By Dakota Lovins
Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2022 winners have been officially announced, you’ll want to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Since 2017, the competition has awarded $3.25 million USD to 78 start-ups from 25 countries.
We are excited for you to learn more about the 2022 winning teams addressing some of the biggest challenges we face through technology-based solutions.
In response to the growing urgency to reverse climate change, we introduced five new Climate Impact and Regeneration prizes totaling $300,000 USD. These prizes recognize solutions that can reduce or remove greenhouse gas (GHG) from the environment or regenerate depleted ecosystems.
Meet Unergy, a start-up based out of Colombia that won a $50,000 USD Climate Impact & Regeneration Runner-Up Prize. Their solution assists companies and organizations that are looking to convert to clean energy, but find it cost-prohibitive, by providing an easy platform for them to connect with investors who are eager to fund clean energy projects in developing markets.
I sat down with Eduardo Ospina, the CEO and co-founder of Unergy, and Natalia Isaza, Unergy’s Chief Content Officer. They shared how they are trying to democratize the fight against climate change, how Unergy thrived during the pandemic, and their passion for marrying technology and sustainability.
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve? Can you explain how the solution works?
Eduardo: I think the biggest work for humanity right now is the fight against climate change. Currently, the world needs more than $2.4 trillion of investment into clean energy to avoid a climate disaster. However, even with all the work that is being done around the world today, the current level of investment only amounts to about 30 percent of that number.
We have seen that, in Latin America, and in other emerging markets, there is a big necessity for liquidity to finance clean energy projects. For example, solar energy has a high return rate and good metrics to become a reality, but organizations have been unable to afford it. Frequently, companies that say they want to invest in clean energy find that investment costs are too high.
On the other hand, we see a lot of people like us at Unergy that have the liquidity and the desire to finance clean energy projects, but don’t have an easy way to do it. So, Unergy joins these two different groups to solve the problem by connecting organizations who want to invest in clean energy with people to put money into their projects. It allows us to democratize and decentralize energy. For example, with Unergy, someone located in the United States or elsewhere will be able to invest in clean energy projects for companies in Latin America or in other emerging markets.
Natalia: Through our technology, we allow any person to be a part of supporting energy transformation around the world. We allow the opportunity for people to spend money on clean energy not just in Colombia, but everywhere.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Eduardo: I started the company with my two partners, Nicolás and Paola. We started Unergy because we were trying for some years to sell solar energy to companies, but we ultimately realized that the biggest barrier—and the biggest necessity—for clean energy is financing. From there, we decided that rather than selling clean energy products, we would help finance them and help connect others who want to finance clean energy with companies that need the money.
We are a pandemic company. We were working on the idea about a year beforehand, but we officially started in March 2020 just when the pandemic began. That ended up being a very good thing. Before the pandemic, companies used to have more liquidity for projects and didn’t think a lot about different types of financial organization. Since the pandemic, companies have started to really think about how they can save and how they could be more sustainable. Unergy is the best fit for that because we are offering savings. We are offering sustainability. So, I think it was a very good moment for us to open.
Natalia: I joined Unergy later. I was hired to improve some processes in communication and marketing, and I just really believed in the idea. I connected with the mission and vision of the company, and I just fell in love with the idea that we could help provide clean energy to anybody.
What is innovative about the way you are solving the issue? What sets your solution apart?
Eduardo: I think that it’s relatively normal for those with lots of funding to want to invest in clean energy. What is unique about Unergy is that we dream about the democratization and decentralization of clean energy. For example, in Latin America, three big players are the owners of all of the energy in those countries. What is important to us is not just financing clean energy projects, but also allowing for retail investors and people from around the world to invest.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business?
Eduardo: We are expanding right now into Brazil, and into European countries that need more investment in clean energy. The more we expand, we will be able to achieve a bigger impact, so we will be using all of the money on international expansion and sharing our goal of decreasing the $2.4 trillion in investment needed to combat climate change.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Eduardo: I think you have to cross your personal motivations with the goal of the company. Personally, I love what I do. I love to be here, I love to travel, and I love to dedicate my life to solving this issue because I really do want to make a huge difference in the world. Since I was young, I’ve been passionate about inventing things, about sustainability, about energy and electricity. Then, when I was in University, I realized that it wasn’t just about inventing things; it was about inventing things with a purpose and inventing things with the ambition that it could impact the world in a very positive way. I think being an entrepreneur is very hard for a lot of people, but if you can enjoy the challenges you have to face to grow, and if you can enjoy the things you do, it is better.
Natalia: If you can mix knowledge of the continuous update of technology with the desire to solve social or environmental problems, you will be the best company that can impact the most people. I agree with Eduardo that you must connect your personal dreams with the vision and mission of the company. And if you want to be here and continue here and be motivated, you have to be ready to learn every day. I want to do something for the world and for people, and I love to connect sustainability with technology.
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