The End of Start Up Summer

After researching start-ups for three months in India, I was keen to work on my own start up once I returned back to America. One might say, overly keen, since I ended up being involved with 5 start-ups over the course of the summer.

At first it was just Summer of Solutions, an intensive three month program that brought together young adults from across the country to work on creating sustainable solutions to some of the challenges in Oakland. While it was certainly a transformative experience and incredibly eye-opening to the atrocities occurring in my own backyard, we weren’t grounded enough in the community–in terms of both partners and participants–to really have a sustained impact.

Through my position as the leader of Summer of Solution’s Energy Track I became involved in two more programs: an energy efficiency program and Solar Moasic. The energy efficiency program came out of the idea that while there are many organizations that work on energy efficiency, there are very few that provide comprehensive energy audits (complete with a blower door test) to lower-income residents. One of our solutionaries, Kimberely, had experience in conducting energy audits so she attempted to teach us with the idea that we could start a business around it. I say “attempted” because even though she did a great job, conducting a full-scale energy audit requires a lot of expertise and practice! At the same time that I was working on the energy efficiency program, I was also working at Solar Mosaic, an innovative solar finance start-up  that connects people who want to invest in solar with community centers who can benefit from it. It’s best explained through this video. I loved my work there and have had the privilege to continue it as a “fellow” (read: wayy underpaid & overworked) at Solar Mosaic.

At the same time that I was getting more involved locally, I still had dreams to return to Niger and try to repay some of the extraordinary kindness I received while I was there. Some of you may remember back in April when I posted about an idea I had of how I wanted to go back to Niger and use Moringa Oleifera–an indigenous superfood–to empower Nigerien woman and combat malnutrition. Well, that idea prompted me to meet a former Peace Corps Volunteer named Brett who had started a bean-to-bar chocolate company in Madagascar called Madecasse. He and I made a deal that I would help him research chocolate competitors if he would advise me on how to start a company in Niger that produces nutritional Moringa bars. This exchange ended up involving a lot of standing in the chocolate section of Whole Foods but it also gave me the confidence I needed to recruit a few friends into turning my Niger idea into reality.

So now the summer is ending and I’ve begun to whittle down my ridiculous list of start-ups into two: Solar Mosaic (my day job) and Kuli Kuli (my passionate project to return to Niger).  My life lately has been a bit of a wild ride but I wouldn’t have missed it for all the “normal” 9-5 jobs in the world!