Digital Energy Challenge For Start-ups - Annual Call for Projects

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 Digital Energy Challenge For Start-ups - Annual Call for Projects
The Digital Energy Challenge for Start-ups will reward 5-8 start-ups every year for four years, for innovative digital projects that aim to increase energy access and improve power grid performance. The 2021 Call for Projects focuses on sub-Saharan Africa.

The three themes of the 2021 edition are:

Services GridServices to the grid such as grid loss reduction, renewable energy integration, power production forecasting, demand side management, network planning, capacity building etc. 


Innovative Clean Energy SMEsInnovative clean energy solutions, equipment and appliances for SMEs for example in the domains of agriculture, light manufacturing, commercial and retail or healthcare.  


Innovative Digital SolutionImplementation of new/innovative digital solutions for energy access businesses including hardware such as kits/meters for off-grid solar or clean cooking applications; or software such as CRM, last-mile distribution optimisation, loan repayment & PAYGO, dynamic monitoring etc.  



6th April - Opening of the Call for Projects
30th June 2021 23:59 CET - Application deadline
September/October 2021 - Notification of awards


Benefits for Challenge winners

For every annual Call for Projects, the 5-8 winning start-ups will each benefit from:

  • A grant of €70K (maximum) to contribute to costs for equipment, software, training and recruitment
  • The possibility to request technical assistance (awarded on a case-by-case basis), which could include project management support, strategic and technical expertise, and accounting/reporting assistance

In addition, start-ups and utility partnership winners can take advantage of:

  • A joint boot camp run by cross-sectorial experts, which will support project implementation, provide sectorial insights, foster synergies between project winners and encourage best-practice sharing
  • Widespread communication campaigns piloted by AFD during the selection phase, award ceremony, bootcamp and for a period of time after these events.
About the Challenge

The Digital Energy Challenge, which will run for four years with an annual Call for Projects, is part of the Digital Energy Facility and aims to support the development of innovative solutions for better energy access and utility performance improvement.


How to apply?

1. Download the Start-up Application Pack (email address required)

2. Watch the information webinar recording from 28th April here

3. Complete the application form and prepare the required documents 

4. Submit your project before 30th June 2021 23:59 CET

Eligibility criteria for start-ups

The Call for Projects is open to start-ups and utilities.

The start-up must meet the following criteria:

  • Created less than 10 years ago
  • Be in the pre-seed/early-stage financing phase i.e. less than €1M funding raised
  • Annual turnover of less than €1M
  • Employ between 1 and 99 people full-time.    

NGOs can apply under the Start-up category if the project meets one of the additional following criteria:

  • The project is set up as a company as a branch of the NGO
  • The project has a dedicated team and business plan, and clearly targets business sustainability/profitability (e.g. plans to spin off as an independent entity).

Finally, the start-up’s project must meet one of the three above-mentioned themes and be:

  • Digital i.e. based on a telecom, computer or cloud-based technology 
  • Innovative, either intrinsically or compared to the local market
  • Local i.e. headquartered or with project management activities in the country of the project


Eligible Sub-Saharan African countries

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo Democratic Republic, Congo Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Key dates & Application support

  • Launch of the Call for Projects: 6th April 2021
  • Deadline for submission: 30th June 2021 23:59 CET
  • Announcement of results: September-October 2021
For more information:
  • Watch the information webinar recording from the 28th April here
  • Consult the FAQ which will be updated regularly
  • Join the Challenge mailing list and ask any questions by contacting us

Download the Challenge brochure