Africa is no longer a bystander in the global tech race.  There is a wave of brilliant tackling complex challenges and developing groundbreaking solutions. “These efforts collectively ensure the technology’s long-term sustainability and its profound impact on the communities they serve,” says Damilola Aminat Adeyemi, founder and CFO of D-Olivette. Adeyemi is a young Nigerian woman, dedicated to building revolutionary autonomous and hybrid biotechnology systems to make clean and sustainable energy a reality for more people. A few years ago, she co-founded D-Olivette, a social enterprise that manufactures and installs a hybrid biosystem for off-grid households, farms, and communities to generate up to 10,000 m³ of biogas and at least 50 kg of bioslur from organic waste daily. As a social entrepreneur, Adeyemi has won more than 10 national and international awards and recognitions for promoting sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. Yet, the true success of women like Adeyemi isn’t measured just by personal achievements. It is about celebrating the collective impact women are particularly having across the continent.

Entrepreneur and serial investor, Delphine Remy-Boutang, understands this power. In 2012, she founded JFD, an international growth accelerator that focuses on empowering women to tackle tech hurdles and in 2023, Remy-Boutang founded Arver, her independent venture capital investment company that finances the growth of innovative tech companies founded or co-founded by women. Since then, the JFD has remained committed to bringing together public, private, and media organizations in Europe, Africa, and Canada around three pillars: education, role models, and financing. It also functions as a dynamic think tank, providing concrete responses to the lessons learned from its annual studies. Over the years, JFD has built a powerful network of over 50,000 individuals, trained a staggering 10,000 talents, and nurtured the growth of more than 1,000 tech startups across three continents – Europe, Africa, and Canada. “Alongside our partners, we eagerly anticipate supporting them (these women) and promoting international growth opportunities,”

One of JFD’s crowning portfolios’ is the Margaret Prize. It is a prestigious award that bridges the gap between female tech leaders worldwide. Under the Margaret Prize, female tech leaders, recognized for pushing the boundaries of tech and driving progress on both economic and societal fronts, receive a year of dedicated support through JFD’s Growth Acceleration Program. Over the years, the competition has seen a surge in participation, especially from English-speaking Africa. This year was no different. The quality of submissions was phenomenal. According to Nelly Chatué-Diop, Co-founder and CEO of Ejara and the 2023 Margaret Entrepreneur Africa, the quality and richness of the projects presented necessitated rigorous analysis, in-depth discussions, and challenging decisions. Yet, this only “underscores the elevated standards of the Margaret Award,” she said.

Damilola Aminat Adeyemi won this year’s Margaret Entrepreneur Africa winner for her work in promoting sustainable energy. Currently, D-Olivette’s impact is spreading beyond Nigeria, reaching neighboring Benin. The narrative doesn’t end here. Ventures Africa recently sat with Adeyemi, to discuss her contribution to sustainable development in Nigeria and winning the Margaret Award.

Damilola Aminat Adeyemi, co-founder and CFO, D-Olivette

Congratulations on Winning the Margaret Award. Can you tell us a bit about your journey and what inspired you to develop these biogas systems? 

In 2017, I returned to the Ifo rural community in Southern Nigeria. My last time there was in 2010 due to education and work in the city, but I had to return for an environmental project. My hometown, typical of any rural Nigerian settlement, was disorganized and hard to reach, making energy transmission difficult; the people depended solely on firewood, diesel, and petrol for energy.

Every morning, women trek miles to gather firewood; some, in the process, get raped or, worse, even killed; this is similar to other rural communities in Nigeria. Women can be seen on their knees feeding firewood while blowing the “Adogan” with their mouths to get the firewood stove kindled. There was prevalent deforestation and an abundance of CO2 that families ignorantly inhaled.  Without energy for preservation, there were heaps of farm and other organic waste in every street -emitting GHG and pollution. Despite some past interventions, Ifo remained filled with sick people, obituary posters of mothers and children, plus crushing poverty as research data pointed to energy poverty a major cause of pollution, widespread poverty over an annual death of 100,000 rural women and children in rural Nigeria. I passionately wanted to do something to end this injustice and co-founded my organization. I have since worked with over 20,000 rural families, small farmholders, and off-grid businesses to turn organic waste into clean energy and more food.

D-Olivette’s hybrid approach is quite interesting. Can you elaborate on how it works and what makes it unique?

Our hybrid approach is indeed fascinating and revolves around a comprehensive process that maximizes the efficiency and utility of biogas production and utilization. If I had to provide an elaborate explanation of what sets it apart, I would mention the following:

Integration of AI and Big Data: D-Olivette merges AI and Big Data with biodigester technology to optimize the biogas production process, ensuring maximum efficiency and effectiveness.

Affordability: The system is designed to be cost-effective, making it accessible to a wide range of users, particularly in resource-constrained settings.

Flexible Payment Options: D-Olivette offers flexible payment options, enhancing affordability and accessibility for diverse users.

Bio-Optimization Using Sensors: Advanced sensors are used for bio-optimization, ensuring the highest quality and cleanliness of the biogas produced.

Continuous Improvements and Research: The approach is backed by ongoing improvements and research, ensuring the technology remains at the cutting edge.

Easy-to-Use Solutions: The solutions provided are user-friendly, making them accessible to non-experts.

Highly Adaptable Solutions: The system is versatile and can be used for cooking, electricity generation, farming, and household needs.

Prefabricated Products: The products are prefabricated and can be easily assembled in just 20 minutes, ensuring quick and hassle-free deployment.

Durability: The equipment is designed to last, with a durability of up to 12 months.

Overall, we combine technological innovation, affordability, and user-friendliness to deliver a comprehensive solution for sustainable biogas production and utilization, making it a standout in the field

What types of organic waste are most effective for the biogas system? How do you address challenges like waste pre-treatment and potential limitations on waste diversity?  

Our biogas system is designed to process a wide range of organic and agricultural wastes, currently handling up to 144 different types. This versatility includes recent breakthroughs in processing non-agricultural waste such as sawdust, water hyacinth, and seaweed. The pre-treatment process is a crucial step in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of biogas production. Here’s how we address the challenges related to waste pre-treatment and the diversity of waste types:

  • Waste Collection and Segregation Shredding and Grinding:
  • Mixing the proper and compatible organic waste
  • Water Addition: mixing water with organic waste (typically 70-90%). Proper moisture levels are crucial for microbial activity and digestion efficiency.
  • Dewatering: Conversely, if the waste is too wet, excess water may be removed to avoid diluting the substrate and reducing biogas yield.
  • pH Adjustment through Enzyme Addition: D-Olivette provides 5
  • different types of enzymes are added to degrade complex polymers like cellulose and hemicellulose, increasing the availability of simple sugars for microbial digestion.

D-Olivette’s biogas systems offer a compelling solution for off-grid communities. Can you share some of the challenges with adoption, particularly in overcoming initial investment costs or behavioral changes? 

Our biogas systems present an innovative and sustainable solution for off-grid communities, offering a reliable source of energy and reducing dependence on traditional, less eco-friendly methods. However, the adoption of this technology comes with several challenges, particularly regarding initial investment costs and the need for behavioral changes. The primary challenges and our strategies to overcome them are:

  • Technical Challenges: this includes feedstock variability, maintenance requirements, and temperature can affect our solution’s performance.
  • Solutions: includes training, and using advanced monitoring technologies to get customer feedback.
  • Cost: In some cases, the initial installation cost of D-Olivette’s tech or the Bio-Station may be higher compared to traditional pit latrines or landfilling and other unclean energy which are bought in smaller quantities. Out-right costs might create hesitation and even discourage customers who are in dire need of our solutions.
  • SOLUTION: BNPL: Buy now pay later model: Rural women and Smallholder farmers can make outright payments or a monthly fee of $5.72 x 12 months. D-Olivette also rents out a bulk of its tech and uses a Pay-As-You-Use model for small-holder farmers, restaurants, and abattoirs; customers get to pay as little as $1 daily.

How do you make this technology more affordable and accessible to a wider range of off-grid communities in Nigeria, particularly low-income households? 

To make D-Olivette’s technology more affordable and accessible to a wider range of off-grid communities in Nigeria, particularly low-income households, we have implemented several flexible payment options and incentives. We offer an outright payment option for those who can afford it, but we also provide a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) model that allows smallholder farmers and rural women to pay in monthly installments of $5.72 over 12 months. Additionally, we have a Pay-As-You-Use model for smallholder farmers, restaurants, and abattoirs, enabling customers to access our technology for as little as $1 per day. These strategies significantly reduce the financial burden and make our biogas solutions more attainable for low-income households, ensuring wider accessibility and promoting sustainable energy use in off-grid communities.

How does D-Olivette measure the social impact of its technology beyond just clean energy access and ensure the long-term sustainability of these systems in communities?  

We measure the social impact of its technology through a comprehensive approach that includes economic, environmental, and social metrics, along with partnerships and newly signed Letters of Intent (LOIs). Economically, D-Olivette has seen substantial growth, with a 30% increase in revenue from 2021 to 2023 and a target of 60% growth in 2024. Lead conversion rates improved to over 40% in 2023, aiming for 60% in 2024, while customer retention is strong, with 80% of new customers in 2023 being referrals. Financially, customers report saving over 50% in farming costs. Environmentally, D-Olivette’s technology mitigates greenhouse gases and reduces agricultural pollution, processing thousands of metric tons of organic waste in 2022 and targeting 60,000 CO2 equivalent mitigation by 2025. Socially, the company enhances access to clean energy, organic fertilizer, and animal feed supplements, with over 20,000 customers currently using its innovations, a number it plans to double by 2025.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of its systems, D-Olivette continuously optimizes its biodigester technology, incorporating AI and local languages for better biogas and food production. The company plans to launch Android and iOS versions of its chatbot by Q4 2025, expanding its dataset and local language support. Additionally, D-Olivette has signed numerous agreements, including a recent LOI with Integra Capital S.A. to expand operations in rural Argentina. The company has also received global recognition and awards from prestigious organizations such as JDF, IEEE, Royal Academy of Engineering, and JICA. D-Olivette is committed to research, regularly publishing findings in bioremediation, with its latest work focusing on the valorization of mango bio-slurry for aquaculture. These efforts collectively ensure the technology’s long-term sustainability and its profound impact on the communities it serves.

Winning the Margaret Award is a significant recognition. How do you see this award impacting D-Olivette’s work? 

Winning the JFD award has significantly benefited D-Olivette in various ways, providing numerous benefits that enhance our outreach. Firstly, the award has increased our credibility and trust among stakeholders, reinforcing the legitimacy of our mission and solutions. It has also opened doors for attracting funding and investment; we are currently in discussions with several French investors, which we are optimistic will soon lead to substantial financial support. Such recognition boosts investor confidence by showcasing that our enterprise has been vetted and acknowledged for its effectiveness and potential. The award has significantly raised public awareness through extensive media exposure provided by the JFD program, highlighting our mission and the positive impact of our work. Additionally, the award ceremony itself was an excellent networking platform, enabling us to connect with influential individuals, potential partners, investors, and customers. Internally, the award has been a great motivator for our team, boosting morale and fostering a sense of pride and achievement. Overall, the Margaret Award has been a catalyst for growth and validation, positioning D-Olivette to expand its impact and continue driving sustainable development in the communities we serve, fostering a sense of pride and achievement.

The Margaret Award specifically recognizes women who are making a difference. What does being a champion for women in the STEM field mean to you? 

Being a champion for women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field means actively supporting, advocating for, and creating opportunities for other women, especially rural women and those underserved to succeed and thrive by creating clean energy and sustainable resource recovery solutions for them while engaging them through this approach to also protecting the planet. The mission is to help, empower, and engage women, especially those who are greatly disadvantaged.

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