Environmentally minded students start company in Kenya

A group of LiU students with a strong interest in green issues has started a company focussed on electric safari vehicles. Now they’re pausing their studies and moving to Kenya.

The students are standing in front of an electric safari vehicle

“We’re young in a time when there’s no time to wait. The climate is changing. Someone has to do something. We’re someone.”

Filip Lövström Photo credit: Eva BergstedtFilip Lövström is studying Energy – Environment – Management (EMM), a master’s programme in engineering at LiU. In a few hours he will leave Linköping for Kenya, where he will live for an indeterminate future. In Nairobi two apartments have been rented, where Filip and eight other people from various countries will live and work for the company, which was formed in 2017. Filip is one of the five founders, and now it’s time to move forward with the venture.

Three of the founders are EMM students, and the other two are from Stockholm University and Lund University. The young men all share an interest in environmental issues, and several of them have experience from East Africa, having either travelled, worked or grown up there.

“We’re not trying to ‘save the world’. People’s view of many parts of Africa is deep-rooted; we don’t want to uphold the idea that the locals have to be saved. We’re building up a serious company, and the safari parks are very interested in what we’re doing. The region in general has a huge growth potential that rarely gets any attention”, says Filip Lövström.

The background to the niche market that the company is focussing on is that the East African safari lodges have already come a long way in their environmental efforts. For instance they have solar cells for electricity, waste management and climate-smart water cycles. But when it comes to safari vehicles, there are problems: they run on diesel.

“Our vision is that by 2030 there will be a significant share of electric vehicles in East Africa, and we’re starting with the safari vehicles.”

An electric safari vehicle on the savannahThere are several reasons for this. The vehicles drive short distances, and they always return to the same place where they are charged with electricity from solar cells. The customers can reduce their costs for fuel and service. Plus, the tourists get a more pleasant experience, as the vehicles are quiet.

“The safari parks see the investment in electric vehicles as a natural step, and we already have several customers booked.”

The company has 20 employees. Most are Kenyans but some are from Sweden, Morocco, Norway, India and Zimbabwe.

“We remove the diesel engines and all the parts that are related to internal combustion drive. Then we install pre-assembled boxes that contain all the components for electric drive.”

During the summer, five LiU students will be in Nairobi. In addition to the three founders, who have paused their studies and are staying for an open-ended period, two students will be involved during the start of production, before heading home.

Other LiU students have also been involved. One project group at EMM has studied the company’s environmental work, how electric vehicles are charged by solar panels, and how an actor can market itself in East Africa. Another group, with students from the engineering programme Media Technology, has investigated user interfaces and smart connection solutions for the electric vehicles.

The programme at LiU, where the EMM students learn about organisation and business development, is highly relevant for the work they are now doing on the ground in Nairobi.

“We’re putting into practice a lot of the theory we’ve studied. Naturally we’ll take what we learned in the programme and add further complexity.”

Girafs in safaripark Photo credit: PrivatIn the long term, the five founders plan to expand to safari parks in other East African countries.

“Together we’re a strong team. Now we just have to implement what we’ve planned. We want to get production up and running, so we can deliver the first orders. Starting a business in this region isn’t as tricky as many people think.”

In a few hours it will be three a.m., when Filip Lövström has to get the bus to the airport near Stockholm. He has a bit more to pack – but his skateboard won’t be coming with him.

“The Nairobi traffic is too intense.”

 

The company is called Opibus. www.opibus.se

The five founders are Filip Lövström, LiU, Filip Gardler, LiU, Mikael Gånge, LiU, Rawlings Nechevava, Lund University

Translation: Martin Mirko

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