The Local Electricity Project is tackling the huge gap in access to electricity. They give young people in Africa the skills needed to become the next generation of energy innovators. They are looking for introductions to individuals involved with education and energy in East Africa.
Our interview with Samson, Co-founder of The Local Electricity Project
Describe your mission in a sentence or two:
Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support the next generation of energy innovators in Africa.
Who are your clients?
Our clients are young people aged 18-25 who have a high school diploma or higher. They are interested in technology and often have a technical background including but not limited to diplomas and degrees in engineering, economics, hydrology and finance. Those who do not have degrees, often took part in school science fairs, as part of the Junior Engineers Technicians and Scientists (JETS) programme, administered by the Zambian government.
They are highly motivated and about two thirds of the people who apply for our programme have aspirations of starting their own energy companies. They join our programme because they don’t feel they have the skills to fulfil this ambition. Despite this they have the self-belief that they can do something to make the world a better place.
One of the things that defines a start-up is the fact that you often don’t know (for sure) whether there is actually a market for your product (as opposed to, for example, to a restaurant). You can make informed guesses but that is what finding “market-fit” is all about and why methodologies like the Lean Start-up have such a focus on proving that there is a market.
All of this is to say that whilst we believed that there were people who were technically minded and motivated to solve the problems of poor access to electricity in Zambia, we didn’t know for sure. To be able to prove that this is actually the case has been one of the major successes of our work so far. Not only is this important to us as a company, but it is also important when fighting against pernicious ideas about the motivations and capabilities of Africans.
What stage are you at in your business?
We have developed an educational charge-controller kit, the Le1, which provides reliable power for lighting and mobile-phone charging. Through our two-week training courses in Lusaka, we have proven that our educational kit supports students to learn how to generate, convert, and store electricity. However, through face-to-face teaching we are limited in reach and impact; for example, we recently raised £48k through crowdfunding to deliver workshops to 350 students in Zambia over 9 months.
Scaling our skills training to meet demand, and reach rural people in Zambia, requires the development and delivery of online training on a feature phone. Feature phones can access the internet, but lack the advanced functionality of smartphones; however, feature phone penetration is much higher than that of smartphones or PCs in sub-Saharan Africa.
What is the vision for the company?
We share the UN’s vision for universal access to electricity by 2030 but we believe that the best way to ensure that the benefits of this can be maximised is for more people from sub-Saharan Africa to be involved in building the electricity supplies of the future.
Much of the solar power equipment and tools which are in high demand in Africa cannot be made locally. While there are a few businesses involved in local production (varying from assembly of batteries and PV panels to simpler component manufacturing), the bulk of the solar products in use within the continent originate from foreign markets.
We need to increase the domestic capacity to assemble equipment and manufacture components, to ensure that economic multipliers and the resulting employment support rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa.
What are you most proud of or excited about for your business?
We’ve been working hard to deliver our programme and in the last month we have trained over 40 students to design, build and maintain a household electricity supply. We’re really proud that students have consistently rated our programme 5-star.
We are really excited about what our students are going to be doing once they have finished the programme. One of our students, Tiza, is an engineering student with a passion for renewable energy. Through our programme she used her new skills to develop an idea, using wind turbines to power phone-charging stations at bus stops. We are now supporting Tiza with space to work and materials for her project.
What kind of partnerships do you have in place to grow your business?
We have partnered with the National Technology and Business Centre (NTBC) a department in the Ministry of Higher Education in Zambia. NTBC are helping us deliver parts of our programme, with a focus on supporting our students to access government funding, navigate the patents system and develop commercialisation plans.
What other UK impactful startup do you love and why?
They are a little more established but I am a really big fan of Tech Will Save Us. They have some absolutely amazing products for teaching kids how to code and build robots. I’ve also been really impressed with their efforts to get more young women and girls into coding and their founder Bethany Koby is an inspiration.
What’s next for your company?
We are going to develop a highly innovative software training platform that will increase and accelerate access to secure, low cost and low carbon energy.
We will develop the first feature phone application and connected educational charge-controller kit for teaching remote/rural users in Zambia how to design, build, and repair household electricity supplies. We will test our prototype software training platform and hardware with 700 users in Zambia. The platform is targeted at people who are either unable to access existing electricity solutions or lack the expertise to successfully use existing electricity solutions. While we will develop and launch our phone application in Zambia, the software training platform has the potential to help people in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
What can you offer the SeedTribe community?
We have a wealth of experience working in southern Africa as well experience in the development sector. We are always willing to discuss any idea that anyone has for entering these markets. Our team also has a strong background in hardware development so we are always up for discussing any issues around getting a hardware product to market.
How can the SeedTribe community be involved in helping you scale your impact?
We have been working with the government in Zambia but are looking to expand our reach into Eastern Africa. Introductions to people involved with education and energy in East Africa would be amazing!
To be put in touch with Samson send us an email.