Meet Anis Aouini, inventor of the ‘Saphonian’ bladeless wind turbine, chairman and co-founder of the Saphon Energy company, and one of the winners of the Innovation Prize for Africa 2013. Who’s next? Entrepreneurs in Africa can still apply for this year’s USD 100,000 Innovation Prize for Africa 2014 until November 30th! Learn more about the Saphonian’s story below.
How did you develop the Saphonian innovation and supporting company?
“Saphon Energy is a Tunisia-based cleantech company specialized in Research and Development in wind energy. I founded it together with my friend Hassine Labaied. We developed a new breakthrough innovation named “The Saphonian”: a radical new way to generate efficient and cost effective green energy. The Saphonian is a patented technology and is in the process of being registered in 70 different countries.
As I have never been convinced that the windmill-inspired turbines are the best way to convert wind power into electricity, I tried to explore different paths using a lateral thinking process. The basic idea was to replace the rotating blades by a more efficient, yet, simpler way to harness the kinetic energy of the wind. To do so, I got inspired from the oldest wind converter: a sail. The Saphonian has a sail-shaped body that mimics the way sailboats convert wind energy into mechanical energy. The idea quickly evolved over time to become a patented technology.”
Do you see yourselves as African innovators? How does the world respond to these kinds of innovations from Africa?
“I’m proud to be considered as an African innovator. I tried to challenge the conventional wisdom and to come up with a radically different way of generating green energy. With my partner, we have been progressing against the odds over the last few years.
At the beginning, we did face a high level of skepticism. An African startup claiming that it came up with a revolutionary green technology looked too good to be true. However, as we started disclosing more about the technology, initial skepticism turned to enthusiasm. More than 300 press releases related to the Saphonian were published over the last 18 months and several people and companies showed their interest in knowing more about our new technology.”
What was the status of the Saphonian wind converter and the company Saphon Energy at the time you won the Innovation Prize for Africa 2013, and what new milestones have you secured since?
“Saphon Energy was in the process of finalizing the R&D phase and fine tuning the final industrial design. Winning an IPA Prize was a great honor for us and helped us raising awareness about the Saphonian.”
Which milestones are you still working to reach with your prize money and other investments?
“The latest prototype version has proved that the Saphonian is robust, resistant and as scalable as the current bladed wind turbines with a better range of efficiency at a lower manufacturing cost. The next step would be scaling the current prototypes up. Ultimately, we have the intention to penetrate the utility market and position ourselves as a private energy provider. We are interested in partnering with strategic players in order to move to the next level of our development. This should result in the Saphonian’ diffusion and deployment over the five continents.”
What is your message to other entrepreneurs in Africa, both in and outside the VC4Africa community?
“The best way to help Africa and African people is to invest into the African innovative potential. To the African entrepreneurs, I simply want to say, if you have an idea, just go for it and take some risks. It is time that young Africans dare to innovate, aim higher and overcome the deeply rooted complex of inferiority. The problem in Africa is not the lack of innovative ideas; the problem is the lack of a good ecosystem pushing young people to start their startup. Know that there are a lot of actors who are ready to invest in African startups, they can be found through the VC4Africa community and through other channels.”
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are considering to apply for the Innovation Prize for Africa 2014?
“Just go for it! It opens doors and gives you a lot of visibility. The promoters of this great initiative are reputable and have deep pockets. This is what Africa needs, committed people engaged in helping and supporting innovation and entrepreneurship.”
The registration deadline for the 2014 Innovation Prize for Africa is extended to 30 November 2013. For detailed information of competition categories, conditions of entry, and submission procedures, see innovationprizeforafrica.org and review the detailed call for application prior to applying.