26–28 June 2017, the Siemens headquarters in Munich: 42 motivated entrepreneurs from Uganda and Europe are united by a common goal – to advance the electrification of Uganda. At the kick-off workshop of the sixth lab of tomorrow process, six groups of experts spent three days working on business ideas for access to affordable and reliable energy, with the aim of paving the way for improvements to the electricity supply in this East African country. The 6th lab of tomorrow innovation workshop was organised in collaboration with GIZ’s Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Programme (PREEEP).
Uganda’s energy consumption is among the lowest in the world: the amount of electricity that the country produces is no more than that used by a medium-sized city in Germany. Change is particularly urgent in rural areas, where only about 10 per cent of the population has access to electricity. Yet access to energy is vital to boost the economy and create employment.
To address this problem, entrepreneurs, government representatives and experts from all over the world met at Siemens HQ in Munich. At the innovation workshop of the 6th lab of tomorrow process, six promising business ideas emerged, involving solar energy, biomass and hydropower, that could be of equal benefit to Uganda and to the companies behind them. For example, a solar-powered irrigation system for maize fields could combat the persistent drought and extensive harvest losses; at present about 45 per cent of the harvest is lost. The pump that runs on solar energy would irrigate the maize fields and help tackle Uganda’s food scarcity. It would increase farmers’ productivity – using sustainable energy. A second team of entrepreneurs is planning to use the central distribution of mini electricity grids to provide more Ugandans with access to electricity. This will be done by distributing the power supply units to entire villages, thereby both cutting costs and reaching more people. The small units can even be distributed by bicycle and so would not cause any additional environmental pollution.
‘In just three days ideas have been produced here that nobody would have thought of alone. From a business angle, that in itself was a complete success. With the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and GIZ we now want to work towards enabling many of the ideas from the lab of tomorrow to be put into practice. Because it is through electricity, especially in rural areas, that we shall create the basis for good development in Uganda,’ said Sabine Dall’Omo, CEO of SIEMENS Southern and Eastern Africa. According to Dall’Omo, the electrical giant is focusing on the development of sustainable business models rather than on short-term profits for the entrepreneurs.
On the presentation day, Günter Nooke, the German Chancellor's Personal Representative for Africa at BMZ, was impressed by the unique cooperation between entrepreneurs and representatives from a variety of backgrounds and sectors. The workshop, he said, is just the beginning – now the challenge is to translate the ideas into projects. The participants will take this next step with the lab of tomorrow team and BMZ, whose support Mr Nooke strongly confirmed. After the workshop, the business ideas must be thoroughly conceptualized and planned out before the groups bring the theory into practice and test the prototypes in Uganda.
Each lab of tomorrow innovation process, including this sixth one, aims to come up with unusual business models that address a problem in a developing countries or emerging markets. With the backing of the German government, European companies get together for three days with customers and specialists from the country in question. Together they have thus devised a wide range of business ideas to meet various challenges – such as the nationwide availability of medicines in Kenya or improving the taxation of small and medium-sized enterprises in Zambia.