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Lisa Von Benecke: The Future of Clean Energy (TotalEnergies Startupper of the Year Challenge winner)

LISA Von Benecke is one of three young entrepreneurs who were crowned winners of the 2022 installment of the TotalEnergies Startupper of the Year Challenge. She won the Award for Best Female Entrepreneur on the day. The emerging innovator is the founder and CEO of LC Dynamics. According to their website, LC Dynamics is a clean-tech company working to improve access to renewable energy in South Africa and beyond through data-driven systems and novel technology product offerings.

The company is developing smart Solar PV window blinds which replace venetian blind slats with solar PV cells, allowing them to generate electricity.

Our Editor interviewed Lisa for Fastrack July Edition.

DW: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

LISA: I love innovating and it’s been a hobby and something I’ve been doing since college. I’ve been taking part in a lot of innovation competitions, I won some previously with different ideas. And that’s really how I got around to even launching a startup. I have a background in electrical engineering, I started out doing chemical engineering post-high school [but] had to drop out because of funding. I later managed to get back in and do electrical engineering. I worked as a maintenance technician at a coal power station for 2 years.

In addition to that, I volunteer a lot, so I’ve worked a lot in the Non-Profit sector doing project management. So that’s me in a nutshell – innovation, engineering and social impact.

DW: Talk me through you winning the Startupper Challenge, is it a still pinch me moment for you or have you settled into your new glory?

LISA: I would say it has settled in now, I’m back to the grind, so it’s back to the drawing board and the hard work that I still need to put in. But it’s been an amazing experience. The support and the overwhelming feedback I’ve gotten [since] the win has been amazing.

DW: Have you always been Lisa the innovator and do you think teen Lisa would be surprised that you have achieved all that you have?

LISA: I think teen Lisa would look at me now and think, ‘oh, that’s really cool.’ I’d be really stoked about who I am today. I have always been the same person, as a child I always wanted to be a scientist, and then I grew up and realised that my idea of a scientist was actually an engineer; and I really just followed my passion and stuck to it even when things didn’t go according to plan.

DW: You won big, but what would you say was the most valuable part of your experience?

LISA: The Challenge itself is a very good experience for any entrepreneur. Every single person in our cohort (Top 15) was extremely talented at doing something amazing and innovative in their respective fields. And we formed friendships, we have a WhatsApp group amongst ourselves and that’s a network that is so valuable to take forward. My start up was only registered in December, so [being] just 6 months young and having 14 other people who are also on this journey with you, that you can call up and complain and vent to when you need to is really valuable.

DW: Competition was cleary tough, what would you say was your biggest asset coming into the competition?

LISA: I think that my company as a whole has a very strong vision and it is based on solving a problem that we all experience. So the solutions that I presented, the company vision that I presented resonated with a lot of people because we are all [faced with] the challenge of accessing clean and affordable energy.

DW: For the ordinary Jane on the street, your innovation could be a foreign concept. Is it ever a challenge for you to explain your offering to clean energy laymen?

LISA: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to explain, I would say there is an [information] gap that I’m also trying to close. With anything relating to energy, people just want to know what it’s going to cost and what it can power. And usually that’s where an engineer comes in because we do the calculations for you and give you those figures.

We’re still developing an online platform that will bridge that gap and allow the layperson to select options to give them an indication of cost and recommend [suitable] products. I think there is definitely a gap in terms of understanding the technology and I plan to bridge it.

DW: What do you think women of colour need more of?

LISA: More representation. Sometimes you need to see a person who looks like you in your space doing what you do to feel confident. Like now, I’m speaking to potential partners and it’s sad that I don’t get to speak to more black women and women of color who would like partner and work with me because I would jump at the opportunity to work with another woman.

And I would also say that I wouldn’t feel confident to be an entrepreneur right now if I didn’t have people ahead of me who served that role. So I’ve had people who I can literally have met and have seen who gave me that confidence to say, ‘well, I’m not scared to actually take on this big title of CEO and go out and make a name myself.’

DW: What do you do for fun?

LISA: Lots of things! I’m a plant mom, I’m obsessed with my vegetable and succulent garden. I draw and paint, I love music and reading. One of my favourite things to do is get with friends, just sit on the grass, and play some music.

DW: If you didn’t have to worry about clean energy, the economy or the money in your pocket, what would you be doing?

LISA: I think I’d still be building things for fun. Because as I said, I just love experimenting and innovating. I’d also spend more time with art and creating, I think creative outlets are important. And I’d continue with my little vegetable garden. A lot would stay the same!

Editor’s remark: Lisa and I had a good chuckle as she answered that last question. And I let her know just how blessed she is because not a lot of people can say ‘a lot would stay the same’ answering that question. I would spend my days writing poetry and stories in a rustic, history-rich city on the countryside somewhere; listening to 80s and 90s music on an endless supply of biltong. And that’s only year one in the Desired Life of Masekane!

I interviewed Lisa a day before her birthday, and while I already wished her an early one, I’d like to wish her a belated Happy Birthday! I certainly hope she enjoyed it as much as I did our chat and learning about her laymind blowing innovation.

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