GAIA Impact Fund, a Francophone-focused venture fund specializing in clean energy, today announced a strategic investment in Oolu, a Senegal-based Y Combinator start-up and one of the fastest-growing solar companies in West Africa. The investment has been announced as part of a Series B fundraising round that will close early next year.
Gaia’s investment will further strengthen Oolu’s market-leading position in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali. The funding will enable Oolu to build on its strong business infrastructure through investment in its IT systems and software capabilities, and provide additional working capital to support growing business needs. The investment will also allow Oolu to accelerate its regional growth plans, reaching further untapped markets across West Africa.
Gaia focuses on renewable energy investments, and has a strong track record in the solar energy sector. The Fund has supported several start-ups, SMEs and infrastructure projects since it was established in 2016, and has previously invested in solar companies in Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Gaia balances ROI with social and environmental impact, holding all prospective investments to its rigorous selection criteria.
Oolu was launched in Senegal in 2015, and has sold more than 34,000 solar home systems (SHS) in less than three years to rural customers across Senegal, Mali, and Burkina Faso. As one of the fastest-growing SHS distributors in West Africa, Oolu is consistently able to adapt its customer offering to local market dynamics. With a Dakar-based management team and more than 130 full-time employees, Oolu’s team is one of the most experienced in West African solar.
The off-grid solar industry is one of the fastest-growing in Africa. The sector has seen more than US$360 million in investment across the continent in the past five years and continues to grow rapidly due to a drop in component and storage prices. Given the high barriers to entry in this sector, Oolu’s established position means it is well-placed to capitalise on this continued growth in the wider market.
Last October, Oolu closed its Series A fundraising, which was led by Persistent Energy Capital (PEC). PEC and Gaia are committed to supporting the company both in further fundraising rounds and in driving strategic initiatives.
Guilhem Dupuy, Investment Manager at GAIA Impact Fund, commented: “We have followed Oolu for some time, and are delighted to announce an investment into one of the most promising companies of the solar homes sector in West Africa. Oolu’s impressive growth has been coupled with lean operations and best-in-class customer support, giving us great confidence that Oolu will successfully scale across the region.”
“Our two companies are strategically and philosophically aligned. Oolu’s commitment to offering high-quality, affordable solar products to ultra-low-income households is vital in rural areas that are not reached by public services or formal grid infrastructure. Oolu’s work ensures these communities are no longer left behind, and we expect our investment to play an important role in growing the company’s regional presence, so that ever more underserved customers can benefit from life-enhancing solutions.”
Dan Rosa, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oolu, commented: “We’re thrilled to have Gaia join us as an investment partner, adding to the strong investor base we have already accrued. We’ve always been selective in the partnerships we form. Given Gaia’s primary focus on tackling energy poverty, its track record in the solar energy sector, and its established presence in French-speaking West Africa, we see this partnership as a naturalfit.”
Nilmi Senaratna, Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer of Oolu, commented: “Ensuring a positive social and environmental impact is paramount to both organizations. We know that Gaia’s support will accelerate our efforts to improve the lives of rural customers across West Africa in the months and years ahead. We look forward to collaborating with Gaia and furthering our vision of becoming the leading energy and financial services provider to millions of people in the developing world.”
Oolu was founded in 2015 by Nilmi Senaratna and Dan Rosa, and incubated in Y Combinator. The company’s mission is to provide off-grid households with high quality products at an affordable price. For a low monthly fee, paid through mobile money, Oolu installs a pay-as-you-go solar kit that can power various in-home devices such as lights, phone chargers, radios, fans and televisions, and performs any necessary maintenance, including free battery replacements and system upgrades. The offer appeals to off-grid clients who often struggle with unreliable and dangerous lighting sources, such as flashlights, candles and kerosene, and are forced to walk long distances to charge their phones.#
The company has ambitious product development and geographic expansion plans and remains focused on becoming the leading energy and financial services provider to rural households in West Africa and beyond.
About GAIA Impact Fund
GAIA Impact Fund is a French impact fund initiated by a team of seasoned entrepreneurs and philanthropists from the renewable energy & impact finance sectors with the aim of kickstarting innovative energy access ventures where energy is needed the most: among off-grid populations in emerging countries. Gaia finances and supports the growth of start-ups and SMEs which have a positive social, environmental and economic impact on their territory. As an active investor, Gaia establishes long-term, trust-based relations with its partners to fuel their sustainable growth through tailor-made strategic, technical and financial support.