Expanding the cold chain across the African continent is both necessary and hard. A better network of cold storage facilities is necessary to drive down food waste and enable wider access to fresher produce. And it’s difficult due to high installation costs and all sorts of risks, most notably those surrounding intermittent electricity supplies and connectivity in rural areas.
Nevertheless, things are opening up thanks to cheaper and better solar power, and access to financing options. One company making a move here is UK-headquartered InspiraFarms. The firm designs, finances and supplies energy-efficient and solar-powered cold rooms to agribusinesses and food distributors in East and Southern Africa.
In a recent call with AFN from South Africa, while stuck in lockdown, InspiraFarms co-founder and CEO Tim Chambers outlined some better news as consolation: his company had closed its Series B funding round to expand operations in the region. He did not disclose an amount on record.
The round was led by KawiSafi Ventures, a growth equity fund focused on renewable energy in East Africa. Existing investors Energy Access Ventures and the Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Community (PYMWYMIC) also participated in the round along with Untapped.
The selling point of InspiraFarms technology, according to Chambers, is that it allows its customers to access new higher-value markets, significantly cut energy costs, reduce post-harvest losses, and meet international food safety certifications.
“More of a bottleneck to adoption than unreliable energy sources,” he pointed out, “is definitely a scarcity of financing options for African agribusinesses to build cold chain storage.”
To alleviate this, InspiraFarms provides remote performance monitoring capabilities and long-term asset financing. InspiraFarms is also working in partnership with the Shell Foundation and with project finance partners to scale the building of a leasing platform to expand access to longer-term affordable asset financing for agribusiness clients, including a ‘cooling as a service’ option, first-mile cooling for outgrowers, as well as medium to large scale cold storage for distributors and exporters.
Amar Inamdar of KawiSafi Ventures hails his new portfolio company as a “world-class leader in energy-efficient cold chain.” That said, there are plenty of other cool startups operating in a similar space. In India, for instance, there’s a storage offering from Ecozen, which closed its Series A round of funding on $6 million last year. Or in the US, companies like Rebound Technologies are redesigning the fundamental mechanics of cold storage. Rebound closed its own $5 million Series A funding round early this year.
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