WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS BEHIND LAUNCHING SOLAR BALKON? WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR?
During the COVID-19 lockdown, my partner and I felt that we wanted to do more for the planet. We wanted to directly contribute to mitigating the climate crisis, putting our entrepreneurial spirit and energy to bring about a better future. We have two young children, four-year-old Theo and two-year-old Lélia. We want to participate in the global goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C, creating a brighter world for them and their children.
We founded our first social enterprise, Direct Coffee, in 2016. Our motivation then was to help smallholder coffee growers in Ethiopia get access to the broader market. Our goal with Solar Balkon is driven by the urgency of the climate crisis. The most effective way to fight the climate crisis is usually to reduce consumption: fewer flights, less meat and cheese, less stuff in general. We found that one of the few really helpful things to purchase are solar panels, which can quickly help reduce a dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear power. So, we designed the product, validated it, and started selling.
WHAT LEVEL OF MEASURABLE CLIMATE IMPACT—ECONOMICALLY AND ENVIRONMENTALLY—DO YOU BELIEVE IS ACHIEVABLE IN THE NEXT DECADE THROUGH INITIATIVES LIKE SOLAR BALKON?
There is no question that we need to massively grow our renewable energy capacities. For instance, the Swiss government’s Energy Strategy 2050 intends to triple the impact of the country’s nonhydro renewable capacity by 2035 to replace nuclear- and fossil-based energy sources. The strategy explicitly mentions solar power as one key pillar of the platform. However, we are nowhere near this mark, as solar power today makes up less than 0.8% of Switzerland’s energy consumption. We need to act now.
While a lot has been done throughout Europe to help homeowners install photovoltaic systems, almost nothing has been done for people living in rented apartments. We can change that. We make it possible for everyone to contribute to the green energy transition. All that is needed is a balcony and an outdoor electricity socket. Customers receive their complete solar kit by mail, can install it in five minutes by themselves, and plug it in to instantly start powering some of their energy needs through the sun. All devices in the home will first use energy from the solar panels before pulling it from the grid. In the long run, our product costs consumers nothing: the initial investment, equal to approximately $1100, will be recovered within a couple of years via reduced electricity bills.
WHAT HAS YOUR TRANSITION FROM BCG BEEN LIKE? WHAT ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT IN THESE FIRST FEW YEARS OF YOUR NEW VENTURE?
You have huge leverage working at BCG because the decisions that you make can impact thousands, or even millions, of people. While there, I helped shape the energy strategy for a whole country and presented directly to ministers. But once the strategy had been validated, I wasn't part of the implementation and did not see the results on the ground. As an entrepreneur, my scale is smaller, but I directly see the impact of my work. Each year when I go to Ethiopia for Direct Coffee, I see the progress and the impact of our work within producer communities. Almost every time that new customers buy and install our solar kits, they send us some pictures and very kind feedback. It's really exciting to do things that would not happen if you didn’t do them—and to see the impact you can make.
HOW HAS YOUR BCG EXPERIENCE BENEFITTED YOUR CAREER? ARE THERE ANY KEY EXPERIENCES, LESSONS LEARNED, OR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE THAT YOU STILL CARRY WITH YOU?
At BCG, I learned how to dive into new topics very quickly, find the relevant knowledge, and learn from experts. This helped me tremendously in overcoming initial fears that occur when starting a new social business. I also learned at BCG to push until things move in the way and at the pace you want. I know from my experience that you can make a real difference when you focus on things that are important to you. BCG gave me this confidence.
CLIMATE AND SUSTAINABILITY ARE NOW CRITICAL GLOBAL TOPICS. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE LOOKING TO CREATE IMPACT?
Do it. Start today. Think big and start small. The world needs your energy and your ideas. Start with the why, know your purpose, and let it lead to action. “Brain beats capital,” as the German economist Günter Faltin put it. Just imagine the amazing place that the world would be if many more people followed their passions and started small enterprises to fix a social or environmental issue that is important to them.