Africa’s need to find innovative and sustainable solutions to waste management and energy generation is growing, and for Louise Bijleveld, co-founder of LONO, that challenge provided the inspiration for a game-changing business.
LoA chatted to co-founder Louise Bijleveld this month to find out more.
What does your company do?
LONO is a clean technology start-up providing products and services for waste-to-energy. We have developed a product for households and SMEs called KubeKo. KubeKo is a solar powered bin that converts organic waste into fertilizer or biogas. For agro and food industries, we provide consulting services to advise on the most viable technology option to generate electricity from the waste available.
What inspired you to start your company?
In 2010, I moved to South Africa for my studies where I met Noël, the second co-founder of LONO and now my husband as well. Looking back, this is where the idea of LONO was born. The combination of his engineering background and my studies in international development led our conversations to the field of agriculture and clean energy in Côte d'Ivoire. However, I felt like I needed more time and experience before starting something of my own, and so I moved back to the Netherlands to work for the national government for several years. My jobs were in the field of development cooperation and here, my belief in development through value creation was strengthened. I wanted to start something that would create value on its own and in 2016 I decided that it was the right time to make the big change.
"Our products and services are of value to anyone that wants to better understand and extract value from their waste."
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Organic waste is a source of untapped potential for energy and fertilizer for Côte d'Ivoire and other countries in the region. Recent innovations in clean technologies have made them more efficient and more affordable than ever before. This provides new opportunities to create value in this agro-driven economy. Our products and services are of value to anyone that wants to better understand and extract value from their waste.
Tell us a little about your team
LONO has two co-founders. I am responsible for business development and sales and Noël is doing the technical product development. We have an R&D team of engineers and technicians that have designed, developed and tested the various KubeKo prototypes and a process design team that executes the feasibility studies. We also have a business development team that covers the broad range from market research to partnerships.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I do not come from an entrepreneurial background at all. I don't even think I knew any entrepreneurs in my environment until I was around 20 years old. Luckily internet gives access to experiences and advice from entrepreneurs from all over the world. Besides, I had the chance to work as a business developer for Smile Côte d'Ivoire while starting up LONO. Here, I learned so much about doing business in Côte d'Ivoire and internationally, about how to create value and how to cope with obstacles. Expending the company to Liberia gave me lots of insights that I could also apply to LONO. Two years have gone by really fast and I feel like I am just getting started.
"I believe that LONO can become a clean technology hub where people can innovate and develop to bring clean technology in West Africa to the next level."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
In the coming years, LONO plans to contribute to the valorization of organic waste on a large scale through the use of its products and services, possibly expanding to other countries in the region as well. In the long term, I believe that LONO can become a clean technology hub where people can innovate and develop to bring clean technology in West Africa to the next level.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
There is no one else to blame and no one else to thank. Success or failure of the company is a direct consequence of your decision-making and that is a new feeling for me. It is so motivating and it is by far the most exciting thing of being an entrepreneur.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
The two advices that helped me most were to surround yourself with the right people and to not give up. It sounds cheesy but it turned out to be so true for me. Firstly, the right people help you to be in the right mindset, to challenge your ideas and to make you grow stronger. And secondly, there will be highs and lows and your idea will adjust along the way but giving up shouldn't be an option. Successful companies have one thing in common; they didn't give up otherwise they wouldn't exist. I think about that very regularly.
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Why LoA loves it….
When it comes to making the African continent more sustainable and environmentally conscious, Africa needs innovators, and in Cote d’Ivoire, the country has found one such innovator in Louise Bijleveld. With her clean technology start-up, LONO, she is creating solutions to help people convert their organic waste into fertilizer or biogas. This is a game changer for the country, empowering people to not only think more sustainably but giving them the smart technology to make a difference. Louise and her company are definitely ones to watch in Africa’s pioneering eco-preneurship space over the coming years. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa