‘Just Start’ – Interview with Tonipash Energy

By Whitney Pailman, 28 September 2022

Tonipash Energy, a clean energy company in Nigeria, was founded in 2022 by Anthony Akpasoh and Ntami Echeng, MSc students at the University of Port Harcourt Nigeria and Veronica Brendan Edeminam, a PhD researcher in Economics at Nile University of Nigeria in Abuja. The vision of the company was to build a sustainable and climate resilient environment, with a focus on climate advocacy and providing clean energy access to all, to promote just and equitable development. Anthony had a dream and vision for the company and knew he had to come together with people with expertise in different areas so that the company could get to work immediately.  Together, Anthony as the Chief Operations Officer, Ntami, Head of Programmes and Veronica, Chief Executive Officer make up the dynamic Tonipash Energy team.

Tonipash co-founders Anthony Akpasoh, Veronica Brendan Edeminam and Ntami Echeng (left to right)

The idea for Tonipash Energy started in 2016, initially named Tonipash Enterprises, but really came to life after co-founders Anthony and Ntami were admitted to the MSc programme in Energy Access and Renewable Energy Technology at the University of Port Harcourt. The Masters programme, developed as part of phase 1 of the Transforming Energy Access Learning Partnership (TEA-LP), was a first of its kind in Nigeria. It was designed to enable a new generation of energy professionals to navigate the complex technical and policy challenges, through a multidisciplinary approach covering technical, financial, environmental, and business aspects of renewable energy and energy transitions. Inspired by their lectures and from the exposure gained through their courses, the co-founders were motivated to take action. As Anthony explained, after attending one of their first lectures on entrepreneurship, he approached his soon be co-founders to start the business.

“I said let’s see what we can start as a company and it was rebranded to Tonipash Energy, (with a) focus on clean energy alone” Anthony Akpasoh

Reflecting on the inception of the company, Ntami further elaborated on their first lecture by a professor from Ethiopia, affiliated with the University College London, and how that spurred them on:

“Our very first lecture…we had a mind-blowing session that day – a thought provoking one. Most of us came to Renewable Energy Technology with just a little idea, thinking these are just challenges facing the Nigerian energy access sector, but with that particular class, it was really thought provoking and some of us were energised from the outset” – Ntami Echeng

The multi-disciplinary design of the MSc programme, a key tenet of the TEA-LP curriculum design methodology, enables technical engineering and energy access concepts to be applied through various lenses, including entrepreneurship. Ntami reflected on an entrepreneurship session, where a guest speaker from a big innovative hub in Nigeria, Innovate, came to speak with the class and the support they received from the course coordinator.

“They spoke to us about how ideas could perish if you don’t start something” – Ntami Echeng

While Anthony always had a passion for renewable energy, the support and motivation through the MSc programme, was the impetus to build a business around key challenges and opportunities in the Nigerian energy sector. In line with energy transitions happening globally, Nigeria is undergoing a transition from a fossil fuel-based economy, to introducing more renewables in its energy mix. The high dependence on diesel generators, for example, is a significant opportunity to support businesses in Nigeria to transition to clean and renewable energy sources.

Within this space Tonipash Energy aims to support energy transitions and is playing an active role in renewable energy and climate advocacy through their flagship programme, the Tonipash Sustainable Energy Talks (TSET). The monthly talk series covers topical issues in the energy access sector from Solar Energy Utilisation in Nigeria to E-mobility and engages a wide audience on pertinent issues related to clean energy transitions. Reflecting on its impact, Veronica explained how this series has gained traction since its inception in April this year, and the positive feedback they’ve received from a wide range of audiences: from researchers in clean energy to people who are learning about renewable and clean energy options for the first time.

“We’re thinking about how to penetrate the market and get people to accept what we’re doing. We know that to spur behavioral change, you need to make people aware and you need to make people understand, so this is why we started the climate advocacy and we’ve reached out to about 1000 persons and we target to get to 1500 persons at least before the end of the year” – Veronica Brendan Edeminam

TSET also brings attention to clean cooking, something which the Tonipash team is very passionate about, and feel can make a tangible impact, especially in rural communities. Veronica explained how clean cooking specifically has a gender impact as it affects more rural women and girls in Nigeria, most of whom do not have access to electricity in their villages, or reliable internet to join TSET virtually. To address the need in rural communities they have developed a community outreach to women and girls who may ordinarily not be able to join the virtual sessions. Tonipash Energy plan to scale TSET to tertiary institutions, and have approached universities in Nigeria to support this.

“We’ve reached out to some people who would be interested to fund this because we know it will be very impactful, especially because of how clean cooking affects the health of people and the socio-economic situation of the country at large” Veronica Brendan Edeminam

Their advice to prospective business owners or students who are thinking about starting a business is ‘just start’.

“I think the first thing that comes to mind when you want to start up this kind of business is you just start – the idea is there – it’s an iterative process. There will be lots of changes along the way, the vision gets clearer. You may never know how the breakthrough will come, just start something” Ntami Echeng