October 14, 2021 | Alumni
How does it feel to be an Earthshot Prize finalist?
An interview with alumnus Olugbenga Olubanjo, CEO of Reeddi Inc
By Phill Snel
Olugbenga Olubanjo (MASc 2019), Founder and CEO of Reeddi Inc with a Reeddi Energy Capusule. (Photo: Ian Willms / Panos Pictures)
Reeddi Inc., headed by alumnus Olugbenga Olubanjo (MASc 2019), was named one of 15 finalists of the inaugural Earthshot Prize on September 17.
The announcement, made by Prince William via video, acknowledges the company as one of only three finalists in the “Fix Our Climate” category. Overall, five winners will be awarded The Earthshot Prize and with it a £1-million prize to be announced during an awards ceremony Sunday, October 17, 2021 from London’s Alexandra Palace.
According to the online announcement, each finalist was thoroughly vetted for the prestigious prize: “Each of the Finalist’s solutions excelled in the rigorous screening process and were assessed on their potential to create game-changing impact around the world, their ability to help us reach our Earthshot goals while also positively impacting people, communities and the natural world.“
“The Earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet, or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve. People can achieve great things. The next ten years present us with one of our greatest tests – a decade of action to repair the Earth.”
Olubanjo’s clean-tech startup created something unique to assist those in areas of the world with vulnerable and unreliable energy infrastructure. Reeddi Capsules are portable and rechargeable batteries powered by solar charging stations. Its solar-powered device, a lithium battery, can be rented for $0.50 a day, allowing affordable and dependable energy for those otherwise unable to obtain the service.
According to the company, over 600 households and businesses receive clean electricity via its product monthly. It has a goal of serving 12,000 new households and businesses monthly by the end of 2021.
In advance of the live announcement U of T Engineering’s Phill Snel asked Olubanjo a few questions.
How did you hear of the decision and what was your immediate reaction?
We were very excited about the nomination. It’s a reward for years of hard work that our team here at Reeddi has put into unlocking a model that seems impossible in a challenging business environment.
We are very happy to see how far we have come as company in order to be recognized for such a prestigious award. We’re even more pumped to leverage the support from the award to scale our innovation and accelerate it’s impact in more energy-poor communities and regions.
How have perceptions of your company changed as you’ve gone from concept to prototype to a field-deployed product?
The progress has brought good credibility for the company. People, who had originally questioned our model, are starting to see something there. We have also learned quite a lot, operationally speaking, about what to do, and not do, as far as operation and innovation is concerned.
It’s a challenging journey with a lot of highs and low, but we are excited about being able to walk through the early prototype period to where we are today. We have built a solid reputation now and people take us more seriously because of some of the visible results of our innovation and progress. We are still just starting to establish ourselves and have a long way to go.
How have you managed the transition from inventor to manager?
Yeah – It’s been a lot of learning. I guess that is one of the things I love most about Innovation and Technology. As the company scales, the founders and founding team have to increase their combined knowledge and managerial capacity to sustain the venture growth.
There has been a lot of reading, seminars, trial-by-error learning, and mentorship from experienced advisors. Our focus is to build a solid operational system that will effectively scale our product and facilitate allied business opportunities. It’s not been an easy journey.
I think the beauty of growth is that it’s fulfilling. You know you are not who you used to be and you are better than who you are last month in knowledge and capacity. Also, we are lucky to have smart, motivated and dynamic team members who work tirelessly and are very passionate about scaling and accelerating the impact of our innovation.
Reeddi operates on two continents with very different time zones. How are you coping with this hurdle?
I guess my internal system has normalized that – it has always been the case when we started the company while I was a student at U of T. So, I guess it’s pretty normal now. The operational systems we have in place makes things run smoothly as a company.
What do you hope to do with the £1-million prize if Reeddi wins an Earthshot Prize?
The funding will be leveraged to build and optimize our hardware & digital infrastructures required to scale our innovation and accelerate its impact to more communities and regions.
Is there any part of your education at U of T Engineering that has prepared you for your current role?
Yes, a lot. From clear communication to research. I left UofT equipped with essential and excellent skills needed to run the firm. We do a lot of communication, analysis, forecasting and research at Reeddi, which are skills I picked up at U of T.
What advice would you have for students considering an entrepreneurial pursuit at U of T?
Just do it! If you are interested in anything, then chase it. In the failure comes the victory. When we started Reeddi as an idea, we had people tell us it’s a joke. But we believe ourselves and pressed on. These same folks celebrate us today. So, damn the uncertainties and just go for it. The beauty of entrepreneurship is even if you fail, and things don’t work at the time, you are equipped with some practical skills that cannot be learned by just reading. It scales the way you think by default and changes the way you approach anything and everything.
For us at Reeddi, we are working on a couple of allied innovations that will leverage some of the exciting infrastructure we have built to scale Reeddi. We are aware this is a long-term play and are seeing a couple of allied innovations and opportunities we are positioning ourselves to capture. We plan to scale our innovation globally and we are very excited about the numerous opportunities that lies ahead.
The inaugural Earthshot Prize Ceremony can be streamed live from London, U.K. starting Sunday, October 17 at 8 p.m. local time (3 p.m. in Toronto)