Blog of Urs Riggenbach

This was TBLI Conference Zurich 2019

Posted Saturday 20 July 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

Last month I attended the TBLI Conference in Zurich. The conference brought together impact investors and companies with a commitment for real impact.

This was certainly one of the best conferences I’ve attended. Many participants shared in the impact-maximizing spirit, ready to learn about scalable impact solutions, have their own views challenged and motivated to figure out how we can use the ressources at hand to avoid climate and economic collapse. I look forward to collaborating with the many new contacts made.

TBLI stands for tripple bottom line, the concept of measuring a business not only on financial, but also on social and environmental returns. Learn more on TBLI here

Forest Trends about GoSol in the Amazon

Posted mercredi 26 juin 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

We started our cooperation with Forest Trends last year in the Amazon with the Surui. Today, the US based NGO reported that "The pilot installation of the SOL5 GoSol unit for drying the babaçu mesocarp [tree nuts] has significantly reduced from 4 days to 5,5 hours." We are clearly going to continue the good work together and we wanted to introduce you to Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative.

→ Beto, can you introduce yourself and Forest Trends briefly ? Since how long are you working there and what’s your role ?

Together with partners around the world, Forest Trends pioneers innovative finance for conservation - promoting healthy forests, sustainable agriculture, clean water, robust climate action, protected biodiversity, and strong communities. For the past 13 years, I have been the director for Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative, promoting economic, political and cultural innovations with indigenous people and local communities. I have over 30 years of experience working with indigenous and other traditional forest communities to benefit from conservation and economic incentives that recognize their forest stewardship practices. A Brazilian national, I graduated from UC Berkeley in Natural Resource Management and have an MBA in Strategic Leadership focused on social responsibility.

Beto Borges of Forest Trend's Communities Initiative (left), has worked for over 30 years in partnership with indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

→ What are the most significant challenges facing Indigenous Communities in the Amazon today ?

The Amazon is home to approximately 1 million indigenous people with rich and diverse cultures. These unique cultures, as well as the region’s biodiversity, forest resources, and carbon storage are under alarming threats from large-scale infrastructure and extractive projects that largely proceed with inadequate enforcement of measures designed to reduce environmental and social impacts. The key threats are a massive boom in oil and gas exploration, mining, rampant illegal logging and the rapid spread of ranching and farming. Despite these mounting pressures, indigenous communities of the Amazon are deeply committed to creating a sustainable future for their people on their lands. Yet few viable economic opportunities exist for them.

→ The very first pilot with SOL5 is very successful it seems. Now how do you see the next steps happening so that the Surui can actually integrate SOL5 tech in their supply chains ?

Developing sustained income streams from harvesting, processing and selling babaçu products is still in early stages for the Surui People in the Brazilian Amazon. The pilot installation of the SOL5 GoSol unit for drying the babaçu mesocarp has significantly reduced the drying from 4 days to 5,5 hours, which is fantastic. One of the Surui’s associations, SOENAMA, already have FSC certification for their babaçu and are trying to sell it to local schools for integrating in meals for the children. Selling to local schools will be a very important step in consolidating their babaçu supply chain.

SOL5 dryer installed at the Surui's village.

→ Do you think that it can be extended to other communities in South America ?

We are confident that appropriate technology such as GoSol’s solar dehydrators and ovens can be a powerful and liberating tool for multiple forest communities in all the Amazon and throughout Latin America. The low cost of building these units, wide local availability of materials needed and the relative basic requirements for operating them, make them highly scalable in the region.

In addition to their viability, these units can be easily adapted to process a great variety of forest and agroforestry products, such as cacao, coffee, bananas, Brazil nuts, among others. Therefore, GoSol’s solar technology combined with Forest Trends’ years of on the ground experience working with forest communities, can directly contribute to increase income opportunities for indigenous and local communities.

As forest communities are strengthened, so is their stewardship of the forests, biodiversity, water and carbon for the benefit of themselves and humanity as a whole.

To read more about our ongoing work with Forest Trends, read here.

GoSol’s Guest Lecture at University of California, Berkeley

Posted Saturday 27 April 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

UC Berkeley campus, California. © Wikimedia

In February 2019 we kicked-off a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s MDP department, focused on modeling the impact the GoSol solution can have at a global scale. As part of the cooperation, Eerik and I were invited to present a guest lecture to the master students. Our lecture covered our lessons learned while starting up GoSol, and focused on what it takes to maximize impact when building new business and technology. Here I’m summarizing two key barriers to overcome, Understanding Your Users and designing a Viable Technology.

We started with a general introduction and by acknowledging that starting a business, and on top of that a mission driven one, is inherently difficult and one has to break a multitude of barriers to gain success.

Understanding Users

Co-Founder Eerik Wissenz giving a guest lecture at UC Berkeley's MDP Department.

After analyzing the state of the world and identifying the biggest potential for having impact, the next step is to work toward solutions and test them in the field.

A key challenge at the start is getting access to your potential end users, which may live half way around the world. Not only would it be expensive to test your solutions with these end users, it would require multiple trips back and forth to identify, contact, build a relationship with, install, monitor and follow-up with these end users. Running a piloting phase can quickly become an overwhelming undertaking.

At GoSol we partnered up with World Vision at that stage - World Vision has an innovation program called Weconomy facilitating western companies to work with their beneficiaries to co-create solutions. Through the program we were able to identify the best users, understand their requirements, pain-points and current energy usage. In a later step we then installed the technology with the most ideal pilot sites, and through the World Vision program were able to keep tabs on its usage even when were not onsite, as our local partner World Vision was collecting the data and monitoring the use in the field.

Viable Technology

Slide from GoSol's guest lecture at UC Berkeley. ©

As you are developing your solution, you have to ask yourself ’what are the critical requirements for it to become scalable.’

We gave the example of the GoSol SOL5, that was designed to tackle poverty and the consumption charcoal, firewood and fossil fuel consumption in the developing world.

According to our analysis, a viable technology in this context had to have the following properties to be able to outcompete existing, polluting fuel sources:

- Low Capital: The technology had to have a cost that can be refinanced in less than 5 years, ideally over the course of one season in order to be compatible with the way farmers and SME’s in the developing world invest. Where western companies can for example invest in solar panels with payback periods of 15 years or more, we had to lower cost to get below the 5, ideally 3 year mark.

- Quick returns: The other factor, apart from initial cost of the technology, is how much value the technology makes for the end user. If they are able to save bags of charcoal each day, the use of the technology has direct costs savings. For new businesses starting up that have no comparable benchmark, the use of our technology should lead to a higher profit margin as their cost of production is minimized with the fuel savings. Through the 2 year piloting phase in East Africa we were able to reach payback within less than 1.5 years.

- Usability & Maintenance: We had to design the technology from the ground up to be maintainable at the local level. Because replacement parts and maintenance services would be expensive to import once the technology is deployed, failure from wear and tear could lead to the abandonment of the technology. Having end users be able to maintain the system themselves would minimize this risk of downtime or abandonment, and keep maintenance costs low. Solving this challenge led to the development of our educational courses and programme, where we do not only provide the short training on how to use the technology, but provide a rich educational program that can train and equip new entrepreneurs to use and maintain the technology themselves.

- Further considerations: In developing an energy solution we also asked ourselves how the technology could be globally applicable, from supplying thermal energy to industry and small entrepreneurs alike. To have a global impact the technology should not only work in western infrastructures but even remote and off-grid villages. The technology should also be fabricated and deployed rapidly, without any bottlenecks to production, rare-earth metals or cost-prohibitive materials, fabrication, transportation and installation processes. Furthermore, we aimed at developing an energy source that would tackle a large percentage of global energy consumption. We found that over 50% of energy is consumed in the form of heat, and solar thermal energy can provide much of this thermal energy.

Other topics

Urs Riggenbach presenting at GoSol's guest lecture at UC Berkeley's MDP Department.

We went on to advise students on how to build their team, how to get through the piloting phase, how to attract funding at various stages of business development and how to constantly build your business model to drive your business towards its mission.
We rounded the lecture off by sharing more personal experience on staying motivated on our path, reassuring the class that it takes a lot of persistence to build up mission driven organizations, and then had a great Q&A session with the engaged students.

Announcing GoSol - UC Berkeley MDP Collaboration

Posted Friday 15 February 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

We are happy to announce the start of a collaboration with the MDP program at UC Berkeley, California.

UC Berkeley’s Master of Development Practice (MDP) equips the next generation of professionals with the knowledge, skills and interdisciplinary experience needed for sustainable development in the direction of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

GoSol’s work has been documented to impact 7 SDGs and our experience and unique model make for a great collaboration case with the master students interested in both theoretical and hands-on experiential learning.

Our cooperation will focus on the development of impact measurement and modeling methodologies and systems. As GoSol’s impact scales, so do the challenges of tracking and modeling the impact of our technology, products and projects.

We’re excited about the cooperation start and look forward to start engaging the students very soon.

More about the MDP program:

GoSol Evening Reception at Autodesk Gallery
San Francisco, February 25th 2019

Posted Wednesday 6 February 2019 by Urs Riggenbach.

GoSol & Autodesk Foundation invite you to join us for refreshments
and learn about GoSol’s solar concentrators developed to empower millions of entrepreneurs and slow climate change.

After proving their unique model for scaling solar thermal energy with Autodesk Foundation’s support, GoSol is entering their Series A to scale across Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America.

Join us February 25th, 6PM in San Francisco!

Space is limited, please RSVP!

GoSol Evening Reception

Scaling Solar Thermal Technology for Business and Impact

Monday, February 25th, 2019
6 - 8:30 PM
Autodesk Gallery
One Market (2nd floor)
San Francisco, CA 94105

Space is limited. Please RSVP below.


RSVP to this Event:

RSVP’s are closed.

Invitation to Guest Lecture at TAMK:
Direct Solar Energy - Theory and Practice

Posted Saturday 24 November 2018 by Urs Riggenbach.

This Friday November 30th, Eerik Wissenz, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of our project has been invited to give a lecture at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK). The lecture is following our previous collaboration with TAMK where we supported students’ thesis projects related to solar thermal energy. Eerik will cover the energy situation in the developing world and the interdisciplinary process of creating real world solutions.


Open Invitation:

This lecture is open to the public and visitors are welcome.

Time: 12:15-15:00

Classroom: B420

Campus: Kuntokatu 3, 33520 Tampere, Finland


About our Cooperation with TAMK:

Tampere University of Applied Sciences is a higher education institution oriented towards working life and RDI co-operation. Their strengths are multidisciplinary education, creativity, and a strong international dimension.

Our cooperation with TAMK is focused on advancing sustainable development through final theses projects, lecturing and co-creation projects.

Solar Forest - Evening Reception
November 27th, San Francisco

Posted Tuesday 20 November 2018 by Urs Riggenbach. and Forest Trends are hosting an evening reception to celebrate our partnership to reduce deforestation and empower local communities with our innovative solar thermal solution. The event will bring together project supporters, impact investors, leaders from the environmental conservation community and friends of the Amazon.

Join us November 27th, 6PM in San Francisco

Solar Forest

An Evening Reception
Empowering Indigenous Communities in the Amazon

Tuesday, November 27, 2018
6 - 8 PM
26 Buena Vista Terrace
San Francisco, CA 94117

GoSol and Forest Trends would like to thank Z Woodman for generously opening her beautiful home to raise awareness for our critical work.

GoSol’s solar thermal solution is providing access to clean heat for farmers, entrepreneurs and SME’s in the developing world. With our SOL5 solar concentrator, entrepreneurs are baking, roasting and dehydrating food and boosting their income. Over the last two years we’ve empowered communities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Now we are bringing our positive impact to the Amazon.

Through the Communities Initiative, Forest Trends supports the Yawanawa and the Surui people of the Brazilian Amazon to conserve their forests and improve their livelihoods. Agricultural expansion for soy, cattle ranching and illegal logging and mining are rampant in the Amazon, but indigenous communities are fighting against the loss of their forests and cultures. Forest Trends works with local communities in securing their rights, livelihoods and culture.

Globally, indigenous people are at the frontlines, protecting 60-80% of our world’s biodiversity but at the same time have very limited access to the world’s resources. By enabling them to tap into the power of the sun, create local wealth and run value-adding food processing without burning wood but direct sunlight, we aim to prove a new and scalable pathway to support forest-based livelihoods.

We will watch a short presentation, showing how high tech and low tech is working hand in hand to empower people. The project started October 2018 in the state of Rondônia, Brazil, working with the Surui indigenous people. We would love you to join us at this celebratory event. There will be drinks and light refreshments, and maybe even some of our solar baked cookies!

We look forward to seeing you there!

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