Incubator leads successful VIA Water Online Innovation Challenge: 8 new innovative entrepreneurs and 2 investments

Africa Funded, Aqua for All and WASTE bundled forces to support entrepreneurs in developing innovative, scalable solutions improving water and sanitation in developing countries. This led to the Incubator for Water, Sanitation & Solid Waste, with very good results. Within the scope of the incubator, several short track accelerator programs are organized. The first accelerator program, the VIA Water Online Innovation Challenge, yielded a cohort of innovative entrepreneurs. Two startups from the program both supported by WASTE experts already secured funding. All entrepreneurs are ready for next steps.

Recently VIA Water, a program hosted by UNESCO-IHE and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with incubator manager Africa Funded initiated the VIA Water Innovation Challenge, an intense six week accelerator taking 8 innovative water startups from 4 countries in Africa to a pilot proposal stage.

The Challenge was open to entrepreneurs from Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda and South Sudan. The selected pioneers who joined the accelerator program included Patrick Apoya and Elliot Abra (SkyFox, Ghana), Dickson Ochieng Otieno (Sanivation, Kenya), Nafisatu Ahmed (Ghana), Kevin Maina Mureithi (Trace Group, Kenya), Isaac Monney (Ghana), Peter Chege Gichuku (Hydroponics Africa Ltd, Kenya), Maurice Abayo, Luc Einstein Ngend Ngend  & Philippe Kwitonda (Indogobe Smart Water Ltd, Rwanda) and Sebastiao Inacio Famba (Tree4Clean.life, Mozambique). Two startups, Sanivation and Trace Group, secured investments after the VIA Water Innovation Challenge. All entrepreneurs are ready for next steps.

Saskia Reus-Makkink, founder of Africa Funded and facilitator of the Incubator for Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste comments: “This program aims at supporting pioneers in Africa to develop sound models. For entrepreneurs in Africa access to knowledge, expertise and funding is even more challenging than for entrepreneurs in developing countries. Additionally, funders struggle with sourcing and selecting most promising concepts due to cultural differences and lack of local network. This program addressed all these issues.”

Trace Group and Sanivation
Trace Group provides waste collection services in Nakuru since 2012. They are looking into matching the solid waste problem in Kenya with the high demand for construction materials and reducing water pollution issues. “Saskia is a spot on business adviser,” says Kevin Mureithi of Trace Group, Kenya. “We needed to develop our technical innovation into a viable business and she has exceeded our expectations by not only offering critical business tips but by also connecting us to a vast network of partners and successful entrepreneurs who we keep learning from. She takes her mentoring sessions seriously and will push founders to innovatively think of how best to launch their business.” The founder received support of Sophie van den Berg, senior advisor at WASTE who has in-depth knowledge and expertise about the recycling sector in developing countries. Kevin commented: “I worked with Sophie who was very instrumental in supporting my work and she went out of her way to give feedback to my proposal and seek external partners in the plastic recycling sector in Netherlands for support.”

Waste Transportation

Toilet Marketing Event

Sanivation is currently delivering household sanitation services to urbanizing communities. They install container-based toilets inside people’s homes for free, charge a monthly subscription for waste collection, and transform collected waste into charcoal briquettes. Sanivation was supported in developing a service model providing their services to landlords and rose farms. This could provide tremendous scaling opportunities for increasing access to safe sanitation services in Africa. Jan Spit and Henock Afsaw provided the entrepreneur with expertise related to waste water treatment. The overall program was coordinated by Saskia Reus-Makkink.

“I loved the fact that the program’s experts were fully committed in offering support, even on weekends” adds Dickson Ochieng of Sanivation. “We also never missed any single weekly session, and the feedback from the experts was ever helpful.” He adds the program really helped him developing a business model and business proposal. “The content was well resourced and rich with knowledge with huge learning opportunities.”

Hydroponics vertical

Hydrophonics

The program
The total program consisted of a six-week virtual track, in which the entrepreneurs participated in workshops and received individual coaching sessions. Africa Funded, together with partners Aqua for All and WASTE supported the pioneers in identifying the best approach to take their idea forward, and to produce sound proposals for the VIA Water fund.

In September and October 2015 participants developed a business model and theory of change for their idea, figured out the needs of the market and its users, learned about organizational set up, finance and budgeting and risk identification and mitigation. This led to pilot proposals shared with VIA Water in the beginning of November. A few proposals was already offered the opportunity to pilot their innovation through VIA Water with support from experts, network and funding.

All in all the VIA Water Challenge program was a great success. In addition to the results of the actual acceleration program the call filled the pipeline of the VIA Water Fund with project ideas from 75 in a year to 150 in just six weeks time.

Next steps
Also the entrepreneurs who did not secure funding yet were very enthusiastic about the VIA Water Online Innovation Challenge. Isaac Monney (Ghana) explains: “We are in so many cases discouraged to start our own businesses. Having someone to listen to you and guide you to improve your business idea no matter how weird it may seem at the beginning is a great opportunity”. He stresses we should not give up on people’s ideas so easily: “Give people the chance to test, probably fail and improve their ideas. That’s how all great inventors succeed. The program provided me with unparalleled and requisite support to fine tune my ideas, develop a business proposal and learn from other budding entrepreneurs. This is exactly what young entrepreneurs in Africa need.”

VIA Water is a program designed to track down and support innovative solutions for water problems in African cities. The program originates from the “Dutch Knowledge Platform for Water” and is hosted by UNESCO-IHE. Aqua for All is the fund manager, Africa Funded runs the incubator program and seed fund for Aqua for All. In 2016 Africa Funded will organize more accelerators aiming at supporting innovative business models to improve the water, sanitation and waste situation in developing countries.