An Unexpected Connection: Minnesota and sub-Saharan Africa

Power Africa
3 min readMar 26, 2020


Photo: Justin Cox for Power Africa

Power Africa continues to promote the African energy market to a wide range of investors and companies. In January, Power Africa traded sun for snow during a visit to Minneapolis, Minnesota and met with several American companies that are interested in expanding in or into sub-Saharan Africa, and that share our goal of increasing electricity access.

Minneapolis is a thriving Midwestern city with major industrial and commercial activity and a strong link to Africa, and hosts many companies already doing business in Africa. One of those companies, a startup called LEMA, began as an idea sketched out on a paper napkin by co-founders John Abraham and Brian Plourde. The duo was in Kenya working on research towards graduate studies in mechanical engineering when inspiration struck on how to clean water using the sun. Brian completed postgraduate work at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, determined to build out their idea with experts in Kenya.

Power Africa meets with LEMA in their St. Paul, Minnesota offices. Photo: Justin Cox for Power Africa

Based in St. Paul, LEMA creates products and systems to help increase access to clean water and electricity in rural areas of East Africa. LEMA’s systems are nearly 100 percent American manufactured, providing high quality, long-lasting systems. The products are designed to be stand-alone, digital, and on-demand, enabling local entrepreneurs to own and operate the equipment, with back-end support provided by LEMA. This ease of operation and deployment addresses not only clean water and electricity access, but also the employment challenges that impact rural Africans. To date, LEMA has three projects online in Uganda, Kenya and Wisconsin, with 10 more set to deploy in Kenya and Uganda this year.

Power Africa representatives also met with Medina-based Open Systems International (OSI), a sophisticated software company seeking to expand their global presence via opportunities in Africa. OSI systems are used for real-time management, production optimization, transport, and delivery networks for electric, transportation, and water utilities. The OSI platform is utilized in more than 550 installations worldwide, with more systems in North America than all other suppliers combined. With Power Africa’s huge network of partners and increased focus on transmission and distribution, opportunities for OSI to enter and compete in the African energy market are plenty.

Power Africa brings tools from over 170 partners to the table. Photo: Justin Cox for Power Africa

Power Africa is committed in making it easier for companies to access the tools of the U.S. Government.

This trip included representatives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), the Small Business Administration (SBA), as well as the Prosper Africa Initiative. With support from the local U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) and the Minnesota Trade Office, representatives from five U.S. Government agencies joined a team from Appropriations Committee member Rep. Betty McCollum’s office (D-MN 4) to meet with business leaders and local trade groups. Many of these groups already have strong links to Africa, but were pleased to learn about the depth and breadth of tools the U.S. Government can offer to help alleviate energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa.

Acting Coordinator John Irons spoke with Roberta Reindorf in Minneapolis during the visit:

To learn more about partnership, including how to become a Power Africa partner, contact Amanda Fong at

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Power Africa

A U.S. Government-led partnership that seeks to add 30,000 MW and 60 million electricity connections in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 >