2017 – What happened
2017 started with the incubator as part of the Africa Prize. The Africa Prize for Engineering is a yearly award hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering. SolarTurtle was privileged enough to be included in a 6 month business training program coupled with networking events across the world. It started in London, followed by Rwanda, London again then finally Kenya for the grand final. Though we did not reach the top 3 we did make many good contacts and the accelerator program presented by Source Institute was eye opening. The most amazing part of the Africa Prize was the Pitch@Palace event at St. James Palace in London. The Pitch@Palace is a start-up pitching event organised by your royal highness the Prince Andrew, the Duke of York (St James palace is his palace in London). This once in a life time opportunity showed that SolarTurtle can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best start-ups in the Africa and hold its own. For more on this experience read my blog entry on LinkedIn.
The Africa Prize also opened doors to another event hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) – the Frontiers for Development Symposium in Cambridge, UK. This Networking and funding event set out to connect academics with social impact ventures like ourselves. During the event we connected with Liverpool University’s mechanical department. I presented them the concept of automating the SolarTurtle so it can fold-away itself. At the end of the event we made a proposal for £20,000 to design called the AutoTurtle. This new Turtle will fold-away with the press of a button – AKA AutoTurtle. We received this grant which will pay for most of the R&D. The new container will power a community centre, HIV clinic and a crèche. Via the Africa Prize James got to presented to royalty at St James’s palace for Pitch@Palace, which was a crazy experience, and we also travelled the world and got to see some of the great work others are doing across the globe as part of the RAE’s incubator. A truly enlighten experience.
The new AutoTurtle design caused a storm of excitement as we won several awards. The new innovation was entered into the Africa Utility Week and won the most innovative technology of the year award. The new design also turned heads at the SA Innovation summit where it clenched first prize at the Inventors Garage. The new design coupled with the SolarTurtle business plan and financial model also currently in the finals for the SAB Foundation – Social Innovation Awards. We also won the “Design with Purpose” Award from the Design Foundation. We also reached the 5 top in the Chivas “The Venture” awards in South Africa. This was out of a pool of over 800 entries.
In 2017 SolarTurtle pivoted to address additional needs identified in the off-grid market. Not only are we doing energy kiosk in containers but our technology has now also found its way to the banking industry. We deployed a solar bank branch in a box for Nedbank on September 16. This is to serve as quick branches for disaster recovery and as branches for rural communities. So now we are a solar container company. We use our fold-away technology for many applications. Anyone that needs a quiet space to work from that’s secure and safe should use a SolarTurtle.
2018 – Where we going
We are pushing hard to expand to Mozambique and Lesotho. We have a new light weight solar kiosk called the BabyTurtle that will serve these low-crime areas. The hope is that these less expensive kiosks fibreglass kiosks will allow us to start more energy businesses faster. With the arrival of our latest creation- the AutoTurtle – we hope to start targeting the banking sector. This automated unit is perfect for fast deployment of solar powered banks in rural areas.