I have just returned from an amazing trip to Uganda and Kenya to see firsthand the amazing impacts of Lytefire with some of the 250+ entrepreneurs we have empowered in the last 12 months.
Visiting the training site in Uganda
The big mission we have taken on at Solar Fire, has made the last years of business development really hard for us. Awareness of solar concentration is still low vis-à-vis photovoltaics, and little focus is on solving the energy problems of the millions of entrepreneurs in low-income regions. With a truly decentralized energy source we also don’t fit the old centralized models that brought the climate and poverty crisis in the first place. But one beautiful result of our work is that we are sharing our experience with entrepreneurship and are able to provide all the key ingredients to create solar bakeries: From the Lytefire Oven to the baking skills, the entrepreneurship skills and the technical skills to maintain a Lytefire with local materials, something that fundamentally sets us apart.
Just like Solar Fire faces many challenges in scaling up, there are so many barriers our solar entrepreneurs need to overcome on a daily basis. But the basis of doing business is selling your product. To do that, yes you need a product, but you also need to have the courage to go out there and sell it. And if nobody buys, you don’t succeed.
As CEO of Solar Fire since a few months, my work is very demanding, being involved with both the delivery and acquisiton sides, keeping a bird’s eye perspective and going down to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day activities on a constant basis. We had just reached a milestone on the fundraising side and at the same time a major training program was coming to a close: It was time to jump on the opportunity to visit the projects, the entrepreneurs and see old and new team members, with 6 of them whom I would meet for the first time in real life!
So during my trip, I was able to visit one of the last training courses for a project we are delivering to our client Plan International in Tororo, Uganda.
It was a hot, sunny day, and after our bakery trainer Allan finished his first segment on making muffins (known as Queen Cakes in Uganda), the muffins were in the solar oven and our entrepreneurship trainers Callum and Hanna continued on the bookkeeping part of the training.
I’ve taken such workshops before and my body immediately reacted with a wave of tiredness as my mind wandered to the 30 other things demanding my attention at Solar Fire.
The typing noise of calculators that were handed out brought me back just 10 minutes into the session, and I noticed the strong engagement of the group. Callum asked, “Why is there more money in the account than cookies were sold?”. - A participant: “Shouldn’t we have cookies left?”- Another: “No, all cookies were sold by Sunday”. Callum: “So, clearly someone sold cookies between last Friday, brought the money into the account but did not subtract it from the inventory nor add it to the bookkeeping. You see, just now, a day after it happened it is hard to reconstruct what happens. That’s why the bookkeeping needs to be done right way. OK. Let it be a lesson and reminder for us. Let’s go into this”. …and they proceeded to figure out exactly who made the sales, and updated the accounting based on this, if you ask me, very positive problem.
Even what I would consider the most “dry” and theoretical part of the training was made engaging through the entrepreneurial reality we are creating in the short time our trainers are on-site. And it continued: As the muffins came out of the oven, the instructions were very clear: “No snacking”. I had to withstand my urge to just grab a delicious looking muffin: I asked about the rule and it is something they developed through the trainings: If you make it clear that every muffin snacked is a muffin not sold and a direct loss for the bakery, people’s business mindset is honed and put in place from the beginning.
Now we were inside a large compound in a hall where the training was conducted, outside on the main road construction works were happening. I would say a 10 minute walk from the construction site. Yet suddenly a man enters the building and asks if he can buy some Queen Cakes. A sale happened and I was really impressed: The word of mouth is really working, and the solar bakery is quickly worth a visit just because of it’s innovative aspects, and at the end of this day, all queen cakes were sold again, to few additional clients that the participants had called and animated.
The participants all made sales, brought in cash through their work and had a real entrepreneurial success just after one week when I arrived, and at the end of the second week, our trainers left them with a profit in their account and an inventory of starter-ingredients for them to efficiently continue running their bakery. This entrepreneurship-creation process was really impressive to experience firsthand. It was extremely motivating to see how with Lytefire we can create real entrepreneurship opportunities wherever we go.
The experience was confirmed by the various other solar entrepreneurs I got to meet on my trip, and from some of them, you will soon hear more!