Bboxx, founded by Imperial alumni, has raised $50m from Mitsubishi to expand their business bringing off-grid energy to homes in Africa.
Bboxx provides solar installations in pay-as-you-go instalments, helping people in areas with very little energy infrastructure to gain access to local power and pay for it from an app on their smartphone.
Almost 500 million people in Africa lack access to regular grid power, but the falling cost of solar has made it an increasingly popular energy source for remote areas.
The startup was founded in 2010 by recent Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduates Mansoor Hamayun, Chris Baker-Brian and Laurent Van Houcke and is now based in West London. The trio founded a successful student charity while at Imperial, which exposed the potential for off-grid solar solutions in the developing world. Bboxx is the resulting for-profit venture, started in March 2010.
The company was named after its technology, which takes the form of a small “battery box”. One end plugs into a solar panel, while the other end connects with electrical sockets. They use mobile money to charge customers a monthly fee for the use of mini solar panels and ultra-efficient lighting strips.
The fixed-period contracts usually run for about two years, until the equipment is paid off. Customers can then choose to keep their existing kit and use the electricity for free, or upgrade their system to include more panels and extra appliances under a new contract.
Bboxx has installed around 270,000 home systems, of which 200,000 are monitored remotely by software using machine learning to track customers’ energy use and payments. The team plans to use the funds from Mitsubishi to expand its product in Asia and in the future hope to broaden their reach to include gas, water, internet and loans.
The team has struck deals in Nigeria and Rwanda and is also supplying solar energy to thousands of people in rural Togo in partnership with French energy company EDF.
Next phase of growth
Chief executive and co-founder Mansoor said: “The funding is further evidence of Japanese interest in Africa and in pay-as-you-go solar energy globally. We look forward to this next phase of growth that will help us to transform more lives, unlock potential and grow our already global footprint by opening up new markets, and develop our product range.”
He added the deal would help Bboxx reach more people “lacking reliable access to modern utilities” and expand its global footprint.
This communication was first published 30 August by Imperial College London.