One on one: An entrepreneur on the Dubai expo – Namibian

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Meike Neitz

The co-founder of Lefa passenger transportation service, Kalipi Aluvilu, shares his experience of the Expo 2020 Dubai, what lessons he has learnt and what the future holds.
Tell us more about your start-up.

Lefa is a ride-hailing start-up aiming to transform travel in southern African cities with underdeveloped public transportation systems.

Our mobile app connects individuals and companies who need safe, reliable and convenient on-demand transportation services with vetted drivers.

I joined the company, which was founded by Melkies Ausiku, at the end of 2019.

Both of us share a passion for smart technologies which make people’s lives easier. This was only a few days after returning from my urban resilience studies in Barcelona.

Barcelona is one of the most liveable cities in the world, where I experienced convenient and accessible options for people to get around. I was ready to put into practice what I learnt about urban transformation and addressing the main challenges of passengers and transport operators in Windhoek.

Some 120 000 rides later, we keep on pushing.

You’ve just returned from seven weeks in Dubai. Tell us how it came about that you visited the expo?

Lefa won the Dubai Expo Start-up Competition, a collaboration between StartUp Namibia and the Namibia Investment Promotion and Development Board (NIPDB), which sent six Namibian start-ups to Expo 2020 Dubai to participate in the expo, promote our businesses and represent the Namibian start-up ecosystem.

What was the expo like?

The expo is a global gathering of nations committed to finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. It brought countries together in a six-month showcase to exhibit their unique cultures and innovations at their own stand-alone pavilion. The Dubai expo is the first to be held in the Middle eastern, African and southern Asian region, and is also the largest event ever held in the region.

It covers the size of 600 football fields. Also, a record 25 million visitors are expected, 70% of whom are expected to come from outside the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The theme of Expo 2020 Dubai is ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, with sustainability, mobility and opportunity as sub-themes.

Naturally I spent most of my time in the mobility district exploring how mobility will continue to transform the way we live and connect with people. The main highlights of the district were the main pavilion, Alif, and the Republic of Korea’s pavilion.

The Alif pavilion, which addresses smart cities and new mobility technologies, features the world’s largest passenger lift, which can comfortably accommodate more than 160 people at a time. The pavilion also has a 330-metre track which takes you on a journey of the history and future of mobility.

The Korean pavilion, an architectural marvel, features a mobile-guided tour of the country’s most interesting technologies. The Croatian pavilion stars the world’s fastest accelerating production car. The all-electric Nevera accelerates from 0 to 97km/h in just 1,85 seconds, and 161km/h in 4,3 seconds.

During the six months, 10 weeks are set aside to explore these broad themes through cultural, social, and economic perspectives.

And there is no shortage of options of things to do and explore.

There are musical events, theatre, sport events, national celebrations, future tech showcases, and business networking events. I was spoilt for choice.

How is Namibia represented?

The newly formed NIPDB is leading the multisectoral Namibian pavilion.

The pavilion, located in the opportunity district, is displaying the country’s natural treasures under the theme ‘The Future Favours the Brave’. We are promoting five subsectors: renewable energy, mining, tourism, education, as well as trade and investment.

We have done a good job highlighting our most attractive investment opportunities, but unsurprisingly, the star of the pavilion is undoubtedly the Onduli installation.

It offers visitors the opportunity to leave a memento of their visit.

What have you learnt?

Every time I travel to a new country I’m reminded of James Russell Lowell, who said a wise man travels to discover himself.

Travel helps us understand ourselves, and when we understand ourselves, we relate to other people better.

Life’s daily demands can blind one.

Travel reminds us to stop and notice the world’s splendour and the wonders of human ingenuity and ambition.

I managed to visit 70 pavilions during my time at the expo, and I learned about each country’s unique contribution to human progress.

The expo is an extension of the host nation’s vision for its future and for the world, which is extraordinary. I was struck by how the UAE has grown from relative obscurity to one of the Middle East’s most important economic centres.

Many people believe Dubai’s revenue comes primarily from oil, but it accounts for less than 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Tourism contributes 20%.

Through economic diversification programmes to reduce reliance on oil, the local government has invested heavily in sectors such as tourism and technology.

As a regional business hub, some 88% of the country’s population of 10 million people are expatriates who contribute to the country’s meteoric development.

There is a pressing need to reimagine the way we move people, goods and resources globally.

At the expo I explored the question of how we will travel in the future. According to industry players, connectivity, automation, sharing, and electrification are the biggest disruptions that will dictate future mobility trends.

The expo offered a platform for the exploration of technological advances in these areas.

We at Lefa passionately believe the future of mobility is carbon free and electrical.

We met with other start-up industry leaders, academics and policymakers to understand how to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in Namibia, and why it makes sense for policymakers to focus on transport providers, such as Lefa, as a key catalyst to this transition.

What were the highlights of the expo?

One of the highlights of the expo was the Rwandan pavilion. I was excited to visit this beacon of innovation on the African continent, ranked second in Africa on ease of doing business and global competitiveness.

With Vision 2020, Rwanda is leaping into the world of tomorrow, innovating across many industries, including e-mobility.

The country recently introduced a set of incentives to catalyse the adoption of EVs, such as:

• reducing or capping electricity tariffs for charging stations and EV,

• exempting EVs, spare parts, batteries, and charging-station equipment from import and excise duties.

• renting free land for charging stations on state-owned land.

• giving preference to electric vehicles for government-hired vehicles.

• regulating the importation of used vehicles by imposing an age limit.

• implementing a preferential corporate income tax rate of 15% for investors operating in e-mobility.

Let’s hope Namibia will follow suit.

Were you able to achieve any tangible results at the expo?

Our purpose at the expo was to connect, share ideas and learn. I can’t share too many details yet, but we made connections that will help Lefa make a business case for EV adoption.

One of those connections is DTE Network+. The United Kingdom-based network brings together academia, and the private and public sectors to address the challenges limiting the implementation of electrified transport systems.

Start-up tours are typically an opportunity to meet other start-ups, get to know how they work, compare business strategies, and find collaboration opportunities.

I have met start-ups that are solving many of our business challenges.

These connections will undoubtedly lead to future collaboration. There were so many ‘aha’ moments. I found that although the challenges are contextually different, the solutions are often similar and easily adoptable.

What do you think entrepreneurs in Namibia need to improve on to succeed on the world business stage?

The start-up ecosystem in Namibia is relatively young. For example, we don’t have a set policy framework supporting the development of start-ups yet.

The current small-business policy only speaks to micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) development, and there is a distinction which is often overlooked.

I did a tour of start-up ecosystem enablers in Dubai – those public and private entities that facilitate the growth of the start-up ecosystem.

Dubai SME, a governmental body, currently provides development support to 50 transformational start-ups.

There is a concerted effort to support high-growth local and international firms to set up shop in Dubai, because transformational start-ups globally make up only 15% of all companies, but contribute an estimated 50% of total jobs created.

This is the value we as entrepreneurs must show.

We must ask what transformational socio-economic impact we are making – and not just locally, but is your solution scalable beyond your immediate market?

The corporate group, through their corporate business hub, offers incubation services to start-ups. The key takeaway is that value-based business relationships, whether local or international, public or private, are key to successful growth.

With a risk-adverse local financing environment, you need to get comfortable pitching your ideas to international partners, which means you need to be internationally scalable and internationally competitive.

What is Lefa’s plan for the next five years?

Lefa has ambitious goals for the mainstreaming of electric vehicles in southern Africa.

Ride-hailing companies, with their own fleets, present a unique opportunity to create and increase visibility.

We’ve set a target for an all-EV fleet within the next five years.

That means a lot of doors to knock on!
The Namibian, Thursday 27 Jan 2022
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