Interviews with the Speakers - Jay Patel
You can download a copy of the interview here.
We are excited to present a new series of interviews the Marketing Director, Estefania, conducted with some of the speakers of SES 2019. The interviews were held in the months prior to the Summit with the aim to present some of the energy leaders who will be speaking during the Summit and foster an exciting and informed discussion in anticipation to the event.
The first interview of this series is with Jay Patel, founder and CEO of Enlight Institute, a startup focused on data-driven skill development for the off-grid solar industry operating in Central Africa. The interview discusses a variety of topics, ranging from new business models around renewables to advice for young students who seek to start their own business. We hope you enjoy it!
Estefania: What was the main driver behind Enlight’s creation and how did you come up with this business model idea?
Jay: I travelled to Uganda at the beginning of 2015 due to my interest in off-grid solar technology. There, I met Abu Musuuza, a local social entrepreneur who co-founded Village Energy a few years before. I became a new partner and together re-launched the company with a model around last-mile distribution that addresses the fact there are no prepared solar technicians and infrastructure in rural areas to repair PV systems and provide associated maintenance services.
After raising some funds to launch this program, we realized there were no good training institutes and hence people could not get hired. This was not just an issue we faced, but every other company in Uganda as well. Several companies had its own internal training programs, but there was not an industry-wide option, especially for smaller players.
The concept behind Enlight was developed through a GIZ workshop that analyzed what market barriers existed for solar adoption. We came up with the idea of a travelling training academy that could go into rural areas and qualify people to further place them in different solar companies. Enlight became a separate organization at the beginning of 2018 by launching an eight-week course with a technical approach in solar PV systems. Technicians need sales and soft skills, but salespeople need technical skills as well. We realized our business is not just about training, but tackling from a holistic standpoint in-resource needs that solar companies have.
Estefania: What have been the major milestones the company has reached since its consolidation and how does the future look like for Enlight?
Jay: So far, we have trained 30 graduates in solar technical skills and placed 60 percent of them in several companies. As a result, we have been awarded with additional training contracts from development agencies and solar companies, so Enlight is actually starting to generate revenue through these activities. I believe the company holds a head start given the four years of experience we have in the industry. Even though I am no longer part of the Village Energy’s management team, my participation with them lead to establishing a strong interaction with almost every solar company in Uganda. Thanks to this, we already have all the needed connections to move forward. Our ambition is to use Uganda as a laboratory, refine our model and scale it into different markets. There is a huge need for talent development and soft professional skills in the entire renewable energy industry and this is not unique to Africa or off-grid solar. I think that our ten-year vision goes beyond energy and focuses on youth employability across the formal sector in developing countries. With the automation wave coming, it is important to have this perspective.
Estefania: What excites you the most about attending SES 2019 next summer in London?
Jay: When I was graduating from college back in 2009, the climate change discussion was not that open and there were a small number of jobs in the renewable energy segment. At that time, it was difficult to imagine having a career in clean energy. In the last ten years, this has completely changed as the industry’s size has grown and nowadays is more recognized. Solar energy has been deployed in many countries and SES 2019 provides a platform to discuss what comes next.
As a society, we have another ten years to do something about climate change. We are running a race against time to an extent where we are encouraging young people to analyze the impact some of the most damaging industries and find a path to support climate action.
Estefania: What message would you give to any student willing to dive into clean energy entrepreneurship?
Jay: Entrepreneurship is complicated. It takes certain level of resources and also to have the privilege to quit your job and create a startup. Many people are not able to afford this and it is OK. This does not mean that you are not as committed to the cause. Entrepreneurship is important but I would not like to glorify it as the ultimate method to help all stakeholders involved. Nevertheless, my advice will be the following. Firstly, if you are developing some project in a country that is not your own, especially a developing country, you need to consider working locally. The reason I joined Village Energy was because it was co-founded and led by an Ugandan. It is important to keep in mind that at Enlight we are just not trying to encourage entrepreneurship in clean energy, but locally-inclusive entrepreneurship as well. Secondly, financing takes a lot of time. To find the right funding out there, you have to work on your idea for a long time. The cycles for grants, especially the ones that run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, can take close to a year or more. You need to find a way to stand yourself for long periods of time and in the meantime, start implementing your project.
You can download a copy of the interview here.