Blog of Urs Riggenbach

Feeling the Entrepreneurship Spirit in Uganda

Posted Sunday 8 May 2022 by Urs Riggenbach.

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Uganda and Kenya to see firsthand the amazing impacts of Lytefire with some of the 250+ entrepreneurs we have empowered in the last 12 months.

Visiting the training site in Uganda

As you know we have not only developed the Lytefire solar tech but also the entrepreneur-trainings to train women and youths to run their own solar businesses - with no prior experience.

The big mission we have taken on at Solar Fire, has made the last years of business development really hard for us. Awareness of solar concentration is still low vis-à-vis photovoltaics, and little focus is on solving the energy problems of the millions of entrepreneurs in low-income regions. With a truly decentralized energy source we also don’t fit the old centralized models that brought the climate and poverty crisis in the first place. But one beautiful result of our work is that we are sharing our experience with entrepreneurship and are able to provide all the key ingredients to create solar bakeries: From the Lytefire Oven to the baking skills, the entrepreneurship skills and the technical skills to maintain a Lytefire with local materials, something that fundamentally sets us apart.

Just like Solar Fire faces many challenges in scaling up, there are so many barriers our solar entrepreneurs need to overcome on a daily basis. But the basis of doing business is selling your product. To do that, yes you need a product, but you also need to have the courage to go out there and sell it. And if nobody buys, you don’t succeed.

As CEO of Solar Fire since a few months, my work is very demanding, being involved with both the delivery and acquisiton sides, keeping a bird’s eye perspective and going down to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day activities on a constant basis. We had just reached a milestone on the fundraising side and at the same time a major training program was coming to a close: It was time to jump on the opportunity to visit the projects, the entrepreneurs and see old and new team members, with 6 of them whom I would meet for the first time in real life!

So during my trip, I was able to visit one of the last training courses for a project we are delivering to our client Plan International in Tororo, Uganda.

It was a hot, sunny day, and after our bakery trainer Allan finished his first segment on making muffins (known as Queen Cakes in Uganda), the muffins were in the solar oven and our entrepreneurship trainers Callum and Hanna continued on the bookkeeping part of the training.

I’ve taken such workshops before and my body immediately reacted with a wave of tiredness as my mind wandered to the 30 other things demanding my attention at Solar Fire.

The typing noise of calculators that were handed out brought me back just 10 minutes into the session, and I noticed the strong engagement of the group. Callum asked, “Why is there more money in the account than cookies were sold?”. - A participant: “Shouldn’t we have cookies left?”- Another: “No, all cookies were sold by Sunday”. Callum: “So, clearly someone sold cookies between last Friday, brought the money into the account but did not subtract it from the inventory nor add it to the bookkeeping. You see, just now, a day after it happened it is hard to reconstruct what happens. That’s why the bookkeeping needs to be done right way. OK. Let it be a lesson and reminder for us. Let’s go into this”. …and they proceeded to figure out exactly who made the sales, and updated the accounting based on this, if you ask me, very positive problem.

Even what I would consider the most “dry” and theoretical part of the training was made engaging through the entrepreneurial reality we are creating in the short time our trainers are on-site. And it continued: As the muffins came out of the oven, the instructions were very clear: “No snacking”. I had to withstand my urge to just grab a delicious looking muffin: I asked about the rule and it is something they developed through the trainings: If you make it clear that every muffin snacked is a muffin not sold and a direct loss for the bakery, people’s business mindset is honed and put in place from the beginning.

Now we were inside a large compound in a hall where the training was conducted, outside on the main road construction works were happening. I would say a 10 minute walk from the construction site. Yet suddenly a man enters the building and asks if he can buy some Queen Cakes. A sale happened and I was really impressed: The word of mouth is really working, and the solar bakery is quickly worth a visit just because of it’s innovative aspects, and at the end of this day, all queen cakes were sold again, to few additional clients that the participants had called and animated.

The participants all made sales, brought in cash through their work and had a real entrepreneurial success just after one week when I arrived, and at the end of the second week, our trainers left them with a profit in their account and an inventory of starter-ingredients for them to efficiently continue running their bakery. This entrepreneurship-creation process was really impressive to experience firsthand. It was extremely motivating to see how with Lytefire we can create real entrepreneurship opportunities wherever we go.

The experience was confirmed by the various other solar entrepreneurs I got to meet on my trip, and from some of them, you will soon hear more!

Stay tuned.

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Solar Fire chosen as TOP NORDIC 50 IMPACT COMPANY - 2021!

Posted Friday 3 December 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are honoured to announce our company Solar Fire has been selected as one of the Nordic’s top 50 impact companies! Since 2017, The One Initiative has assessed over a thousand companies from the Nordic and Baltic regions, for their impact scalability and commercial viability. We are deeply grateful that our important work is more recognized today. On December 9th in Copenhagen, we will get to connect with fellow impact companies and investors, to build synergies needed to scale our impact.

To learn more about The One Initiative, and see the other top impact companies 2021, visit: https://www.oneinitiative.org/top-50-impact-2021/

We look forward to join the event in Copenhagen on December 9th, 2021.


Announcing our Cooperation with Jansen PrimeSteps Foundation

Posted Monday 22 November 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are proud to announce the start of our cooperation with the Swiss based Jansen PrimeSteps Foundation. With the support and advise of the PrimeSteps team we will equip and train entrepreneurs with Lytefire solar ovens across different locations in Burkina, with a focus on women’s groups and cooperatives.

Jannsen PrimeSteps is a Swiss non-profit foundation supporting solutions to improve people’s quality of life. Across sectors and countries, they identify the best solutions and provide know-how and financial support to scale-up projects with a large impact potential. We are really excited and honored by their support!

This project allows us to target specifically small women groups, who are not involved in bigger institutions or supported by larger organizations. By empowering these groups with the Lytefire technology and with the skills to run their own solar business, they can create their own income, become more independent, reduce their use of fossil fuels, protect their health and improve their quality of life - with Lytefire and solar entrepreneurship. We look forward to update on the project’s progress.

More information about our Project and Jansen PrimeSteps Foundation: https://www.primesteps.ch/projekt-im-detail/solar-fire-concentration/


Don Bosco: a new partner to bring Solar Entrepreneurship to Refugees Settlement

Posted Monday 15 November 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

With Don Bosco Jugendhilfe Weltweit we have found a new project partner dedicated to empowering youths. Active all over the world, this organization supports hundreds of vocational training centers, across Africa and beyond. Our cooperation starts in Kenya, with two vocational schools, one of them in the Kakuma region, hosting the world’s largest refugee site. Together we empower youths with the equipment and skills to become solar entrepreneurs.

More about this project (in German):
https://www.donbosco.ch/projekte/alle-projekte/afe-21-001/


Announcing new Partnership with Plan International to Empower Entrepreneurs in Uganda

Posted Monday 1 November 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are excited to announce this new partnership to empower entrepreneurs to run solar bakeries and food businesses across 11 locations in Uganda. The project will allow existing bakery cooperatives to transition from daily charcoal burning to using our powerful Lytefire 5 solar concentrator. In addition, we deepen our cooperation with Plan International’s SmartUp Hubs that started back in 2018: There we will equip the SmartUp Hubs with more Lytefires and train unemployed youths to become solar bakers.

It is a great opportunity to spread our entrepreneurial spirit to help boost incomes, grow local sustainable businesses, and at the same time reduce people’s exposure to toxic smoke from charcoal and other polluting fuels. Not to mention the carbon emissions this will reduce at the same time.

The cooperation is a collaboration between Plan International Finland as project initiator, Plan International Uganda as local implementation partner and Solar Fire, the creators of the Lytefire technology and the GoSol educational trainings to create solar entrepreneurs.


Building Impact with the First Solar Bakeries in Ethiopia

Posted mardi 2 février 2021 by Urs Riggenbach.

Announcing Solar Fire Cooperation with STEM Synergy to empower Youths and Women with Lytefire Solar Ovens in Ethiopia.

We are really excited to announce our new partnership in Ethiopia with STEM Synergy, an US-Ethiopian NGO focused on empowering youths and women through practical education, sustainable local solutions and entrepreneurship in Ethiopia.

Our partnership starts with empowering the first entrepreneurs in Ethiopia to run their bakeries not on firewood, but instead on clean, affordable, direct solar energy.

This is accomplished with the powerful Lytefire Solar Oven, that is already in use by entrepreneurs in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Haiti and other countries graced with ample sunshine.

Establishing the positive impact of the Lytefire in Ethiopia will go a long way to improve local incomes and livelihoods, reduce carbon emissions and the deforestation that is caused by the rampant use of firewood (and charcoal made from trees).

By primarily empowering women to become solar entrepreneurs, the project also uses solar energy as a force to tackle Sustainable Development Goal 5 : Gender Equality.

We are especially excited about STEM Synergy’s long-term approach to poverty alleviation :

“Short-term humanitarian aid to help poor people is usually not enough to lift them out of the cycle of poverty. Poverty alleviation is a long-term strategy that should lead to self-reliance and sustainability. Technology and innovation are the best weapons to fight poverty and break the cycle of individual and societal poverty in Africa. “
- Yishehak Shata, Chair of Board of Directors, STEM Synergy

With the Lytefire we have developed a technology that fits STEM Synergy’s goals and that can be used to power local, sustainable entrepreneurship. Combined with our GoSol-Program for entrepreneur training and incubation and STEM Synergy’s excellent technical and educational expertise, we look forward to seeing the first solar bakeries open up in Ethiopia !

For more information, contact :
Lytefire, GoSol, by Solar Fire : Urs Riggenbach, COO, urs.riggenbach@lytefire.com

STEM Synergy’s website : https://stemsynergy.org/


First Wood-Based Lytefire 5 Unit to Make Pizzas in the Swiss Alps!

Posted Wednesday 9 September 2020 by Urs Riggenbach.

Since a few weeks we have the first wood-based solar concentrator installed at Heuberge Mountain Resort in Switzerland, where we have also installed our Solar Sauna. As reported earlier, in April 2020 we held an online design course with the Berne University of Applied Sciences to create wood-based solar designs.

So, when we were in the process of designing the Lytefire 5 unit to power a Solar Oven for Pizza and Bread making at Heuberge, we took inspiration from the students’ work and quickly moved to build the first wood-based prototype.

The solar concentrator is basically an adaptation of the solar concentrator for which we sell construction plans, but instead of using metal for the basic frames, here we use wooden beams. From our experience building this unit for the first time, the basic frame is assembled really quickly. We still followed the original construction guide steps for all the other parts, such as the mirror rows which still require a bit of welding.

Actually, the welding that needs to be done on the mirror rows is the perfect way to learn welding – during the course of the fabrication, solar pioneers Jiri Ucen from Heuberge and Lucas Castro from Solothurn came visiting and we instructed them in the welding process – and by the end of the mirror-row welding the quality of their welds was good enough to take on the more critical welds, such as the two supports that hold an entire mirror row – here we have to make sure the welds are structurally sound, and they were! It’s really exciting to see people pick up welding skills just like that to build a solar concentrator.

And that’s how the first solar pizzas on with the wood-version of the Lytefire 5 turned out (impossible to get a picture before people started eating the delicious pizzas!):


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