here.

In many other sectors, African start-ups are already being specifically supported as a source of innovation. The off-grid sector, however, has hardly used this creative power so far. Perhaps because companies of this industry – formerly a start-up itself – are possibly still too used to developing everything on their own. But those days are over – and the sooner the off-grid sector realises this, the better for the economic development of the entire sector.

Local start-ups are an important energy resource for the development of the off-grid sector that can no longer be neglected.

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Structural importance of local start-ups

When it comes to sustainable economic and social development – and that is ultimately the goal of the off-grid industry – the structural importance of African energy start-ups should not be overlooked. Independent companies contribute to the stability of a social system: Economic responsibility is distributed across many shoulders, concentration of power is prevented and entrepreneurial freedom is promoted. Start-ups are the breeding ground from which not only the middle class of tomorrow will grow, but also a self-confident society.

Start-ups are pioneers in terms of innovation culture. They shake up the entrenched structures and thought patterns and thus help to prepare and develop the market for decentralised energy products. A lively local start-up scene thus also helps the international market players in the sector, whose product development is pushed and complemented by local start-ups. This often leads to cooperations that are profitable for both sides.

To promote the economic and social development of a country, local start-ups are therefore an important energy resource.

Special challenges

African startups have specific disadvantages compared to their counterparts in Europe, Asia and the US. One of the biggest is their lack of visibility for cooperation partners and investors.

The aim of the new accelerator programme Startup|Energy is to increase this visibility. At the heart of the programme are ‘Energy Camps’: Selected start-ups receive intensive coaching from experienced entrepreneurs and experts.

At a workshop lasting several days, the start-ups present their business idea to the other start-ups as well as experts and stakeholders. The best start-up concepts will be awarded attractive prizes. In addition, startups are brought into contact with partners from the Startup|Energy network: Investors, partner companies, accelerators.

Energy Camp East Africa will take place from May to June 2021 in Kampala (Uganda).

Startup|Energy is an initiative of the University of Freiburg and the Stiftung Solarenergie (Solar Energy Foundation) to promote regional and international exchange between startups in the field of decentralised, renewable energy supply in Europe and Africa.

Written by Dr Harald Schützeichel, Editor, Sun-Connect News