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Olhão’s solar boat company pitches for million dollar prize

It’s called Sun Concept, it is based in Olhão and it has just won the national leg of a world-scale competition to find “extraordinary start-ups that are using business to create a better future”.

“The Venture” – promoted by whisky manufacturer Chivas – is aimed at social businesses, and involves a number of different ‘heats’ before the international final in Los Angeles in July.

If Sun Concept can get there with its unique solar-powered boats, it stands to increase prize money won so far by 997,000 dollars.

“What would we do with that”, founder Nuno Oliveira answered RTP News after winning the competition in Lisbon last week. “First we would smile. Smile a lot. Then we would invest: invest in people, invest in models, invest in technology and invest in knowledge”.

Thus the venture that for now involves 15 people, has already sold five boats and has 10 more “almost ready to be delivered”, is off to Oxford in the UK where in March it will pitch against other finalists from 31 countries.

Success in Oxford will secure the coveted place in the finals, and then who knows, Sun Concept could be returning to Portugal with a cool million dollars in the company account.

The beauty of Sun Concept’s craft are that they ‘work’ for anything from fishing to tourism.

They are already being used as far from their homebase in the Algarve as Vila Nova de Cerveira (Viana do Castelo). The hope is that the Chivas Venture competition can actually take the boats’ advantages to parts of the world where “questions of sustainability are more sought-after and seen as more important than they are in Portugal”, explained Oliveira.

Talking to Observador website, he said: “We are delivering something to society that will bring well-being, something that will improve the environment and the lives of people”.

The completely silent seven-metre boats with seven solar panels built into their structures and capable of carrying 12 people at a cruising speed of six knots for six hours, are solutions, he explained, in sync with “climate change, the conservation of biodiversity, electric mobility, energetic independence and economic efficiency”.

One of their many advantages, he added, was that they can take bird watching and other activities involving wildlife to a new level as the boats’ lack of noise means they can get ‘up close’ without causing disturbance.

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