Microsoft has invested through its Airband Grant Fund, an undisclosed amount in three African based start-ups providing internet access and cloud-enabled solutions to underserved African communities. The three start-ups were part of eight startups from the US, Africa and Asia that the company has invested. The three startups include Mesh Power from Rwanda, ColdHubs from Nigeria and Agsol; which is registered in Hong Kong and Australia and has operations in Kenya.
With 1.2 billion people living without electricity, Mesh Power is an impact driven start-ups with the mission to provide electricity for communities that are not covered by a country’s national grid, mainly rural villages in the developing world. Villages are chosen because of their geographic location and size, with the involvement and engagement of the people who live there. The start-up operates solar-powered microgrids that use innovative electrical and mobile technology to provide clean and affordable electricity services to low-income, off-grid communities in Rwanda.
ColdHubs is also in the impact space, providing a solar-powered cold storage designed to reduce post-harvest losses for smallholder farmers in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. 45 percent of food spoils in developing countries mainly due to a lack of cold storage. This means that 470 million smallholder farmers lose 25 percent of their annual income. The start-up developed a “plug and play” modular solar-powered walk-in cold room for 24/7 off-grid storage and preservation of perishable foods. ColdHubs is currently transforming their various refrigerated crop storage rooms into Wi-Fi hot spots using TV White Space technology.
Bringing affordable broadband access to rural areas
Agsol innovates at the intersection of agriculture and energy. The company manufactures solar powered agro-processing machines purpose built for poor, off-grid farming communities in developing countries. The start-up’s machines convert staple foods into edible and higher-value products, and provide a scalable solar power platform that offers essential energy services.
Launched in 2017, the Airband Grant Fund is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative; which aims to extend broadband access across the US and connectivity around the globe. Microsoft ´s Head of technology and corporate responsibility, Shelley McKinley mentioned in a blog post that the eight startups are helping to provide affordable internet access to unconnected and underserved communities using TV white spaces (TVWS) and other promising last-mile access technologies.
Since many rural communities lack access to broadband, it limits their ability to fully participate in the Africa´s digital economy. The aim of the Airband Initiative is to close this gap, by bringing affordable broadband access to rural areas. The Airband Grant Fund is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative with the purpose of “providing finance, technology, mentorship, networking opportunities and other support to help scale the start-ups´ innovative new technologies, services and business models,” said McKinley.