Charity Wanjiku pitching for Strauss Energy
What does the journey of an entrepreneur look like? For founders like Mark Zuckerberg, it often begins with a groundbreaking idea, followed by several rounds of fundraising through Ivy League and Silicon Valley networks. But what if you weren’t raised in the United States? And what if your idea is not global in reach — but instead addresses clean technology needs that are unique to your region?
The World Bank Group’s Climate Innovation Centers are one solution to this challenge. The seven centers — in the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa, and Vietnam — support more than 270 clean-technology startups with training programs, grants and mentorship. Increasingly, the centers have turned to competitions to help entrepreneurs grow.
Bootcamps and pitching competitions have emerged as promising opportunities for jump-starting an entrepreneur’s journey. Participants train intensively with seasoned entrepreneurs to perfect their pitch. They learn to showcase their business idea and strategy in mere minutes before a panel of judges. Winners bring home significant prizes — and, perhaps more important, connections with potential investors and a greater understanding of the business landscape.
The 1776 Challenge Cup is a pitching competition on a grander scale. The Challenge Cup is a tournament for startups from around the world to share their vision on a global stage and compete for more than $1 million in prizes. 1776, a Washington-based incubator and seed fund, hosted its first annual Challenge Cup in 2014. Past finalists have developed mobile training for Middle Eastern women entering the workforce, have built charging devices for electric vehicles, and have disrupted the value chain in Kenya for perishable goods like bananas.
This year, the South Africa and Morocco Climate Innovation Centers partnered with 1776 to launch local Challenge Cups in Pretoria and Casablanca. Three winners from each local competition will advance to a regional competition. Finally, 45 regional winners will be invited to compete in the Challenge Cup Global Finals on June 5 to 11 in Washington, where they will gain exposure to potential investors, customers and media that can help their businesses expand on a global scale.
The Africa Regional Challenge Cup, hosted by the iHub and Nairobi Garage in partnership with the World Bank Group, will be held at the Kenya National Theater on February 18. Fifteen startups will compete with businesses from across the continent: They will come from such cities as Accra, Addis Ababa, Casablanca, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Pretoria. The startups represent a variety of sectors, such as education, energy and sustainability, health and transportation.
At least two Climate Innovation Center-supported companies will pitch their ideas at the Africa Regional Challenge Cup. Water Hygiene Convenience developed a leakless valve, a product that saves as much as 70 percent of the water that is now lost to toilet leaks. Khepri Biosciences has responded to food insecurity and the increasing cost of animal farming in rural South Africa by sustainably cultivating insect larvae that can be processed into low-cost, high-protein animal feed. (Winners of the local competition in Nairobi are undergoing selection.)
To enhance the ability of their client startups to perform on an international stage, Climate Innovation Center staff members from Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa will attend a specialized training with David Zipper, managing director of 1776, on how to organize international bootcamps and pitching competitions.
Last year, a high-performing enterprise from the Kenya Climate Innovation Center, Strauss Energy, was invited to compete in Washington as a People’s Choice winner. In an interview after the competition, Charity Wanjiku, chief operations officer of Strauss Energy, said the greatest benefit of the competition was the international exposure.
“Thanks to this pitch, hundreds of people around the world know about Strauss Energy — who we are, where we’re from, our value proposition,” Wanjiku said. “And investors are listening, too. We have already received a few calls and emails.”