Having started with a Start-Up competition, my friend Steven and I today own a solar panel company in Chile. We are young entrepreneurs in a country we absolutely did not know before.
Two young Belgian entrepreneurs
A company of solar panel installations model in Chile
Working in the green industry was kind of a coincidence at the beginning, but we really wanted to do something special, and be a plus-value to our host country
When we both were 24, my friend Steven and I aspired to be entrepreneurs and to do something different. Our wish was to make good use of Belgium’s biggest strengths, and we thought that we could make a difference and become a plus-value for the Chilean economy. This is why we applied to Start-Up Chile, which is a start-up incubator open to both Chileans and non-Chileans. Our project: solar panel installations on the roof of Chilean companies, better known as the ESCO model. We started our project on September 2014 and got in Chile 5 months later.
We were the very first ones to implement the ESCO model in Chile. This particular model consists in investing in installations, placing them on a client’s roof, and selling the produced energy directly to the client at a lower price than the grid tariffs. While the normal sales model simply provides a product (the plant), our model generates energy (a service, thus not a product) right where it is being consumed. This so called “distributed generation” relocates energy companies right on the rooftops of the households. The total project portfolio at the end of 2018 will be about 8MW, while Chile is determined to reach 300 MW of distributed generation by 2025.
Moreover, as true pioneers in this business, we made the very first installations and taught companies how to implement solar panel projects themselves. So naturally, this job requires a lot of work. At the end of our working day, Steven and I sometimes have to keep on sitting with clients or employees, and keep on working. But the results we get and the dedication shown by the team gives us even more motivation to keep doing what we are doing. Our team of 20 young people is extremely committed to the renewable industry, believes in our work just as much as we do, and together, we have become very valuable to those who work with us.
Moreover, as true pioneers in 'distributed generation', we made the very first installations and taught companies how to implement solar panel projects themselves.
I have learned a lot with this project, especially in the first year where as an entrepreneur I had plenty kind of tasks, from sales to operations and finance. Being an entrepreneur in South America was also something else, something new. It was not easy, especially since you are not a local, and the cultural differences often show up. For example, family is usually brought up while discussing general and formal business with partners. Asking about the interlocutor’s family is essential in Chile yet very unusual for Europeans. Another crucial difference between Belgium and Chile was for instance that Chile had been going through a very difficult political situation up until 20 years ago. However, we believe this is not an issue if you want to do business. In fact, the people we work with, very often young people, are very proactive and hard workers with very good academic backgrounds, which is one of the main differences we have identified between younger and older generations of Chileans. Other differences are that young Chileans are more innovative and more concerned about environmental threats, resulting in younger people usually taking swift decisions on innovative solutions, such as a 25-year energy service contract in order to have a solar plant.
Today, I am the manager of my own company. Managing people is something completely new for me, something that comes with a whole new and different insight. It is definitely not an exact science either. Nevertheless, one thing I have learned from it, is that the people are the foundation of the company. There would be no company without the people.