GoSol Posts

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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EMBU DON BOSCO TECHNICAL SCHOOL SOLAR BAKERY IS UP AND RUNNING

Posted Thursday 7 April 2022 by Nigel Jonathan, Samuel Rodrigues.

The Don Bosco Technical Institutes boasts a number of different workshops. Walking around the school you can see students working on metal objects, wood furniture, masonry structures, electrical installations and many more activities. Now there is a new work post… a solar bakery!

During the first two months of the year, a Solar Fire team was dispatched to Embu with three Lytefire 5s to install a bakery and conduct 3 training sessions.

The bakery…
…is situated just next to the existing canteen kitchen. It consists of an array of three Lytefire solar ovens, placed in a terrace free of shadows where they can collect the maximum amount of solar power throughout the day. As an added perk, this area has a beautiful view!

The solar machines are mounted on concrete rings that allow them to move smoothly and leveled when tracking the sun and to resist all erosion that could come from running water.
A few steps away from the solar ovens is the indoor space for production and storage of the baked goods . The school had an available room that is spacious and perfectly suited for this. The shelving, drying racks, working table and partition walls were all made by the students in the different workshops with excellent results.

Just after the project implementation weekly production is about 160 loafs of bread and some 450 buns. The bakery team is still learning and evolving so they are only working for internal consumption but once they become more experienced the objective is to start producing for surrounding partner institutions, significantly increasing the production and diversifying the range of products. This will create a new source of revenue for the school.

The training sessions…
…were very enriching moments. Three very heterogeneous groups were introduced to different subjects related to these solar bakeries. Four main areas of knowledge were approached:
Solar science - Understanding the basics of energy consumption and its impacts on climate and the environment
Lyte fire technology - an understanding of how concentrated solar energy works and learning to assemble, operate and maintain the Lytefire concentrators

Solar baking - The basics of baking using the sun and a lot of practical training on a wide variety of baked goods

Solar entrepreneurship - Understanding the basics of a solar bakery business model and the complexities of starting and running such a business.
There were also two events opened to the public so that the trainees could have a feel of the complexities of managing a bakery in a busy day!

The training groups were very heterogeneous and constituted by some students of the technical school, staff, relatives of the staff, members of the surrounding community and students from Embu University which allowed for some enriching exchanges.

From the 34 trainees only a few (mostly staff) will be working permanently in the bakery but these weeks of training also allowed to plant the seeds of a small network around the solar bakery that can evolve into different activities. The school is presently looking into two scenarios:
Organizing more baking training sessions so that these trainees can further develop their skills;
Giving them open access to the ovens so that they can keep developing their own baking activities.

Plenty of challenges and possibilities!
All the best for the Don Bosco Solar Bakery team! We’ll be revisiting them soon!


Uganda May Now Be East Africa’s Solar Baking Capital!

Posted Friday 1 April 2022 by Lorin Symington.

We are back in action in Uganda with Plan International and Plan Uganda! In 2018 we delivered two of our solar bakery and entrepreneurship trainings at Plan’s SmartUp Factory Hubs and now we’re back to do another nine installations and trainings! We have a bigger team and our ovens and Lytefire concentrators are better than ever.

We’re delivering these training sessions to two types of groups this time; SmartUp Hubs, which are youth training centers where underserved youth can come to learn life-skills and get training on a variety of subjects from tailoring to videography, and we’re also training ‘I-Decide’ groups which are typically women-led rural cooperative businesses that focus on empowering women economically so that they can decide for themselves how to run their lives and not depend on fathers, husbands, brothers or other men who might seek to control them.

During the training we cover three main areas: Lytefire Technical training so that participants have the knowledge to install, calibrate and maintain the equipment, bakery skills training where they learn hygiene, ingredients handling and the techniques to make a variety of delicious recipes, and entrepreneurship which includes everything they need to know to market their goods, do the accounting and manage their inventory.

Youth underemployment is a grave problem in Uganda, especially since the start of the pandemic but the great thing about baked goods is that they never go out of style. The fact that these young ‘solarpreneurs’ are using pure, direct solar energy to bake their products only adds to the excitement! Many of the areas where we’re training these youth have no local bakeries. Oftentimes the baked goods come from a town over an hour away, so this, in addition to using free, clean solar energy gives our young solarpreneurs a real advantage.

So far we’ve delivered 7 out of the 11 trainings that are planned. 9 are with fresh new groups and come with the latest and greatest Lytefires produced by our amazing team in Kisumu, Kenya, and the other 2 are ‘refresher’ trainings where we’ll revisit the Lytefires we installed in 2018 to train newcomers and conduct training according to the needs of the groups.

It has so far been a tremendous experience, meeting inspiring young people and adapting our trainings to the needs of each group. We’re recognizing that no two groups of young people from different areas are the same, and their needs differ greatly. Luckily, we have a really amazing team on the ground (if I do say so myself!). We have two training teams working at the same time, the first includes me (Lorin) as well as Augustine (who was one of the SmartUp youth we trained in 2018!) and Allen (a baking industry veteran who is based in Lira, Uganda) and they are training the I-Decide groups, scattered around Lira and the Northern Region, and the second team includes Callum, Hanna and Hasheem, who you might remember from our project last year in Tanzania at the Montessori School in Mwanza. Callum, Hanna and Hasheem are now rocking the SmartUp Hubs (if you’re not following us on Instagram @Lytefire_Solar, you’re missing out on some pretty incredible content!)

We are extremely grateful to Plan International and Plan Uganda for their support, and we’re proud to have a partner that is so dedicated to the wellbeing of young people. They’ve recognized that the Lytefire alongside the training we offer tick many many boxes: environmentally sustainable technology, healthy production of healthy products, socially just organization, empowerment for women and girls, cost effective business, and life skills not limited to hygiene, business administration, accounting and more! It’s not always easy when you assemble a bunch of young people together and put money on the table, but that’s the beauty of projects like this, we can facilitate life changing experiences and set youth on a course for a prosperous and sustainable future.

We’re looking forward to sharing success stories with you, and to working together with Plan to implement this program in more and more groups around the world.


It’s Climate Strike today

Posted Friday 25 March 2022 by Eva Wissenz.

The Lytefire 4 construction guide is at 5€ instead of 99€ for 24 hours (https://lytefire.com/diy-climate-strike). With it, you can build yourself a solar concentrator to cook, purify water, fry, roast in a pan. We are soon opening a forum for builders providing feedback, updates, for a community to build up.

A community complementing everything that exists already with a specific tool generating enough heat to process food and make a bit of money with it. It’s starting in France and in Kenya.

The very first version of the Lytefire was created a long time ago in a backyard in Canada. We continue the good work. We do our best. But environmental destruction is accelerating everywhere. We must spread.

When is this ending?

This way to not honor what we have. This way of seeing enemies. To dominate. Good cop. Bad cop. This is good, this is bad therefore we can destroy it. And then what? Who will be right in the end? Which country will be the last one surviving in a devastated nature? Who has ever had money for breakfast? Who has ever loaded his pockets with money when it’s time to leave this world? How long will it take for major decisions to be made by citizens and governments to finally engage in a caring approach: children, elders, men and women, animals, plants, rivers, bedstones, oceans, mountains, sand beaches, flat countryside and spectacular rain forests, blue sky and pristine lakes.

When do we start to care?

The IEA (International Energy Agency) stated 9 months ago that we can have no more new oil, gas and coal facilities at all if we’re going to have any chance to stay below 1.5°C global warming.

The 2d IPCC report was released last month and we still don’t talk about it, not enough (read it). The key words of this massive report are vulnerability and adaptation. The scientists are also establishing a clear link between climate change and social justice.

At our level, what can we do?

This is everything we are about. And we know that the energy we use and the way we organize our lives around that is a key question.

Lytefire is a caring tech for us to adapt to this sad reality. The Lytefire 4 oven construction guide is at 5€ for 24 hours. https://lytefire.com/diy-climate-strike

If you want to know more about this solar tech, if you feel like asking questions directly to the team, Urs, Lorin, Judith or Muriel are happy to connect with you and book an on-line virtual coffee time with you.
Urs (English / Swiss German): urs.riggenbach@solarfire.io
Lorin (English / French): lorin.symington@solarfire.io
Judith (German / Spanish): judith.bernet@solarfire.io
Muriel (Swiss German): muriel.fuhrer@solarfire.io

Check our infographics to understand the impact Lytefire has in one glance:
https://gosol.org/infographic


Smart Up Factory is the only bakery in Nebbi!

Posted Monday 7 March 2022 by Hanna Williams.

After an energetic 3 weeks training course with the inspirational students in Nebbi, Uganda, it has been an incredibly successful experience! Nebbi’s Smart Up Hub enrolls 40 students at a time, so 15 students were carefully selected for the first ever solar bakery training in the district. We felt very fortunate to have such a motivated and focused group to train as every student was super eager to get involved with all aspects of the training!

Nebbi experiences many power cuts throughout the day which can cause great difficulty for many restaurants in the area that rely on electricity. Using the Lytefire solar oven meant when the team baked they did not need to worry about this occurring issue and as long as the sun was shining they could carry on baking all day without any interruptions.

The majority of local shopkeepers and hotels in the area heavily relied on electricity, only few with backup generators. So the only other methods they had to rely on for cooking were charcoal, which was accessible but around 60kg for 35,000UGX (12 EUROS). Charcoal was used daily in Nebbi and 60kg of charcoal would only last a week of cooking. That is a LOT of money and it would mean street vendors would barely make a profit from the products they sold and produced.

"Charcoal, which was accessible but around 60kg for 35,000UGX (12 EUROS)"

During week 1 the trainers introduced the expectations of what the training would involve and how the Lytefire would influence them greatly within the baking market here in Nebbi town.
In the first week of training the students were already selling solar buns, cupcakes and cookies without any influence from the mission trainers!
One of the challenges during the first week was that Nebbi being such a small rural town, ingredients were hard to find so they had to travel across the border of Congo and buy their equipment.

We soon realized that Smart Up hub had a very huge advantage in town being the ONLY bakery in Nebbi! Through market research, the students recognized that all local shopkeepers that sold baked goods like bread, cakes and cookies were all transported from Aura or Kampala! This was a disadvantage for shopkeepers as they had to consider transport costs and wholesale prices. From the local market research the students had already made connections with shopkeepers and were ready for business to supply these local shops with their solar baked goods using the Lytefire solar oven!

"We soon realized that Smart Up hub had a very huge advantage in town being the ONLY bakery in Nebbi!"

During week 2 of training the students learnt how to market their bakery by creating a bakery name as a team, naming themselves ‘Smart up Solar Bakery’ and designing a logo, flyer and business card to attract customers and create brand awareness.
In a group discussion we spoke about the products the bakery wanted to produce, they explained that mandazi was very popular and that they were deep fried in oil. So as a group they decided they wanted to recreate a healthier version using the Lytefire solar oven! Our baker trainer, Hashimu, produced an oven baked mandazi recipe with the bakery team that the students experimented with. We can proudly say using the Lytefire 5 solar oven that these were the very first ever solar baked Mandazi in the world! (You can check out our solar baked mandazi reel on IG)

The temperature was perfect for baking with solar, averaging at 35°C every day! The bakery team wanted to learn how to make bread loaves as they had lots of interest from the surrounding community and shopkeepers as this was what most shops sold the most of out of baked goods. When the team placed the bread loaves in the oven they soon realized the temperature was too high so the bread didn’t rise. This was one unfortunate experience that they learnt from so the second time round, when they made the recipe again the oven was kept at a stable temperature with 2 students supervising the Lytefire oven consistently so the bread rose beautifully!

During week 3 of the training the students had full autonomy with baking, selling and marketing their products!
They understood the concept of how to run a bakery when they were baking with Hasheem as they were understanding the costing and pricing of their products which encouraged students to produce high quality goods that were also affordable for the local community.
Throughout the training the students were competent in producing sales and there were many orders from locals, for the solar baked mandazi, bread buns and occasion cakes.

Our ‘Solar demo day’ took place on Thursday in conjunction with the graduation of students here at Nebbi’s Smart Up hub. Amongst the students’ family and friends, Plan International officials attended along with politicians and the Nebbi district Mayor and district councilors were all present! They presented certificates to the newly established solar bakery team and celebrated by cutting the graduation cake they ordered from the Smart Up Solar Bakery and sharing the cake with the audience! There was such a wonderful turnout with the bakery team selling out of cookies, bread and cupcakes! It was a huge success and the awareness of the bakery is now well known amongst the local community

The team provided attendees with their newly creative business cards and flyers whilst showcasing their marketing skills.
The demonstration of the Lytefire 5 impressed the locals as they were used to charcoal being sold in immense quantities on the street. This gave the bakery such a great advantage to showcase the solar oven and promote its direct solar energy! Westnile TV covered the day and it was broadcast on live TV in Uganda! You can view this video on Youtube which is linked in a previous article if you would like to check out the success of Nebbi’s ‘Solar Demo Day’!

Check out our journey with the projects we are collaborating with for Plan Internationals Smart Up Factories on our social media channels!!

IG: @lytefire_solar

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lytefire.solar/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/38140646


The dawn of solar project in Embu

Posted Friday 4 March 2022 by Nigel Jonathan, Samuel Rodrigues.

Embu is a town on the foothills of Mount Kenya, with wide landscapes, endless fields and fresh, crisp air. The town is alive in all senses of the word, the local markets bustle with activity! Traders crowd every street corner selling produce from their farms, and vendors sell various items by the roads. The Don Bosco Technical Institute was founded in 1985 and there are four schools in Kenya, the Don Bosco institution has a wide reach, with over 100 institutions worldwide!

The Technical Institute in Embu is located 15 minutes from the city centre on an impressive self-sustaining 90-acre property. The school is one huge family, housing within its grounds over 40 members of staff and over 200 students aged between 14 and 21. Resultantly, there is a high demand for bread and other baked goods that are often consumed during tea breaks. The students divide their time between classrooms and workshops where the youngsters are taught vocational skills like woodwork, masonry, metalwork and electrical work.

By installing three Lytfire 5 Solar Ovens the school will be able to make their own bread and other baked goods! Not only is the concentrator saving the school money but surplus items will be sold to the local community and institutions in order to keep the bakery self-sufficient and economically viable.

Three groups of about 12 people will be trained over the next two months and some will integrate the bakery team.

More news on this project soon!


Smart Up Solar training in Nebbi

Posted Tuesday 18 January 2022 by Hanna Williams.

We are beyond excited to start our 2022 training projects with Plan International’s Smart up hubs in Uganda beginning here in Nebbi! After a successful training program at the Kamuli hub in December 2021 the team is now in Northern Uganda. As a relatively small town, Nebbi is busy yet alive with exuberant energy! The sun smiles immensely during January and February but very frequently throughout the year with temperatures rising up to 35 degrees, it is truly a superb location for the Lytefire technology!

Nebbi is busy yet alive with exuberant energy!

Nebbi’s Smart Up hub is one of the recent sites constructed by Plan International, opening just over a 1 year ago with 6 mentors enrolling and training 40 students every 3-4 months. Although being the smallest hubs in Uganda, it delivers a very communal and more intimate space where students receive attentive education supporting and catering to each individual need. Due to the struggle of the Covid pandemic, they have had many obstacles to face as an emerging start-up hub as schools in Uganda have been closed for 2 years with them finally opening in January 2022. Plan International reopened their doors during the pandemic in June 2021 offering many disadvantaged young people the chance to carry on skilled training in sewing, beadmaking, business and hairdressing amongst many other subjects.

Plan International reopened their doors during the pandemic in June 2021

The training will progress over the course of 3 weeks with Callum (Mission based trainer), Hanna (Mission based trainer) and Hasheem (Expert baker from Tanzania!) educating trainees in the technical aspects of using and baking with the Lytefire technology, entrepreneurship, baking theory and practical. The trainees will have the opportunity to Implement their educational training knowledge on ‘Solar demo day’ using the Lytefire 5, combined oven and roaster where they will bake delicious bread, cookies and cakes! They will showcase their newly established solar bakery to friends, family and the local public at the end of their training where they will be able to sell these delectable baked goods.

The trainees will have the opportunity to Implement their educational training knowledge on ‘Solar demo day’

If you would like to keep up to date with our training program in Nebbi follow our social media channels!

Instagram: @lytefire_solar


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