Should a growing East African solar power provider choose Benin or Nigeria as its foray into the West African market? That was the question a team of MBA students (and one UC Berkeley PhD student) answered to win the Energy in Emerging Markets Case Competition hosted Nov. 6 by the MBA Energy Club at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
For the challenge, 34 competing teams from around the world pitched a go-to-market strategy that PowerGen Renewable Energy could use to decide where to expand its business. The competition required a team of three to five graduate students to compare the electrical infrastructure, regulatory environment, and competitive landscapes in Benin and neighboring Nigeria and recommend a strategy for one of those nations based on their findings.
The UC Berkeley team included Isa Ferrall, a PhD student in the Energy & Resources Group; Felix Schadeck, MBA 20; Hao Shen, MBA 19; Chandler Sherman, MBA 20; and Joe Swartley, MBA 19.
The team credits its win to assembling a diverse group. Understanding that primary research and real-world data on energy access in West Africa would be a challenge, Shen and Swartley selected a team of people with complementary backgrounds and broad networks.
“Our final presentation stood out because we did so many interviews with people working in the space, and we were able to test and evolve our strategy instead of sticking something speculative against a wall and hoping the judges would go for it,” Shen said.
In total, the team tapped more than 30 experts from their professional and UC Berkeley network—including contacts at Tesla, Facebook, Google, nonprofits, regulatory agencies, professors, and others.
Each team member also offered unique expertise.
Shen previously worked as a consultant at Deloitte’s power and utilities division and spent his MBA summer internship working in energy access in Uganda, while former impact investing consultant Schadeck had worked in energy and education in emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa. Sherman brought regulatory knowledge from several positions at Tesla and SolarCity. Swartley, a former Bloom Energy senior marketing associate and d.light design intern, spent several years looking at financial models for renewable energy and examining customer willingness to buy electricity for the first time.
Ferrall, an engineer who has worked in renewable energy in Kenya and Tanzania, said it was fascinating to work with team members who understood how to finance solar projects and assess market potential.
“Their valuable feedback guided all of our recommendations,” Ferrall said.
“For me, this felt like a five-week master class in energy access for emerging markets,” Sherman adds. The team had to consider a very granular degree of detail during the competition: how material would be sourced; how solar equipment would be ferried to the ports; how workers would be hired; and what currency would be used, she said.
The team, after conducting its analysis, recommended Nigeria, concluding that an established regulatory environment and access to capital would have the most significant impact on PowerGen’s success in West Africa.
A panel from Cypress Creek Renewables, Duke Energy, Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business, NextEra Energy, PowerGen Renewable Energy, Plotwatt, Schneider Electric and Southern California Edison judged the UC Berkeley team the winner in the final round of four presentations. The team received $10,000.