Solver Sessions let peers find the best solutions

Matt Wainright became known in The Africa Prize for raising millions of dollars in investment, but when it came to closing deals with customers he needed help.

Standard Microgrid is a South African company that makes solar power plants the size of a single shipping container. They can be up and running with paying customers in any African village in a week, putting power in hundreds of homes.

Matt is one of the founders of Standard Microgrid, and a former management consultant at Deloitte. He has a sophisticated investment model, and was able to raise millions of dollars of funding within the company's first three years. Standard Microgrid's next challenge was closing deals with energy ministries in different countries, and this is where Matt was stuck.

One day, instead of going into the conference center training rooms, we took over the patio at our hotel.  Each founder had a chance to select a "dream team" from the other 15 Africa Prize startups to tackle their biggest head-scratcher.  They'd think of a big problem that was a good fit for the strengths of the other startup founders in the program, and they'd have 2 hours of their time to dedicate to their challenge.

One caveat though. They had 15 minutes to describe the problem to their dream team, and then they'd have to stay silent for the next 1 hour 45 minutes, observing how their team worked. This forces the challenger to learn to delegate (with the help of canvas we designed to help in Solve for X delegation), and gives leeway to the team to do it their way while the challenger learns their mindset.

At first, the team brainstormed ideas and it was hard for Matt to stay quiet.  He was sure so much of what he was hearing wouldn't work, and he didn't want to squander this chance.  But he stayed silent, even though he kept making faces like a kid in school who wants to be excused to the restroom.

One of his dream team members had an SMS app for detecting prenatal problems in pregnant women.  They didn't believe in Matt's approach to work with national governments because they'd found it was faster to work with local counties. They started to repurpose their sales and commission approach for Matt's energy business, even researched specific contacts and made some calls to start the ball rolling.