Forget solar power. Charles Blaschke, managing director of Dubai-based Taka Solutions, says educating consumers in energy efficiency could have 10 times the effect for half the cost.
Taka, a technology engineering company, has been working for three years with corporate clients such as Fairmont Hotels and Standard Chartered Bank, helping them make their buildings more energy-efficient for no upfront consulting fee, just a cut of the savings generated.
Now Taka wants to bring that education to the wider public and reduce the UAE’s carbon footprint. “Our initiative has the potential to reach millions of people and save billions of dollars, in turn greatly reducing our impact on the planet,” says American Mr Blaschke, 31, who has been in Dubai for eight years and co-founded Taka three years ago. “The beautiful thing is, it’s in everybody’s hands to make an individual impact.
“People today spend countless hours on their devices with applications that are not making a positive impact on the world. Imagine opening our new application and the time spent will contribute to saving 20 per cent of the world’s energy.”
Yet until Taka Solutions entered a global competition for start-ups that use business to create positive change, the founders had no idea that they were considered a social enterprise – a company that uses business principles to make large-scale improvements to human well-being or the environment. But what else is a company that could save billions of dollars and millions of kilowatts?
Taka recently became the Gulf winner in this year’s The Venture competition, and is up against 26 other competitors from around the world for a share of $1 million in funding. Each week for five weeks, voters on the website get to allocate $50,000 (online voting closes on June 12); the remaining $750,000 is awarded at the finals in New York on July 14.
Last year’s Gulf winner was Dumyé, a Dubai-based doll maker, which gives a doll to an underprivileged child for every product sold. While founder Sahar Wehbeh did not win the final, she used her $20,000 winnings to launch a product line.
Mr Blaschke, meanwhile, has just returned from a gruelling week-long accelerator programme for the finalists at Oxford University’s Skoll Centre – what he calls a “super MBA with a sharp focus on social entrepreneurship”.
“I didn’t think days could get longer than my usual 13 to 14-hour work days,” he says. “We had back-to-back seminars on everything from social investment to presentations to branding and PR.
“It’s really changed our outlook as a company. We have a social mission, and always have, but needed to step back to realise our impact. We want to help people around the world and potentially have an entryway into 26 other markets now, through the other finalists.”
Mr Blaschke considers two of his international competitors particularly strong – the Mexican Optic Group, which makes eyeglass frames from recycled plastic bottles and the Colombian Conceptos Plasticos, which turns plastic and rubber waste into permanent and temporary housing, shelters and classrooms.
But Taka’s idea is powerfully simple. It wants to use The Venture’s money to build an app that educates consumers on general and specific energy-saving tips. With air conditioning taking up 60 per cent of a UAE resident’s bill, even simple changes – like turning the dial up from 18°C to 23°C when not in the property, or using the washing machine or dishwasher at night to reduce heat output and overcompensation by the AC unit – can help.
“It will simplify what the numbers mean,” says Mr Blaschke about the app, which he hopes will be integrated into utility companies’ own apps. “Let’s say my bill says I use 300 kilowatts of electricity every month and costs Dh150. I don’t know what that means. The equivalent is a human doing 300 million push-ups that month to generate that much energy. We want to correlate numbers to things people understand.”
The app would provide full data on a consumer’s weekly energy usage, and gamify the data by showing it compared to their neighbours. Mr Blaschke is confident it will produce savings of between 3 and a massive 20 per cent.
David Freeborn, managing director of Pernod Ricard Gulf and the chair of the panel that chose Taka Solutions as the Gulf winner, says Taka’s “robust” business model can be diversified to “empower individuals to decrease their energy consumption”.
Medea Nocentini, founder of C3 (Consult & Coach for a Cause), helps social entrepreneurs find mentors and get a business idea off the ground and is working with Taka. She says the company’s approach can be “replicated and scaled here and internationally”.
For wannabe social entrepreneurs, Ms Nocentini and Mr Blaschke advise choosing a mission “both critical for the region and close to their heart”. Making money by doing good is possible, Ms Nocentini says, but there needs to be a “real and pressing issue to solve” and a lot of passion to overcome all the hurdles.
* To vote for a winner, log on to www.venture.com/global.en/finalists
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