Entrepreneurship in times of corona: Trautbuck Energy

Dealing creatively with challenges is second nature to entrepreneurs. But how do African entrepreneurs deal with a global crisis such as the corona epidemic? We asked Trautbuck Energy, a renewable energy start-up based in Kampala.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing the stories of the nine start-ups from Rwanda and Uganda that recently participated in our SusTech4Africa programme. This week, we had the opportunity to catch up with Paul Vicent, Director of Trautbuck Energy, a renewable energy start-up based in Kampala, Uganda.

Clean and safe cooking solution

Founded in 2015 as a community support programme focused on the design and placement of biogas installations, Trautbuck Energy has evolved into a registered social business offering biogas and briquettes products. For those who are not familiar with briquettes, they’re a clean cooking solution. According to the World Health Organisation, it was reported that up to 10,000 persons die a day from smoke inhalation from fires that burn solid fuels like wood, dung, coal and charcoal. To simply put it, the work of Trautbuck Energy is literally improving livelihoods of Ugandans and this is why we’ve supported them both financially through our Acceleration Fund and business coaching services.

Professionalization through OVO

Through our partnership, Trautbuck Energy has been able to acquire the equipment to catalyse their briquette business and professionalise their operations. As Paul noted during our conversation that the company was able to "establish formal offices and gained the ability to bid for prefabrication of briquette machinery and biogas construction works without  the contractors."

In short, the investment and coaching helped elevate the company to new heights and cut costs removing the ‘middle men’ in the process. But despite the positivity of our conversation, not everything was promising, in particular with COVID-19 spreading within Uganda. As Paul shared with us: "our challenge has been the inability to execute work due to a lockdown of movements by the {Ugandan} government and secondly it’s a low business season due to the fact that most institutions and NGOs have halted work due to the corona quarantine that later turned out to be a total lockdown."

Rethink the marketing strategy

From Belgium to Uganda, the world has hit pause on business, drastically affecting start-ups which globally are the most fragile businesses and even more so when there are no African government backed ‘safety nets’ in terms of social and financial support. However, the confidence of Trautbuck’s leadership team is obvious by talking with Paul as he noted: "this corona situation has given Trautbuck an opportunity to do research in technology development that could improve the desire for our technologies by clients. Also, this period has enabled {Trautbuck} to rethink its marketing strategy …. {and} enable us to sensitize communities on the use and benefits of briquettes and biogas."

Even while being in the middle of a lockdown, optimism remained for the future growth as they invest heavily in the marketing and communications. Additionally, Paul expected to hire more staff as work picks up after the lockdown. In times like today, when we’re housebound, the inspiration and determination of our entrepreneurs is admirable and we will continue to support the likes of Paul and others in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Text: Andrew Herweg - Final editing: com&co