Shining Light on Solarise Africa: An Interview with the Co-founders
The International Energy Agency just released its annual investment report and announced that the world is finally spending more on solar than oil production. The fact that solar energy is the future is not a revelation to anyone, yet, making it happen doesn’t come without challenges. Jan Albert Valk and Sakkie van Wijk recognized the opportunity of financing solar panels and dived from their respective corporate backgrounds in Africa into founding Solarise Africa. Their combined expertise and dedication have propelled Solarise Africa to the prestigious African Unicorn Award for Green Tech & Energy. Join us as we delve into their journey, their vision for the company, and the impact they are making across Africa.
ElectriFI (www.electrifi.eu), funded by the European Union and managed by EDFI Management Company, was one of the first to support Solarise Africa. Our participation in Series A in (2018, $1.5 m) was followed by a Series B round (2020, $2,5m) where Proparco, the French Development Financial Institution joined with additional ($4,5m). We remain committed to supporting the company as it prepares for a Series C raise, recognizing that tomorrow’s opportunities are being cultivated. Solarise Africa story embodies our mission, where our catalytic efforts bear fruit.
Welcome, Jan Albert and Sakkie. Let’s start by explaining how did you start and how did you recognise the financial gap and the challenge of solar in Africa?
Jan Albert: We came across the solar industry through Patrik Huber who is the third co-founder of Solarise Africa. Based in Nairobi, he ran as responsAbility Africa, Regional Manager in charge of investments in renewable energy. He came across multiple requests from potential clients who were looking for smaller investments from $50 000 to $500 000 for rooftop solar installations, a demand they could not support, as those were deals too small for their business. They were looking for a solution and they approached us as experts for leasing.
Sakkie: We realized financing had to be adapted specifically to solar needs in Kenya, with an integrated technical solution, something like a vendor solution, which was my background. And that is how, in short, we started the company – an energy leasing company for solar and other energy assets focusing on commercial and industrial clients (C&I).
Jan Albert: As Solarise Africa is a CapEx heavy company, we had to invest a lot in innovation and infrastructure, we needed capital, and we started fundraising. We launched in February 2018 in Kenya and completed Series A with EAV in October 2018. In April 2019 ElectriFI joined with $1.5 m in working capital and capex funding. That was our wind in the sails to open the South Africa office, which was, unfortunately, opened one day before the Covid-19 lockdown. 2020 was therefore difficult for us but we survived thanks to another round of fundraising closed in August 2020 (series B), with additional investments by EAV, ElectriFi and Proparco. We are now back on track, with a promising pipeline, we scale up rapidly, all in all we now have 30 world level experts, and we have evolved into an Energy-as-a-service (EAAS) company, rather than just a solar lease company.
Q: How is the business developing?
Sakkie: We are growing and expanding. Our ambition is to become a truly Pan-African company. We want to be a reference name in decentralized energy solutions in Africa. But we are also careful about consistent, careful, and stable growth. We see the stability in our very diverse workforce and expertise. The company was started by 3 relatively old males but we now have 11 nationalities and 43% of our workforce is female.
Q: Now when we are at the commitments, tell us about the impact – why is solar so important in Africa? Could you shed some light on the values that underpin Solarise Africa’s operations?
Jan Albert: At Solarise Africa, our values form the bedrock of our operations. Firstly, we are deeply committed to sustainability and promoting renewable energy solutions to combat climate change. Our mission is to actively drive Africa’s progress while protecting the environment for future generations. Furthermore, we believe in inclusivity, ensuring that our solutions reach businesses of all sizes, from large enterprises to SMEs, fostering economic growth across the continent.
Sakkie: Transparency and trust are also fundamental to our approach. We prioritize open communication with our clients, building lasting partnerships based on honesty and reliability. Moreover, we strive for continuous innovation, constantly exploring cutting-edge technologies and business models to improve our offerings and meet the evolving needs of our customers.
Jan Albert: more importantly, as we look on the human level – we see how important is, in this time of recession, which hit Africa stronger than Europe, to support SMEs, where we help people secure their jobs. As the prices of oil went up, many companies are switching to solar and other renewable sources, and that, in the long term affects the stability of the small and medium companies. I don’t think it gets enough attention, but in many countries, stability, and secured jobs and income are so much more important than short-term financial gains. This is what we are also proud of.
Q: As we conclude, what is your vision for the future of Solarise Africa?
Sakkie: Our vision is to be at the forefront of Africa’s energy revolution, driving sustainable growth and providing transformative energy solutions to businesses across the continent. We aim to expand our reach and impact, bringing clean and affordable energy to more communities, supporting economic development, and contributing to a greener future.
Jan Albert: Additionally, we are dedicated to fostering strategic partnerships and collaborations with like-minded organizations, governments, and investors. By joining forces, we can collectively accelerate the clean energy transition in Africa and drive positive change on a larger scale.
Thank you both for sharing your inspiring journey and insights. Solarise Africa’s commitment to sustainable energy solutions is truly commendable. We wish you continued success in your mission to power Africa’s future.