Bend company's aim: Connect investors to Africa (The Washington Times)

BEND, Ore. (AP) – Keith Wright spent 11 years living and working in Nairobi, Kenya, with a charitable organization, Food for the Hungry, before moving with his family to Bend in 2014.
Central Oregon is a little bit disconnected from the rest of the world, he said, but that hasn’t hindered his creating an advisory firm with an international reach, Thrive Global LLC. The firm aims to find business opportunities in Africa and steer investment capital there.
“I would say that my kind of personal mission is connecting good people, good capital, good ideas with the African marketplace,” Wright said recently, “not running guns, not selling cigarettes. There are a number of ways to make a buck in Africa.”
As president of Food for the Hungry, Wright sat atop a Christian organization with a $120 million budget, about 200 employees and a presence in 20 countries. His wife, Heidi Wright, has family in Central Oregon, which drew them and their four children to Bend.
In Africa, Wright spent much of his time in places like Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya and Rwanda. For people who tend to see Africa as one big country, Wright is there to make distinctions.
“Kenya is a good prospect. It has an incredible human resources base, incredibly sharp folks,” he said. “Rwanda has, by miles, the best business climate on the continent. The downside is, it’s tiny.”
Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by 5.2 percent in the coming year, up from 4.6 percent last year, according to The World Bank. By contrast, the U.S. economy grew by 2.4 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. The numbers conceal significant differences.
“The growth rates get people’s attention,” Wright said. “Either six or seven of the fastest-growing economies on the planet are in sub-Saharan Africa. To be sure, that sort of masks the reality that these aren’t huge economies.”
Obstacles to progress exist at every level, starting with extreme poverty. While economic growth picked up moderately in 2014, it did so despite miners’ strikes in South Africa, oil shortages in Angola and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, The World Bank reported. Foreign direct investment also declined, the bank reported.
However, investment in public infrastructure such as ports, roadways and capacity for generating electricity increased. That’s an encouraging sign for ViZn Energy Systems, a Whitefish, Montana-based firm and a Thrive Global client.
“My job is to get them in there in some scale, as kind of the new player in the energy storage space,” Wright said.
ViZn Energy Systems makes storage batteries the size of rail cars based on zinc/iron chemistry. The units are good for storing power generated by renewable sources like solar and wind, said ViZn Energy Systems Vice President Del Allison.
Wright said he sees practical applications for the technology in Africa in off-the-grid rural areas and in urban areas where electrical power is intermittent. ViZn Energy Systems could replace costly diesel generators with a clean source of power, he said.
The firm has a “strong relationship” with Thrive Global, Allison said.
“These guys are a top-quality organization, is how I would describe it. Having Keith on the street and being aware of the cultural and business nuances in each specific country is critical to success.”
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Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com
Source: Business