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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Romisher

Transforming the climate crisis into African opportunity

I love to explore the world. I love to ask questions. I love to understand the lives of those around me. Exploring opens new worlds while asking allows me to dive deeply into them.

Sleeping at the top of an active volcano ain’t bad

20+ years of global adventures have given me some unique and critical perspectives:

  1. Learning to live in equilibrium with our planet is the #1 wicked problem of our lifetime. We must solve it if we are to continue as a species yet we are very far from living in equilibrium with the planet. Furthermore, we are unlikely to make massive change unless it’s easy and will clearly improve / enhance our lives. That’s just the way it works - Humans love a clear, understandable, 10x better value proposition. We won’t change unless we’re sufficiently motivated.

  2. Africa will likely bear the brunt of climate change but has done almost nothing to contribute to the problem – only around 3% of global emissions come from the continent.* Its 1.5 billion people live closest to the earth - too much or little rain, too hot or too cold, underwater or above water affect people much more when livelihoods are derived directly from the earth with no margin for error.

*[A note from our ClimateLab Director - Africa has historically contributed c.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is currently doing around the same. If Africa can continue on a low-carbon trajectory but with high economic growth, it will be the only continent to have done so. This will be an African miracle!]

In 2013, I made either a stupid or courageous decision to leave international investment banking. I decided I would dedicate my life to solving the climate crisis by getting as deep into it as possible: as an entrepreneurial operator living and working on the ground across Africa. By teaming with smart, passionate, mission driven, humble, amazing teammates we were able to deliver clean, off grid solutions to over 800,000 deserving customers across 10 markets generating over $25M USD of revenue and creating over 2,500 dignified jobs.

It’s a great start but it is simply not enough. We need an entirely different level of impact and much faster speed if we are to make scalable, positive change. We must do more, and we must do it faster. This is why we decided to create the ClimateLab.

Kilimanjaro sunrise

Stellenbosch University ClimateLab

A startup is an entity that transforms hard challenges into scalable opportunities; it errs on the side of action; it thrives on serving deserving customers with a strong value proposition. The African climatetech startup is the critical tool we will use to solve the crisis in a way that benefits both the planet as well as its people.

The ClimateLab is built on 20+ years of being a global entrepreneur; it is built on 8+ years of building climate startups across Africa; it is built on 3+ years of growing Africa’s leading university business incubator. ClimateLab will be the agent for change that can get the entire African climatetech flywheel spinning much, much faster. Here is how:

1. Mixing human and financial capital – it is vastly different building a business in Nairobi vs San Francisco. Early-stage entrepreneurs in Africa need more than just financial capital if they are to succeed. They need to make creative mistakes. They need someone to shoulder some of the burden. They need time to find their comparative advantage as technical founders in order to flourish.

ClimateLab invests $25,000 of cash up front as well as $25,000 of bespoke, business building services over an 11-month period, and we are ready to make an additional $50,000 or more follow-on investment if a startup shows the potential to make a significant dent in the climate challenge. We take on critical workstreams such as fundraising, hiring and business development and only work with 4 handpicked climatetech startups for an entire year so that we can work intensively with them. We believe that this effort will start the flywheel spinning.

Trekking Kenya

2. Finding the intersection of impact and commercial viability – humans need a clear, 10x value proposition to change. We must carefully select sectors that can have a significant, positive impact on African climate change while offering an enticing switching opportunity.

ClimateLab focuses on e-mobility, clean off grid solutions, agrifoodtech and energy efficiency. We work side-by-side with technical entrepreneurs to assist them in getting out of the building to conduct customer discovery; we take those data driven insights and transform them into viable business models through product development and pricing; and we help founders drive commercial opportunities that will pave the way for future fundraising. Our work and outcomes are bespoke, tangible, and real.

3. Determining the optimal blended finance for scale – one of the major impediments to African cleantech scale is a misalignment in return expectations of global north VC / LPs and global south operators. We must correct this risk / return mismatch as soon as possible if we are to succeed. This may well be the #1 impediment to growth and is easily solvable if you have a technical finance background, which most of our founders do not. We do.

ClimateLab delivers a robust diagnostic report to all our startups that provides a roadmap for the work we will do with a given startup. It also serves a basis for VCs to understand the true risk / return profile of African cleantech operators. We work with our teams to put together a thoughtful blended finance corporate fundraising strategy that leverages grant capital, subsidies, carbon offtakes, government partnerships and, eventually, commercial capital. We then assist them in executing on that strategy. This financial engineering will unlock massive scale.

Rwanda and DRC from the top of Mt Nyiragongo

The next phase of African climatetech startup development.

Stellenbosch University LaunchLab is working closely with a curated, dedicated, mission-aligned investors and venture builders. This amazing group includes Blue Horizon, Factor[e] Ventures, Satgana, Mercy Corps Ventures, Kara Impact, FINCA Ventures and Persistent. Our express aim is to accelerate the pace, scale and impact of climatetech development on the continent. As partners, we can do much, much more.

The time has come. We must transform African climate crisis into massive social and economic opportunity. Stellenbosch University LaunchLab is ready, willing, and able as a confident, commercial co-builder. ClimateLab is the tool we’ll use to make it happen. Are you in?

Learn more about our ClimateLab program.

With LaunchLab teammates Duval van Zijl and Leana Kotze in a gorge in Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya

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