OPEN: Questions to Natacha Emilien, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer
Earlier this year, CSI Energy Group launched OPEN, an initiative to deploy investment into women-led businesses in the energy sector across Africa, filling a gap in the entrepreneurial and financial ecosystem. Natacha Emilien, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer, gives us the latest updates on the investment initiative.
1. As Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer of CSI Energy Group, can you explain how OPEN is linked to the organization’s mission to enable success of women entrepreneurs across Africa?
Earlier this year, CSI Energy Group launched OPEN, an initiative to deploy investment into women-led businesses in the energy sector across Africa, filling a gap in the entrepreneurial and financial ecosystem. This initiative aligns with our vision of creating a sustainable positive impact within the African energy industry, supporting women led-businesses to grow and have a lasting impact on the economy and their communities.
Our motivation for launching OPEN is clear. Studies show that private companies led by women tend to be better managed, more impact-driven and deliver better financial results. Yet, despite Africa having the highest proportion of women entrepreneurs, access to finance remains a major challenge for female founders. Shockingly, about only 7% of start-ups investments in 2022 went to women-led businesses. This capital gap is a problem that we wanted to address with OPEN. We believe that women are best placed to solve energy-related problems, and by unleashing their potential across the continent, they can make a significant impact in the energy sector.
OPEN is the first initiative of many within CSI Energy Investment (the investment cluster of CSI Energy Group) which is an investment platform that will build a collaborative ecosystem of entrepreneurs and investors on the African continent. Our goal is to bring together the best ideas, capabilities, and technologies to drive the African energy sector's transition towards a more sustainable future.
2. How did the call to action for OPEN applications go? Did you receive a large number of applications?
The call for OPEN applications, which closed on 19th February of this year, was a tremendous success. We received an overwhelming response, both in terms of the number and quality of applications we received.
In total, we received over 50 applications from 13 African countries. These applications came from a diverse range of companies providing innovative green energy, productive use of solar or energy transition solutions. Some of the solutions included LPG and electric domestic fireplaces, mini-grids and solar systems, natural gas vehicle conversion, green food storage facilities, and solar powered agricultural solutions.
This high number and quality of applications received is a testament to the incredible great skills and tenacity of African women in the energy sector. We are committed to continuing our support for women led-businesses across the continent and are excited about the future impact these businesses will have in addressing Africa's biggest energy-related challenges.
3.Can you explain the selection process? What criteria did you use to select the final group of entrepreneurs to receive support and funding?
From the outset, we established a rigorous and transparent selection process for the OPEN initiative. We started by thoroughly reviewing and shortlisting applications based on clear criteria such as yearly revenues, number of full-time employees, gender diversity, scalability of service or product, and more. We made sure to disclose these criteria in our initial call for applications to promote transparency and fairness.
Next, we scheduled and conducted interviews with all the shortlisted businesses. Given the high quality and quantity of applications, this process took some time, but it allowed us to get to know each applicants' founders, hear their business pitch, understand their vision and ambitions, and look at factors such as the management team, financials, market size, competition, and growth prospects. We also assessed the potential value that CSI Energy Group could bring to the founders' business through strategic and operational support tailored to their specific needs.
After the interview rounds, we further refined the candidate list and requested additional information from the selected businesses to complete our initial assessment.
4. What are the next steps following the selection process?
Once we have narrowed down the selection of candidates, the next step will consist in preparing investment memorandums, which will be presented to our Investment Committee. This sub-committee of our Board is primarily composed of independent members, who will review and approve the investment proposals.
Upon approval from our Investment Committee, we will proceed with the formal due diligence and independent valuation process. Successful completion of these steps will result in the negotiation of the final terms of the investment, including tailor-made post-investment support, and to the finalization of the equity investment.
We are expecting the due diligence, valuation, and investment finalization process to take a maximum of 3 months.
5. What message would you like to send to the women entrepreneurs who applied to OPEN, but were not selected this time around?
To the incredible women who applied to OPEN but were not selected this time around, we want to express our gratitude for your interest and effort in applying. We understand the dedication and hard work required to develop a business, and we recognize the potential of each application we received.
Although we were not able to select every applicant, we want to encourage you to continue pursuing your business goals. We believe in the resilience and determination of women entrepreneurs in Africa and recognize the challenges you may face in accessing financial resources.
We encourage you to continue learning and building networks, and never lose sight of your passion for your business. CSI Energy Group’s commitment to supporting female entrepreneurship in the African energy sector extends beyond OPEN.
Candidates can continue to engage with us:
- Some of the applicants may not be currently prepared for investment, but we would still like to maintain contact and explore ways to help them grow their businesses.
- Other candidates may be interested in joining our ecosystem of business partners, contractors and suppliers.
For any inquiries or clarifications, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.