Student startup delivers sustainability in Uganda

A degree from the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) arms students with the tools necessary to tackle a range of difficult problems. From food security to climate change, global challenges are being addressed within classrooms across campus. A team of Minnesota students believes they can discover the solutions to these problems. Driven by this belief, they created Kaloli Energy, a business venture that works to decrease deforestation in Uganda.

In Uganda, 90 percent of the population uses charcoal for household cooking. This high demand has created an industry which fuels massive deforestation. Without adopting more sustainable practices, Ugandans are faced with an eminent energy crisis. University of Minnesota students, Margaret Kristian, Claire Irwin, Peder Garnaas-Halvorson, and Ben Ihde saw that a viable solution to this dilemma was waiting for implementation. Briquettes, an alternative fuel source, are created from organic waste and have the same cost and effectiveness as charcoal. Kristian, Irwin, Garnaas-Halvorson, and Ihde knew that with proper exposure and accessibility, briquettes could be a realistic alternative to charcoal. Their business model offers briquette delivery and trash collection in one service, simultaneously tackling both charcoal consumption and improper waste management.

After winning $6,000 as grand-prize winners of the University of Minnesota's BizPitch and Acara Challenge startup competitions, the team of young entrepreneurs piloted their venture in the city of Kampala, using a Ugandan business incubator for guidance and hiring locals to deliver briquettes and manage daily transactions. Margaret Kristian, a double major in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) and Applied Economics, spent three months on-site in Kampala working to develop the business. She says that ““while the idea for Kaloli was developed here at the U, ...the future of the company is with Ugandan citizens and entrepreneurs.” After a successful pilot, Kaloli Energy is working to raise the funds necessary to continue growing their subscribers and establishing roots in Kampala.

The students don’t profit from any donations received by the company; all funds go directly to paying their Ugandan employees and purchasing delivery materials. Kristian describes that  “Kaloli Energy is based on the belief that fuel and forests don’t have to be mutually exclusive.” All of the company’s founders are passionate about sustainable energy and want to see their practical knowledge create tangible change.

Kristian emphasizes the influence their education has had on creating Kaloli Energy. “I’m a double major in ESPM and Applied Economics, and having perspectives from both sides of CFANS has influenced my interests a great deal. These perspectives have been especially useful in terms of looking for environmental solutions that are both economically and ecologically sustainable.”  University resources like the Arca Program have given these innovative thinkers the opportunity to implement their solutions in the real world.

When asked why Minnesotans should care about a business that combats deforestation in Uganda, Kristian said “Kaloli Energy’s aim is to restore the benefits and services that forests provide to Uganda, but those forests are also part of a bigger global system. They provide benefits like carbon cycling that address the issue of climate issue which has no borders.”

Interested in learning more about Kaloli Energy or donating to their campaign? Visit