By Nancy Nguyen
OTAGO Pte.Ltd., a ground-breaking start-up seeking US$ 2.3 million in equity financing to transform biomass waste into clean cooking fuel in Cambodia, won the business plan competition at the Private Financing Advisory Network’s 9th Asia Forum for Climate and Clean Energy Financing (AFCCEF) in Singapore on 1 November 2019. Their business plan to scale up charcoal briquettes manufacturing impressed the judges the most.
OTAGO’s win marks a milestone. For the first time, AFCCEF, which is PFAN’s annual Asian Investment Forum, was held as part of the Singapore International Energy Week (SIEW) and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore’s Asia Clean Energy Summit (ACES), which is one of the region’s premier events highlighting clean energy business and financing trends.
At the PFAN Investment Forum a panel of distinguished judges and an audience of more than 130 participants, which included investors and network partners, gave the OTAGO project the highest score for investment-readiness. The jury included representatives of Armstrong Asset Management, Susi Partners, Raiven Capital, First Energy Asia-Pacific, and the Asian Development Bank’s new ADB Ventures team.
Opening the Investment Forum, Patrick Nussbaumer, PFAN Program Manager at UNIDO, explained that the goal of these Forums is to showcase investment opportunities to interested investors. “There is a lot of discussion at the moment about increasing action on climate change, and it is a challenge to show that there are available solutions that are looking for financing to commercialize their products and services,” Nussbaumer explained.
The companies pitching at the Investment Forum were selected as the most promising out of PFAN’s pipeline of projects in Asia. PFAN is currently actively coaching more than 50 projects in the Asia region, and the 10 projects selected for presentation at AFCCEF survived a rigorous selection process and received coaching over a six-month period leading up to the Forum. They pitched projects with an investment ask ranging from US$ 1 million to US$ 18 million, with a total investment value of close to US$ 90 million.
The projects pitched were built around climate and clean energy technologies, including automatic control irrigation, urban mobility, biomass, biogas, waste to energy, hydropower and solutions for heating and cooling. They were sourced from five countries—India, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar.
“It was gratifying to see a strong investor turn-out at this year’s forum; it is the best turnout we have had in recent years,” commented Peter du Pont, PFAN’s Regional Coordinator for Asia. “While the investors got to hear the pitches of these small and medium entrepreneurs and innovators, the real work for us, the project developers, and their coaches begins at and after the forum, as we work to cultivate the process of investment facilitation and closing deals.”
The winning project, OTAGO, began working with PFAN coach, Cécile Dahomé, in January 2019. Commenting on his successful pitch, OTAGO CEO and Founder Carlo Figà Talamanca said: “What I have learned at PFAN is that it is not enough to have a good product and a good project, but you also have to be good at explaining it. It is quite obvious that as a project developer, you know your project very well, but it is very important to explain to other people what you’re doing and make them understand the values of it.”
Two companies were selected by the jury as runners-up. QIQ Vietnam pitched for a US$ 2 million investment to build a bike-sharing platform for two-wheel electric vehicles in Hoi An, a small tourist town on the central coast of Vietnam, with the aim to expand to other Vietnamese cities. “We learned about the PFAN project one year ago, and the journey with PFAN has been really fulfilling for us. From an initially unclear business plan, PFAN helped us build and develop our business plan to become much better, and we now have a clearer vision for it,” said Ngan Tran of QIQ Vietnam. “Also, through networking with PFAN, we were able to connect with investors from organizations all over the world which helped us deploy our project in Vietnam much faster.”
The other runner-up, Farm-Hand Ltd., is seeking US$ 1.5 million to introduce its patent-pending product, Water-Hand, to the markets of India, China, Kenya, Uganda, and Nepal. Water Hand uses latitude-longitude specific weather forecasting, big data analytics and low-cost sensors connected to IoT to increase yields while reducing water, energy, fertilizer and labour requirements.
Besides the business plan competition, the Forum also featured an investor panel discussion. Teymoor Nabili, Journalist and Media Consultant at the Asian Development Bank moderated a discussion between panellists Matthew Sebonia, Consultant and Advisor at the European Climate Foundation and Southeast Asia Clean Energy Facility; Nikki Kemp, Managing Director at Ambler Sun; David Nieuwendijk, Senior Investment Officer at FMO (Netherlands Development Finance Company); Jay Mariyappan, Head of New Energy at Petronas; Chevlin Lee, Director of Chalten Capital; and Pranay Samson, Associate Director at Impact Partners, Impact Investment Exchange.
The panellists shared their views on challenges in cultivating and developing high-quality pipelines of investible clean energy projects in the Asia region. The panel discussion provided a unique opportunity for PFAN project developers to interact directly with investors, and to learn more about the investors’ expectations.
The AFCCEF 9 event provided significant opportunities for networking and capacity building for clean energy entrepreneurs and investors. The co-location of the event with SIEW and the Asia Clean Energy Summit created synergies between AFCCEF and the events at ACES. One example of this was the Power ACE Competition, a dynamic pitch competition held the day before AFCCEF, which PFAN co-organised in partnership with the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS).