In a previous post, we intimated that innovation is more than just the development of software or apps. Information Technology is a powerful driver of innovation in so far as it is no more than a tool for innovation, as ultimately, not every problem can be solved by an app. Innovation is defined as a new idea, process, product or business model that can also have an impact, meanwhile an invention is simply a novelty which may or may not have an impact.
Innovation in entrepreneurship is a manifestation of creative strategic and tactical thought, which is most certainly not a domain exclusive to Computer Science gurus.
What is Disruptive Innovation?
The hallmark of true innovation in entrepreneurship isn’t the cosmetic veneer that is the fleeting novelty of a product, service or business that has been created. Truly disruptive innovation is measured by the fundamental potential for impact that an innovation has, in the lives of people or in the ways that businesses operate, for years on end. Uber, is evidently an outstanding example of such innovation in entrepreneurship, and interestingly, at the FT Innovate conference in London, Michael Mandel, the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington DC, suggested that “Uber’s real innovation has been in working with governments around the world”, which has enabled its prolific international expansion.
“Truly disruptive innovation is measured by the fundamental potential for impact that an innovation has”
References to a peanut paste created from the crushing of roasted peanuts can be traced as far back as the ancient Incas and Aztecs, however a story is often told about a certain inventor, George Washington Carver,
the botanist who stripped the peanut and came up with over 300 uses of the legume, including chili sauce, shampoo, shaving cream and glue. Basically from one product came a multitude of products that have touched several aspects of life.
Today, America’s population consumes 318 million kg of peanut butter a year. Carver also happened to be a close friend of the great industrialist Henry Ford, a name that has become synonymous with disruptive innovation. With the introduction of affordable cars, Ford transformed the automobile industry and lives globally.
It is said that since 2011 alone, at the point of his death, Steve Jobs, the entrepreneur whose innovations most significantly disrupted the music industry, the telecoms industry, and the technology industry at large, had more than 212 different Apple patents in the United States to his name! Since his death in 2011, Jobs won 141 more patents!
“The technology industry is undoubtedly firmly at the forefront of innovation, and its value creation strategy has shifted overtime”
The technology industry is undoubtedly firmly at the forefront of innovation, and its value creation strategy has shifted overtime, from an initial focus on hardware in 1980s, to software in the 2000s, and the past decade has ushered an even newer age, one in which software is increasingly, no longer considered a significant innovation in itself, unless an app has the capacity to create value and impact.
As we continue to progress into a world in which every other person will be able to write code, the current abundance of software or apps that are either completely free to use or that use a ‘freemium’ revenue model, can only increase, as demonstrated by rise of the likes of Facebook (no pun intended) and Dropbox.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, ‘IT doesn’t matter’ Nicholas Carr suggested that “What makes a resource truly strategic –what gives it the capacity to be the basis for a sustained competitive advantage – is not ubiquity but scarcity. You only gain an edge over rivals by having or doing something that they can’t have or do”. Along this vein of thinking, one could argue that by providing all businesses across an industry, a single standardized way of doing things (e.g. testing candidates, training employees or a revenue generating activity/process etc.) developers of software platforms and apps, have the ultimate effect of diminishing differentiation and stifling innovation in their customers’ businesses.
Right Here in Uganda
But we need not look further than our own backyard here in Uganda, to find an innovative startup. Mandulis Energy is poised to revolutionize life in rural farming communities across Africa. I dare say that the innovation my friends and I witnessed in Nwoya, Northern Uganda is in the same league of impact as that of Steve Jobs. On 16th of July 2016, we made a journey to Northern Uganda, ostensibly to see the social enterprise, REPARLE, which Mandulis Energy, Dream Shuttle and French NGO, ACTED are jointly orchestrating. The small contingent was made up of Bryson Imogen of ACTED, Peter “Ben Hur” Nyeko of Mandulis Energy, Bryan Ngonzi and Daisy Asaba of Gone Rogue, joined by an amateur camera crew.
REPARLE– The Mission and Vision
REPARLE (Renewable Energy Powering Rural Livelihood Enhancement) is an innovative idea that delivers a ‘triple bottom line’ –of economic, social and environmental returns, and has the potential change the entire world’s approach to rural economic development. At COP21, Emilie Poisson, the ACTED Director for Africa, referred to the venture, as an exemplar model of “how governments, private sector and NGOs, can join forces and work effectively to deliver climate resilience and poverty alleviation”. Now, we are talking of something of this magnitude happening in Rural Uganda!!
Launched in Northern Uganda, where the pilot project is operational, the social enterprise is currently developing an 8MW (500kW x 16 sites) prototype for the PDCI program supported by GIZ, which will consume biomass bought from 15,000 farmers in 3 districts. REPARLE has ambitions to further scale its software-enabled renewable energy microgrids and agricultural value addition services, throughout off-grid areas of rural Uganda, and in other countries across the emerging markets, with similar fundamentals.
[blockquote author=”Peter Nyeko, Co-Founder Mandulis Energy”]
“We go wherever rural communities lack access to electricity. As long as there are farmers to provide a sustainable and renewable source of biomass, which in our case is simply agricultural waste”
Small holder farmers globally supply 70% of the world’s food, so the potential to use agricultural waste for energy is immense. The agricultural waste in Northern Uganda is mainly from rice, cotton, maize and groundnuts, meanwhile in Western Uganda, agricultural waste is typically from Coffee. A study by the Ministry of Energy, found that the agricultural waste that is already aggregated at agro-processing centers across Uganda can power 1650MW –nearly double the country’s current power generation capacity.
Did You Know?
That this startup, from one idea, has a potential of impacting more than 10 spheres? In each sphere that is being impacted, jobs are being created, lives are being made batter and safer and processes are being automated. Now, we are talking of something of this magnitude happening in Rural Uganda!!
Just Like George Washington Carver, or Steve Jobs
But here is the game changer! Once this startup has fully scaled in Northern Uganda, the idea would be to move to other regions of the country, as long as there is biomass!! So in Northern Uganda, the Agricultural waste we are talking about is mainly from rice, cotton, maize and groundnuts. Moving to to Western Uganda, the Agricultural waste would be Coffee.
So get this: As long as Uganda is the pearl of Africa, as long as we have agriculture then this startup has potential for impacting all these sectors in Uganda.
“We use biomass to deliver an integrated solution to the perennial global challenges: energy security, food security, climate resilience and poverty alleviation” said Elizabeth Nyeko, Co-Founder of Mandulis Energy. Here are 10 Facts about the potential impact of this startup:
- Electricity: Clean, affordable and productive electricity to power the homes, farms, businesses, hospitals, schools and rural industries (such as agro-processing, mining and telecoms towers).
- Agricultural Processing: Farmers reap the benefits from processing their crops into higher value products, and electricity from agricultural waste.
- Tarmac: One byproduct of biomass processing is a ‘tar’ that can be used for tarmac to make roads.
- Animal Feed: Another byproduct of biomass processing is raw materials for animal feed.
- Mining: Uganda’s largely nascent mining industry is an apt example of the significant potential for impact of the cost-effective, clean and productive energy produced by Mandulis.
- Savings: Electrification and agro-processing projects targeted at rural communities, enables farming households to save on travel expenses, and time. Agro-processing facilities are typically very far away for most farmers.
- Education: Children in rural communities get better lighting for studies at home and in schools. Now, they would not just study to get a job, but with the understanding of creating an impact in society.
- Environment: Many rural homes use firewood for cooking and paraffin for lighting. Smoke released when burning firewood, charcoal and paraffin, contains gaseous and particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory diseases including cancers and also adversely affect the climate. A byproduct of biomass power generation, Biochar, which can be used to make Briquettes, a smoke-free, safer replacement for charcoal and firewood that burns for longer.
- Job Creation: Who needs to travel to the city for a job when all the most exciting opportunities are in rural areas?
- Sustainability: An inclusive model for rural economic development that benefits the entire community and creates value across the agricultural value chain, for: farmers, agro-processors, traders, wholesalers, retailers, consumers and ultimately the tax collector.
Now how about that for innovation? How about that for impact?
Peter Nyeko, Co-founder and CEO of Mandulis Energy, and Imogen Bryson, Program Manager at ACTED, were previously interviewed on IDEAtv. You can catch the whole interview here.