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IntellSol Sustainable startup

Sustainability

Life as sustainable entrepreneurs: IntellSol’s journey

Published 3 March 2022 in Sustainability • 6 min read

Over the next few months, we’ll be following Intellsol’s journey as they work to validate their business model and raise funds to launch their proof-of-concept project (PoC) in Ghana under the Energy Transition Accelerator Model (ETAM).

In the wake of COP26 it has become clear that much more radical action is needed from business and society if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C degrees. To contribute to tackling this challenge, I founded IntellSol in 2021 with three fellow IMD EMBA classmates, and also brought on board Joshua Amponsem, a climate change youth leader from Ghana and founder of the Green Africa Youth Organization.

Our mission: to enable access to clean energy technologies in emerging markets while supporting corporations and governments in industrialized countries in achieving their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To fulfil our mission, we seek to radically scale the adoption of solar home systems by rethinking the economics and business model around how solar residential technology is deployed.

How does it work?

Our aim is to move away from traditional business models, which have been proven to work very well, but which also limit value co-creation and scalability, by setting different expectations and incentives. Under the Energy Transition Accelerator Model (ETAM), the user, the provider, and the payors of the clean technology solution are different. Simply by doing this, we remove one of the biggest roadblocks to the rollout of solar residential systems – the high, upfront capital investment.

In our business model, households – the users of the technology – get access to the solar equipment and the free electricity produced in exchange for providing all their available roof space. Households don’t pay for the full cost of the equipment nor the electricity they consume, but instead are charged a small contribution based on how much they can afford. IntellSol – the provider of the technology – develops and manages the projects and finances the acquisition costs of the solar home systems.

While traditional business models price the electricity produced by solar home systems, ETAM prices the benefits and SDG attributes of solar residential projects by allocating value not only to the amount of clean energy produced and the CO2 emissions avoided, but also to the positive social and economic impact generated. This can include improving the security and health of households and businesses run by women, creating decent jobs and economic growth, or increasing children’s access to information and education – all of which are dependent on a stable electricity supply.

On the digital side, IntellSol issues blockchain-based certificates to sell onto corporations and governments in industrialized countries committed to climate action – the payors of the technology, which benefit from the long-term sourcing of high-quality ETAM certificates with measurable impact on SDGs, all in a unique ecosystem business model where value is truly co-created.  

IntellSol projectsIntellSol is launching a proof-of-concept project (PoC) in Ghana under the Energy Transition Accelerator Model.

Where are we in the process?

We secured a grant from the Swiss Innovation Agency (Innosuisse) and are now in the process of interviewing 30 heads of sustainability of Swiss companies to gather customer insights. These will help us validate, enhance and adjust our value proposition as necessary. We have applied to the Trust Valley program to develop our minimum viable product for ETAM certificates based on blockchain technology and have also applied to the publicly funded REPIC platform, which offers seed grants to Swiss companies to test a technology or its business model in developing countries.

What are the pilot projects?

Our co-founder Joshua Amponsem has volunteered the roof of the Green Africa Youth Organization in Accra to create a “show home” for a mini pilot. The objective is to connect a 15Kw solar home system with Ethereum’s blockchain technology. This will ultimately generate the ETAM certificates in the way of NFTs (non fungible tokens) and provide information on the total amount of CO2 emissions avoided, total jobs created, total impact on GDP growth, among other sustainable development goals. We will base the price of these high quality ETAM certificates on value-based pricing, and then market them to Swiss companies.

We will use our findings from the mini pilot and customer interviews to engage in a long-term direct procurement project with a Swiss company; this will raise the required infrastructure funding to push ahead with our pilot project in in Ashalaja, northern Accra. We expect to power 3,000 households in Ashalaja with this pilot project, generate more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, produce 35m kWh of clean energy and avoid at least 15,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Setting up IntellSol and developing its business model have been rewarding, but it has been challenging. Here are our main takeaways from what we’ve learned so far by founding and building a sustainable startup:

Enforce clear rules and structures so everyone is clear on their role

IntellSol started as a term assignment at IMD and grew into a business. Our founding team is very diverse, with four different nationalities and experience across the energy, healthcare, finance, automotive, and mining industries. But this is not without its challenges – it means we can have many different, and sometimes conflicting, points of view. Even as a small startup, it has become evident that having clear boundaries, structures, and processes in place from the beginning is important. That way you can avoid misunderstandings around people’s roles and responsibilities.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your product once you’ve started

We founded the company in August 2021 and a month later learned about blockchain technology, which provides and allows for independent verification and full transparency by all the members of the distributed ledger. We realized that by integrating the technology we could increase trust and security by proving a digital certificate that is traceable and unique, thus avoiding the risk of double counting. The technology generates the certificates automatically, after carrying out independent validation, rather than producing them manually. This is more efficient and enables the ETAM certificate to be produced literally as the sun shines.

Peg your business model to a megatrend to build momentum

COP26 generated a lot of interest around climate change and energy poverty in Africa. By addressing these trends and tapping into the UN’s SDGs with our business model, we are increasing our chances of riding the momentum and attracting impact investors to help us contribute to tackling the climate change challenge.

Authors

David Ramirez

Co-founder IntellSol

A climate change business leader with over two decades of experience in finance, business development and entrepreneurship in the energy industry, he has also worked with private and publicly traded companies in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Japan with a special focus on renewables.

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