Kenyan solar start-up bags GES prize for innovation

Workers fit a house with solar tiles. Strauss Energy beat stiff rivalry to bag Sh200,000 in the US. PHOTO | FILE
Workers fit a house with solar tiles. Strauss Energy beat stiff rivalry to bag Sh200,000 in the US. PHOTO | FILE 

A Kenyan enterprise beat 29 others to bag Sh203,000 at the recently concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in the US.

The start-up Strauss Energy won the people’s choice category during the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (Gist) Tech-I competition held on the sidelines of the GES at Stanford University, California.

The firm makes, sells and installs two-in-one roofing tiles infused with solar cells to real estate developers.

“We were a large group of start-ups given three minutes each to convince a panel of investors and a room of audience that your business is the next big thing. We did not have the aid of a slide presentation,” Ms Charity Wanjiku co-founder of the business, told the Business Daily.

Gist is organised by the US Department of State in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).


It lists 15 finalists whose innovations are at the idea stage and a similar number which have already established start-ups and stand a chance to win capital seed.

Ms Wanjiku represented her company alongside 10 Kenyans who were among over 700 entrepreneurs and over 300 investors who attended the summit.

“The win was a reassurance that people out there believe in what we were doing. “The need for reliable electricity cannot be overemphasised,” she said.

“In Kenya, we have managed to only generate 2,300 megawatts (MW) of power in the last 53 years. We have a target of 15,000 MW before 2030. Unless we introduce a catalyst, we cannot achieve that target within a third of the period.”

The company run by Ms Wanjiku, her brother Tony Nyagah and a third partner was born out a school project.

Last year Strauss Energy took part in the first pitch competition— the 1776 challenge held at the iHub— where it also emerged the only African start-up winner under the people’s choice category.

During the competition, a global tournament that looks for the most promising, world-changing startups, Charity’s start-up won both locally and internationally.

Pitch competitions are seminars created for entrepreneurs with new business ideas but who are in need of seed capital.

Ms Wanjiku’s advice to an entrepreneur who wants to try a hand at any pitch competition is: “Always have the problem you are trying to solve, the solution you are offering, the market size and your growth strategy at your fingertips because that is what investors are looking for.”

Strauss Energy, had been listed among finalists for their innovative building integrated photo-voltaic roofing tile technology. The company had also been shortlisted for GES Spark the Fire competition but did not clinch top position.