EIT Climate-KIC accelerates climate tech solutions for a net-zero Africa 

Climate-focused start-up teams in developing countries face distinct challenges and barriers when it comes to scaling their impact. This is no exception for Africa where climate tech start-ups receive less than one per cent of global venture investments. Not only do early-stage ventures in this field lack adequate entrepreneurial skills and access to finance, but the networks and ecosystems they operate in also have critical gaps between innovators and the wider industry. 

In an effort to strengthen the innovation ecosystems of African countries, EIT Climate-KIC and key partners embarked on a bespoke initiative titled “Accelerating Climate Tech Solutions for a Net-Zero Africa” from May 2021 to September 2022.   

The project identified African climate innovators with technologies explicitly focused on developing and growing climate-positive business models and supported them with training, mentorship and access to funding via EIT Climate-KIC’s incubation and acceleration programmes, ClimateLaunchpad and ClimAccelerator.  

The initiative – funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (‘GIZ’) exclusively on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (‘BMZ’) – played a catalytic role by lowering barriers to entry for African entrepreneurs, scaling “champion” start-ups to serve as models and building networks with key local ecosystem partners.  

“Through this project, we realised that Africa’s innovation potential for climate technologies is still very much untapped, and we were amazed by the quality of the solutions and the energy of the entrepreneurs we have met. By developing a climate-focused entrepreneurial ecosystem, these African climate innovators will have easier access to knowledge, resources, markets and capital,” said Ayoub Derdabi, Strategic Programmes Builder at EIT Climate-KIC.   

The project in detail 

Fifteen African countries participated in the eighth edition of the world’s largest green business competition, ClimateLaunchpad, organised by Delft University of Technology. The continent generated nearly 1.000 applications, with over 200 early-stage start-ups selected to develop their climate-focused businesses. More than half of these start-ups received additional support from GIZ, the sponsor of the competition in Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Zambia. 

The solutions varied across several themes including clean energy, circular economy, adaptation and resilience, urban solutions, food systems and sustainable mobility. Kigali-based Glassland Inc. competed in the Rwanda ClimateLaunchpad competition with its unique sustainable construction products made from post-consumer and industrial glass. 

“ClimateLaunchpad was an opportunity to learn, network and rethink our model of sustainable glass waste management and to refine our business plan while providing opportunities for growth, creating green jobs and supporting Rwanda’s green growth ambitions,” said Founder Jean Pierre Bucyensenge. 

A full case study of the 2021 ClimateLaunchpad competition can be found here.  

The second component of the initiative included a bespoke 6-month climate tech accelerator that contributed to building the upstream ecosystem needed to generate a pipeline of investor-ready start-ups and scaling the availability of climate change solutions for decarbonisation.  

In January, over 691 start-ups from 44 African countries applied for the first-ever Pan-African climate accelerator programme. Fifteen were selected to participate based on their solution’s climate impact potential, social and environmental value and market readiness, operational viability, and overall team capability. These start-up founders put the objective of enhancing sustainability at the forefront of their mission and growth. 

Delivered by local partners GrowthAfrica and  Carbon Trust, the Africa ClimAccelerator offered customised workshops and trainings, one-to-one sessions with experienced mentors active across the climate innovation ecosystem and grant funding of €12.000 per start-up.  

The entrepreneurs also completed carbon life cycle assessments of their products and services using the Climate Impact Framework to demonstrate climate impact potential and improve their business competitiveness. The impact reduction potential of the 15 start-ups totalled 2.7 mega tonnes of mitigated CO2 equivalent per year, which can be compared to the carbon offset of nearly 125 million trees. 

The initiative was highlighted at several high-profile events over the course of its implementation. In November 2021, EIT Climate-KIC’s Chief Strategy Officer Tom Mitchell moderated a panel on Climate Entrepreneurship Ecosystems in African Cities at the COP26 UNFCCC Global Innovation Hub pavilion in Glasgow. The discussion explored the benefits of climate entrepreneurship ecosystems as well as the opportunities and barriers for creating transformational change in cities across Africa.   

EIT Climate-KIC also organised an online workshop in May 2022 at Innovate4Climate, a global event on climate finance, climate investment and climate markets hosted by The World Bank. The session spotlighted the African climate entrepreneurship ecosystem and asked what role innovators, incubators and accelerators can play in adopting a needs/solutions approach for maintaining 1.5C degrees.  

Key learnings  

From the learnings of the initiative, EIT Climate-KIC produced the Adapt, Mitigate, and Grow: Climate Tech Innovation in Africa report that offers insights into the synergies between key stakeholders, the state of the market and the growth of the climate tech industry in Africa. The solutions supported in the Africa ClimAccelerator correspond to current climate tech trends: 

Investments in Africa are growing, with renewable innovations – especially solar – leading the race.  

African countries possess a competitive advantage across the continent in terms of natural resources and potential for renewables. In a region of the world with no shortage of sunshine, solar-powered products are particularly attractive to investors. Start-up Arone Energy enables access to affordable, uninterrupted power supply for Nigerians with its solar-powered Powerhub. Nigeria-based Ecotutu deploys next-generation cold storage solutions using solar and phase-change materials, while D-Olivette provides a decentralised energy solution for rural communities through products that transform organic waste into biogas and fertiliser. South Africa’s Electrotaxi retails and leases electric minibuses to taxi operators supplied by solar-powered high-speed charging and battery swapping stations. In Kenya, Zuhura Solutions offers a solar-powered food cart that generates electricity to enable street food vendors to save on costs and alleviate the use of charcoal. 

Solutions that reduce inefficiencies for natural resources and agriculture are also on the rise.  

Agricultural solutions represent another prominent area of innovation where technology-driven ventures are helping digitalise food value chains, improve productivity, strengthen sustainable practices, decrease post-harvest losses and increase food security across the continent. For example, Ghana-based WorldTech Consult specialises in the installation of solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that extend the shelf life of perishable crops. Côte d’Ivoire’s Cool Lion develops and markets rent-to-own solar-powered refrigerated containers to provide cooling solutions to small-scale fishermen and farmers. In Liberia, Green Cities composts organic waste into quality organic fertiliser for farmers, while NovFeed recycles readily available organic waste into protein-rich fish feed in Tanzania. Cameroon’s Map & Rank collects climate risk data that can be used to forecast extreme weather events and disseminates it to communities.  

Waste management and sanitation companies are slowly gaining traction, addressing a substantial market in need of disruption.  

Due to the lack of centralised and organised mechanisms for waste disposal across the region, waste and recycling facilities have seen an increase in uptake. Rwanda’s Wastezon app provides real-time e-waste mineralogical data that connects recyclers with households to sell recyclable solid waste. In Ghana, Asa Nwura provides a similar adaptive USSD platform that connects waste generators, collectors, recyclers and off-takers. 

Waste management can also be addressed via upcycling. For example, Kenya’s Mega Gas converts plastic waste into clean and affordable cooking gas for low-income families, while Nigeria-based Salubata manufactures high-end shoes from recycled plastic. In Tunisia, Agaruw offers the first sustainable fashion platform where local designers and artisans can showcase their products. 

Continued support for African entrepreneurs  

The successful implementation of the “Accelerating Climate Tech Solutions for a Net-Zero Africa” initiative has enabled new opportunities for EIT Climate-KIC to continue its support for bolstering climate-focused innovations in the Global South and strengthening entrepreneurship ecosystems. 

EIT Climate-KIC is currently working to expand its knowledge on the African continent by establishing the first “innovation cluster” in Tanzania to maximise the coordination between stakeholders for a local climate innovation ecosystem, particularly on climate-smart agriculture solutions. 

In addition, a new ClimAccelerator focused on adaptation and resilience launches this autumn to support the African innovation ecosystem where risk mitigation and preventative climate solutions will play an essential role for the communities affected the most by the extreme weather conditions.   

EIT Climate-KIC will also be highly engaged at COP27 taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November and will take part in the UN Climate Change Global Innovation Hub and the Resilience Frontiers Initiative to showcase how our work in systems innovation is helping cities, regions and countries achieve ambitious climate goals. By partnering with the UNFCCC, we join efforts in advancing innovation in climate action and encourage societal transformations in ways that are fit for limiting warming to 1.5 ̊C.