UpOwa: Reaching last-mile communities with tailored solar solutions

Location Cameroon
Market segment Distributor of energy systems
Total investment volume €14,72 million

About

Off-grid solutions are sorely needed in Cameroon, where four in five households are not connected to the national grid. Since 2015, France and Cameroon-based developer upOwa has been narrowing this energy gap by providing easy access to solar power to rural communities.

In six regions, the company has been reaching last-mile customers, most of whom have never had access to electricity, with their autonomous, tailored solar kits. The systems are based on a PAYG model and provide affordable power on demand, allowing villagers to charge their mobile phones, listen to the radio or watch TV, and light their homes and businesses at an equal or lower price than that of conventional kerosene lamps. During on-the-ground training, customers learn to make the most of their equipment and optimise its lifespan, while the underlying management platform relies on centralised support functions and streamlined processes designed for flexibility and scale.

  • During on-the-ground training, customers learn to make the most of their equipment.
    During on-the-ground training, customers learn to make the most of their equipment. Photo: © upOwa
  • Photo: © upOwa

Our support

Because their model proved successful and scalable, upOwa set their sights on a rapid expansion, using their know-how to build capacity and scale up activities across Cameroon. To achieve this, the company went out looking for additional financing. On upOwa’s way to closing a €3m debt investment with the EU-funded impact investment facility ElectriFI, the GET.invest Finance Catalyst got involved to help increase additional investors’ confidence in the business.

“Our experience with GET.invest’s financial advisors is fantastic: they support the need for well thought out solar PAYG and they fully understand the challenges we are currently facing. We developed a terrific relationship that allows to receive insightful, proactive advice as if they were part of the team.”
Kilien de Renty, CEO at upOwa

To bring the upOwa model to scale and introduce new activities, a strategy for accessing additional equity and grant funding was needed. The Finance Catalyst advisors have been supporting upOwa in presenting their business case and filling the gaps in their financial models to make sure they speak the language of financiers.

Beyond closing the financial gap, upOwa faced challenges in finding a local CFO to further develop and implement their fundraising strategy and help them achieve a successful scale-up. Alongside venture capital firm Persistent Energy, which provided interim CFO services in the past, advisors from the GET.invest Finance Catalyst continue to support this recruitment process.

“GET.invest's support was key to improve the company’s understanding of the context and requirements of calls for proposals. Thanks to this support, upOwa’s team is able to identify the most relevant opportunities for grant support and to better showcase appropriate elements to donors.”
Caroline Frontigny, CBDO at upOwa

The outcome

The financing raised with ElectriFI has allowed upOwa to boost the distribution of additional solar home systems in the country, connecting over 165,000 people to clean power. Access to reliable electricity not only stimulates wage-earning activities and employment, but enables better access to information, education, home security and a healthy environment. By creating training opportunities and jobs, upOwa wants to further amplify positive impacts on the local economy.

Together with advisors from the GET.invest Finance Catalyst, the company is now preparing a new equity raise, which will enable a further expansion of operations. In response to the global health crisis, upOwa also aims to pursue the development of new tailored offers and products, targeting for instance the empowerment of rural health centers and agri-businesses. The company’s goal is reaching one million people, creating 1,000 direct jobs and saving 100,000 tons of CO2 within the next three years – a success story that has only just begun.