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Zipline, a medicine drone-delivery startup, raised $190 million in funding from investors and donors including Goldman Sachs, signaling African’s daunting medical-care situation are attracting Silicon Valley and Wall Street’s attention.
The California-based startup uses drones to deliver blood and vaccines to remote areas in Rwanda and Ghana, where there is a lack of transportation infrastructure. Zipline will use the new funds to expand the service in Africa, the Americas and parts of Asia, aiming to serve 700 million people in the next five years, according to a TechCrunch report.
“By offering efficient and effective solutions like the drone delivery service, we can actually do a massive leapfrog in terms of what’s actually needed on an infrastructural level,” said Liza Chong, CEO of INDEX: Design to Improve Life Investment, a participant in Zipline’s latest round of funding. “Businesses can be commercially successful and make a difference in the world. We think there’s no tradeoff,” she said in an interview with Karma.
Some critics have questioned whether Africa’s needs could be better addressed by investing in roads, clinics and ambulances. Chong conceded that networks of hospitals and clinics would help, but said infrastructure like that takes much more intensive capital investments than Zipline’s service.
Zipline is a “complementary model,” not a substitute for infrastructure, Chong said. “We can’t be blind to the fact that the technology is there.”
With a $1.2 billion valuation, Zipline is in a leading position in the emerging field of health-related drone deliveries. When UNICEF helped Vanuatu ask for bids to deliver temperature-controlled vaccines in the Pacific island nation, the process attracted 20 companies. Swoop Aero, an Australian drone-delivery startup, recently won a contract to deliver the temperature-controlled vaccines to three of the country’s remote islands countries, according to a Devex report.
Chong said what makes Zipline “fundamentally unique” is the founders’ willingness to take first-mover risks, including working with local governments and building the necessary infrastructure.
“Zipline have a much more conscientious approach to how they can ensure the long-term stability of being operational in these countries,” she said.
Zipline recently was granted a $12.5 million medical supply delivery contract by Ghanaian government. The company told ImpactAlpha that they expect the cost to go down as the company scales up.
The company said that its weather-resistant drones can deliver three units of blood in a single flight within an average of 30 minutes, providing about 13 million people with access to urgent medicines. Delivery is on demand through a phone app that doctors can access. Zipline said on its website that it cuts medical supply waste by 95%.