Gaia Impact Fund Announces Investment In Leading West African Solar Company, Oolu

Investment will strengthen Oolu’s existing presence in off-grid regions and drive expansion to new West African markets

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GAIA Impact Fund, a Francophone-focused venture fund specializing in clean energy, today announced a strategic investment in Oolu, a Senegal-based Y Combinator start-up and one of the fastest-growing solar companies in West Africa. The investment has been announced as part of a Series B fundraising round that will close early next year.

Gaia’s investment will further strengthen Oolu’s market-leading position in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali. The funding will enable Oolu to build on its strong business infrastructure through investment in its IT systems and software capabilities, and provide additional working capital to support growing business needs. The investment will also allow Oolu to accelerate its regional growth plans, reaching further untapped markets across West Africa.

Gaia focuses on renewable energy investments, and has a strong track record in the solar energy sector. The Fund has supported several start-ups, SMEs and infrastructure projects since it was established in 2016, and has previously invested in solar companies in Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Gaia balances ROI with social and environmental impact, holding all prospective investments to its rigorous selection criteria.

Oolu was launched in Senegal in 2015, and has sold more than 34,000 solar home systems (SHS) in less than three years to rural customers across Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso. As one of the fastest-growing SHS distributors in West Africa, Oolu is consistently able to adapt its customer offering to local market dynamics. With a Dakar-based management team and more than 130 full-time employees, Oolu's team is one of the most experienced in West African solar.

The off-grid solar industry is one of the fastest-growing in Africa. The sector has seen more than US$360 million in investment across the continent in the past five years and continues to grow rapidly due to a drop in component and storage prices. Given the high barriers to entry in this sector, Oolu’s established position means it is well-placed to capitalise on this continued growth in the wider market.

Last October, Oolu closed its Series A fundraising, which was led by Persistent Energy Capital (PEC). PEC and Gaia are committed to supporting the company both in further fundraising rounds and in driving strategic initiatives.

Guilhem Dupuy, Investment Manager at GAIA Impact Fund, commented: “We have followed Oolu for some time, and are delighted to announce an investment into one of the most promising companies of the solar homes sector in West Africa. Oolu’s impressive growth has been coupled with lean operations and best-in-class customer support, giving us great confidence that Oolu will successfully scale across the region.”

“Our two companies are strategically and philosophically aligned. Oolu’s commitment to offering high-quality, affordable solar products to ultra-low-income households is vital in rural areas that are not reached by public services or formal grid infrastructure. Oolu’s work ensures these communities are no longer left behind, and we expect our investment to play an important role in growing the company’s regional presence, so that ever more underserved customers can benefit from life-enhancing solutions.”

Dan Rosa, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oolu, commented: “We’re thrilled  to have Gaia join us as an investment partner, adding to the strong investor base we have already accrued. We’ve always been selective in the partnerships we form. Given Gaia’s primary focus on tackling energy poverty, its track record in the solar energy sector, and its established presence in French-speaking West Africa, we see this partnership as a natural fit.”

Nilmi Senaratna, Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Oolu, commented: “Ensuring a positive social and environmental impact is paramount to both organizations. We know that Gaia’s support will accelerate our efforts to improve the lives of rural customers across West Africa in the months and years ahead. We look forward to collaborating with Gaia and furthering our vision of becoming the leading energy and financial services provider to millions of people in the developing world.”

About GAIA Impact Fund

GAIA Impact Fund is a French impact fund initiated by a team of seasoned entrepreneurs and philanthropists from the renewable energy & impact finance sectors with the aim of kickstarting innovative energy access ventures where energy is needed the most: among off-grid populations in emerging countries. Gaia finances and supports the growth of start-ups and SMEs which have a positive social, environmental and economic impact on their territory. As an active investor, Gaia establishes long-term, trust-based relations with its partners to fuel their sustainable growth through tailor-made strategic, technical and financial support.

Oolu wins Hogan Lovells Solar Innovation Award for their work in rural Mali!

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The winners of the Hogan Lovells Community Solar Innovation Awards 2017 were revealed today during the 2018 SEED South Africa Symposium in Pretoria. They are:

Frontier Markets, India – a last-mile sales, marketing and after-sales service distribution company bringing clean energy solutions to rural India. A growing network of rural women are empowered with clean, safe energy access and training to become micro-entrepreneurs promoting solar energy systems.

Grupo Fenix, Nicaragua  runs courses that target students and professionals to facilitate information exchange on building and solar-technology. Clients participate in hands-on activities such as building solar cell-phone chargers and installing photovoltaic systems in rural homes that lack access to electricity.

Kalpavriksha Greater Goods, Nepal – alleviates energy poverty in rural Nepal by empowering women entrepreneurs to sell clean energy products, stimulating economic growth. Women entrepreneurs are given extensive business training and mentorship support.

Kumudzi Kuwale, Malawi – supplies charging stations in villages where locals can rent solar lamps, batteries and charge mobile phones; ensuring basic electricity is supplied at affordable costs in financially sustainable ways.

Masole Ammele, Malawi – promotes the use of solar water pumps in organic fish farming and production; and provides market linkages to fresh fish, dry fish and fish fingerlings through working with organised local household farmers.

Oolu Mali, Mali – the first pay-as-you-go distributor of off-grid solar energy in Mali. The unique payment infrastructure is complemented by entrepreneurial thinking which is geared towards promoting employment and gender equality in rural Mali.

SAMWAKI, Democratic Republic of Congo – this rural women’s organisation runs a solar powered radio station Radio Bubusa and provides its listeners with portable solar radios and solar charging stations and runs an agro-ecological cooperative COOPAEKI that focuses on coffee agriculture.

Solar Freeze, Kenya – provides smallholder farmers in Kenya access to portable solar cooling units to prevent post-harvest loss, thus providing farmers and traders the leverage to move and store smaller quantities of fresh produce more frequently.

South Asian Forum for Environment, India – uses solar energy to ensure a supply of safe drinking water for the urban poor, creating a women centric end-to-end solution for climate adaptive basic amenities and sanitation with minimal emissions.

Village Energy, Uganda  designs and installs customised solar installations for businesses, agriculture and community institutions that lead to improved livelihoods, job creation, and access to services. With its traveling academy, it trains rural youth and women as solar technicians to find opportunities within the solar industry.

“These awards demonstrate the incredible innovation in capturing and using solar energy to make a real difference to the lives of people in some of the world’s poorest areas,” said Scot Anderson, Hogan Lovells Energy and Natural Resources Group Judge and Global Head. 

As overall winner, Village Energy will receive a $10 000 financial award.

“This is a validation that our hard work over the years is finally being recognised globally. This prize will really help us to increase the vocational training we are providing to rural youth and women. We want to develop rural businesses which continue to be neglected – we want to train them, finance them and really get them to be more productive,” said Abu Musuuza, Village Energy Limted Co-founder and CEO

DISRUPT AFRICA: Senegalese solar startup Oolu raises $3.2m funding

 

Senegalese solar startup Oolu has secured a US$3.2 million Series A funding round, which will support its growth and strategy as it seeks to address the energy needs of more than 150 million people lacking access to electricity in West Africa.

Founded in 2015, Oolu provides in-home solar kits composed of three adjustable lights and two USB plugs, powered by a battery that holds a charge for up to six hours with maximum output.

For a low monthly fee, paid through mobile money, the Y Combinator-incubated Oolu installs the system and performs any necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades.

The US$3.2 million funding round was led by Persistent Energy Capital (PEC), and was joined by Y Combinator (YC) and other seed investors. Oolu will use the money to further invest in its current operations in Senegal and Mali, and expand into a third market in 2018.

“This fundraise is an important milestone, and a further boost for us at a very exciting time for the company where we see real and significant opportunities in the West African markets,” said Da osa, co-founde n hie xecutiv fficer (CEO) olu.

“Today’s announcement gives us great confidence that we are on the right track in pursuing our goal of becoming the leading energy and financial services provider in West Africa. We’re delighted to have the support of quality investors like PEC and Y Combinator, and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to grow the business.”

Dir uench, o-founde n artne EC, aid the Oolu team had impressed the firm with its ability to define a strategy and then execute on it.

“We believe Oolu has what it takes – team, vision, technology – to become a trusted provider of products and services for millions of African households. We are excited to be a part of Oolu’s story as they deliver financial and social returns,” he said.

Y Combinator partner Geof alston said Oolu had grown impressively quickly in one of the most unpredictable and difficult markets in the world, with the team proving it was strong enough to succeed in a challenging and fast-paced emerging market.

“We funded them precisely because those are the qualities that they will need to make their business successful, and they are already on the right path,” he said.

Oolu raises $3.2 million series A led by Persistent Energy Capital with participation from YCombinator to reinforce its leading position in Francophone West Africa’s fast-growing off-grid solar sector

Oolu, a Senegal-based Y Combinator start-up and one of the fastest-growing solar companies in Africa, today announced the successful completion of a US$3.2 million round of equity investment. This Series A fundraising follows its seed round in 2015, and will support Oolu’s continued growth and strategy as it seeks to address the energy needs of the more than 150 million people who live without access to electricity in West Africa.

The funding round has been led by Persistent Energy Capital (PEC), and was joined by Y Combinator (YC) and other seed investors. Oolu will use the money to further invest in its current operations in Senegal and Mali, and to expand into a third market in 2018.

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As the global shift towards clean, renewable energy resources, such as solar power, gains momentum, there is significant potential in developing countries to install renewable energy as the primary source of power, bypassing the need for traditional grid networks and leveraging existing mobile money services.

Oolu’s founding team, Nilmi Senaratna, Dan Rosa and Vincenzo Capogna, have long recognized this potential in West African markets, and gained valuable market insights during more than a year spent living in rural villages. This enabled Oolu to gain a large share of those markets in a short space of time, and since its launch in 2015, the company has enjoyed sustained growth. In particular, it has already partnered with the largest money transfer company in Senegal, WARI, the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), and other key partners in West Africa.


The off-grid sector has seen more than US$360 million in investment across Africa in the past five years and continues to grow rapidly due to a drop in component and storage prices. Given the high barriers to entry in this sector, Oolu’s established market position—selling over 25,000 solar home systems (SHS) in under 2 years—experienced leadership team and strong investor backing mean it is well-placed to capitalise on wider market growth and better deliver clean energy services to underserved customers.

Dan Rosa, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oolu, commented:

“This fundraise is an important milestone, and a further boost for us at a very exciting time for the company where we see real and significant opportunities in the West African markets. Today’s announcement gives us great confidence that we are on the right track in pursuing our goal of becoming the leading energy and financial services provider in West Africa. We’re delighted to have the support of quality investors like PEC and Y Combinator, and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to grow the business.”

Dirk Muench, Co-Founder and Partner of Persistent Energy Capital, said:

“We see in Oolu an extremely talented and qualified team. They have impressed us with their ability to define a strategy and then execute on it. We believe Oolu has what it takes - team, vision, technology - to become a trusted provider of products and services for millions of African households. We are excited to be a part of Oolu’s story as they deliver financial and social returns.”

Geoff Ralston, Partner at Y Combinator, said:

Oolu has grown impressively quickly in one of the most unpredictable and difficult markets in the world. Nilmi and Dan have proven that they are smart enough, tough enough, and resilient enough to succeed in a challenging and fast-paced emerging market. We funded them precisely because those are the qualities that they will need to make their business successful, and they are already on the right path.

About Oolu

Oolu was founded in 2015 by Nilmi Senaratna and Dan Rosa, and incubated in Y Combinator. The company’s mission is to provide off-grid households with high quality products at an affordable price. Oolu’s first product centres on providing solar-powered electricity to rural customers. Its in-home solar kits are composed of three adjustable lights and two USB plugs, powered by a battery that holds a charge for up to six hours with maximum output. For a low monthly fee, paid through mobile money, Oolu installs the system and performs any necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades. The product appeals to off-grid clients who often struggle with the higher costs of more polluting lighting sources, such as flashlights and candles, and are forced to walk long distances to charge their cellphones. The company has ambitious expansion plans in terms of both its product offering and geographic reach. Although the first consumer offering is solar home systems, a number of different products are being piloted, and Oolu’s vision extends to becoming the leading financial services provider to rural households in West Africa and beyond.

About Persistent Energy Capital

Persistent Energy Capital (PEC) is a Venture Builder based in Zurich and New York City. The firm specializes in working with early-stage companies that provide essential products and services (such as energy access) to customers in frontier markets. For more than six years, PEC has invested in early stage startups. PEC provides capital, financial advisory and management support, strategic and legal guidance as well as a large network of investors and partners. PEC is supported by private investors, the Shell foundation, DFID and USAID.

About Y Combinator

Y Combinator is a Silicon Valley-based accelerator, founded in March 2005, which invests in early-stage startups.

Driven by a simple mantra: “Make Something People Want”, it aims to focus founders on further developing their product, team and market, refining their business models, achieving product/market fit, and scaling the startup into a high growth business. At the end of the program, startups are given the chance to pitch to select investors, while benefitting from membership of the wider Y Combinator network.

Y Combinator has invested in nearly 1,500 companies - including Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit, Instacart and Weebly - which have a combined market capitalization of over US$80 billion.


 

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