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It Takes A (Sustainable) Village – Driko Ducasse, Managing Director At Alina Eneji

Driko Ducasse, Managing Director of Alina Eneji
Driko Ducasse, Managing Director of Alina Eneji

This Earth Day, we are exploring the start-ups leading the charge in tackling some of the world’s most pressing climate challenges, and the founders behind them

Here, we speak to Driko Ducasse, Chicago Booth MBA ’21 and Managing Director of Alina Eneji, the leading solar electricity mesh-grid developer active in Haiti

What specific environmental problems is your company addressing, and how do you plan to make a difference in these areas?

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. We plan to make this difference by reducing the dependency on the energy generated using fossil fuel. 

What inspired you to start a company focused on environmental sustainability, and how did you get started?

I was born in Haiti, but raised in the US. I used to visit Haiti every summer, and I noticed a big difference in the standard of living between Haitians, who live two hours away from Miami, and the people living in the United States. While the comparison of Haiti to the US is like comparing apples to oranges, we must not forget that apples and oranges are both fruits, so we should see some similarities between the two. However, even when we look at the country that shares an island with Haiti, Dominican Republic (DR), the disparity in the standard of living between the two countries is massive. Haiti has been developing much slower than the DR for a very long time. That inspired me to start a company that would support the development of Haiti a community at a time. The company had to be environmentally focused because although my visits every summer showed the beautiful mountain ranges, the rainforest, and the beaches of Haiti, it also showed the excavation of those mountains, the of depletion of those rainforest, and the pollution in that ocean that was once so blue. Therefore, we decided to invest in a solution that optimizes the ROI for all our stakeholders.

We got started by testing the idea through the equivalent of an incubator at the University of Chicago. We received open and honest feedback from a group of smart people, while simultaneously piloting the idea with 30 households. It took a village; it was with the guidance of fellow MBA candidates, as well as Alums and professors at the university, industry experts, and many others that the first pilot was executed successfully and exceeded expectation in the KPIs measured; speed of deployment, cost of deployment and reliability

How did your business school experience help to launch the venture (conception and planning, a network to open doors and possibly secure funding, etc.)

Business school provided a safe environment for us to develop the idea. In addition to the breadth of resources that was at our disposal at the university, such as the alumni network and the faculty, there were business competitions, which helped us position the business so it could compete for capital, as well as classes, which gave us bandwidth to focus on developing the idea from a concept into a business. 

What makes your company’s approach to environmental sustainability unique or different from other solutions?

We aim to optimize returns for all stakeholders. Our focus has always been to build a sustainable business. We believe that there does not need to be a tradeoff between creating a good business and creating a business that is environmentally sustainable. Therefore, we did both. As a result, our solution competes against the incumbent solution, while also reducing the dependency on the energy generated from using fossil fuel.

How do you balance your company’s environmental goals with the need to generate revenue and ensure financial sustainability?

We do not need to, as we do not believe that there should be a tradeoff between the two. 

What are some of the long-term goals you have for your company, and how do you plan to achieve them?

Our goal is to supply 100,000 households in the poorer parts of Haiti with electricity within the next five years. This will help bring many of those households out of poverty. We plan to do this by focusing on what has made us successful so far; focusing on optimizing returns for all stakeholder and building a good business with sound fundamentals.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a company focused on environmental sustainability?

There does not need to be a tradeoff between creating a good business with sound fundamentals and creating a business that is environmentally sustainable. Focus on the building a good business. If you are able to build a good business with sound fundamentals, then you will attract investors and receive the support of other stakeholders. 

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