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Wassha, power supplier for off-grid Africa, snags $9M from Daikin, Yamaha Motor, others

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See the original story in Japanese. Tokyo-based Wassha, developing a prepaid solar power delivery service to off-grid areas in rural Africa by networking kiosk vendors under the same name, announced today that it has raised 1.01 billion yen (about $9.2 million) in a series B round. Participating investors are Daikin Industries (TSE:6367), Yamaha Motor (TSE:7272), Mistletoe, Mizuho Capital in addition to existing investors such as The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC) and Marubeni (TSE:8002). The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about 2.4 billion yen (about $22 million). See also: Wassha, power supplier for off-grid Africa, secures $3M from Japan aid agency How Japanese energy startup Wassha delivers prepaid solar power to rural Africa Wassha installs solar panels or battery chargers, then provides LED lanterns, radios, tablets to kiosk operators; the kiosks rent these out to villagers and collect fees from them for charging power at the kiosks. The owners settle the electricity bills from smartphones and power charging boxes for the appliances, not to mention earning at each kiosk by charging money for use of mobile phones. Among the investors participating investors, Wassha aims to develop new business with Daikin Industries, Yamaha Motor, and Mistletoe….

Image credit: Wassha

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based Wassha, developing a prepaid solar power delivery service to off-grid areas in rural Africa by networking kiosk vendors under the same name, announced today that it has raised 1.01 billion yen (about $9.2 million) in a series B round.

Participating investors are Daikin Industries (TSE:6367), Yamaha Motor (TSE:7272), Mistletoe, Mizuho Capital in addition to existing investors such as The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC) and Marubeni (TSE:8002). The latest round brought their total funding sum up to about 2.4 billion yen (about $22 million).

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Wassha installs solar panels or battery chargers, then provides LED lanterns, radios, tablets to kiosk operators; the kiosks rent these out to villagers and collect fees from them for charging power at the kiosks. The owners settle the electricity bills from smartphones and power charging boxes for the appliances, not to mention earning at each kiosk by charging money for use of mobile phones.

Among the investors participating investors, Wassha aims to develop new business with Daikin Industries, Yamaha Motor, and Mistletoe. We were told that Wassha will unveil details on but the potential joint projects with these investors.

However, it seems like the startup aims to work with Daikin to establish a cold chain, a temperature-controlled food distribution network leveraging air conditioning and refrigeration facilities, and also work with Yamaha Motor to establish a motorcycle-based delivery network connecting the kiosks participating in the Wassha network. Kindly think a somewhat another version of Zipline (drone-based logistics platform in Africa) plus NinjaCart (fresh foods marketing platform in India).

Mistletoe has invested in Zipline and NinjaCart in addition to Agribuddy (microfinance platform for farmers in Southeast Asia) and FOMM (manufacturing floatable electric vehicles). Leveraging Wassha’s kiosk network, Mistletoe is expected to help their portfolio companies expand their solution into the African market.

Having rolled out their service in Tanzania, Wassha is planning to expand into Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Ethiopia going forward. While keeping power delivery service in the off-grid area as a their core business, they will cultivate new businesses such as food distribution and marketplace aiming to help farmers get more income, which may lead to gaining the need of power delivery service users.

Wassha, power supplier for off-grid Africa, secures $3M from Japan aid agency

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Tokyo-based Digital Grid, developing a prepaid solar power delivery service to off-grid areas in rural Africa by networking kiosk vendors (or rather, perhaps better referred to as “jacks-of-all-trade”) named Wassha, last week announced that it has raised 300 million yen (about $2.89 million) in its series B series A extension round from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Before that, the firm closed its A round of 800 million yen (about $7.71 million) with the participation of The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC), Development Bank of Japan (DBJ), Innovative Venture Fund (jointly run by NEC and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. group) and J-Power, and has secured 400 million yen (about $3.86 million) in its series B series A extension round while adding the funding this time, totaling at 1.2 billion yen (about $11.6 million) as a cumulative amount since its launch. Updated on Nov. 8, 2019: Wassha told The Bridge that they positioned this as an series A extension round instead of a series B round. Some words were modified accordingly. Started in 2013, Digital Grid spun off from a research on the power network innovation (digital grid) suggested by Professor Rikiya Abe at The University of Tokyo. It installs…

digital-grid-jica-mou-signing-ceremony
L to R: Atsufumi Konishi (Deputy Manager of Public-Private Partnership Department, JICA), Masato Tahara (Director of Environment / CSR Department, DBJ), Satoshi Akita (CEO, Digital Grid), Kenichi Tomiyoshi (Administration Officer, JICA), Tomotaka Gouji (CEO, UTEC), and Yuichiro Sano (Chief Assistant of Public-Private Partnership Department, JICA)
From the signing ceremony at JICA’s Tokyo headquarters (photo courtesy: Shinichi Kuno / JICA)

Tokyo-based Digital Grid, developing a prepaid solar power delivery service to off-grid areas in rural Africa by networking kiosk vendors (or rather, perhaps better referred to as “jacks-of-all-trade”) named Wassha, last week announced that it has raised 300 million yen (about $2.89 million) in its series B series A extension round from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Before that, the firm closed its A round of 800 million yen (about $7.71 million) with the participation of The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC), Development Bank of Japan (DBJ), Innovative Venture Fund (jointly run by NEC and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. group) and J-Power, and has secured 400 million yen (about $3.86 million) in its series B series A extension round while adding the funding this time, totaling at 1.2 billion yen (about $11.6 million) as a cumulative amount since its launch.

Updated on Nov. 8, 2019: Wassha told The Bridge that they positioned this as an series A extension round instead of a series B round. Some words were modified accordingly.

Started in 2013, Digital Grid spun off from a research on the power network innovation (digital grid) suggested by Professor Rikiya Abe at The University of Tokyo. It installs solar panels or battery chargers, then provides 30 LED lanterns, radios, tablets to kiosk operators; the kiosks rent these out to villagers and collect fees from them for charging power at the kiosks. The owners settle the electricity bills from smartphones and power charging boxes for the appliances, not to mention earning at each kiosk by charging money for use of mobile phones.

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For JICA, leading Japan’s international cooperation efforts including Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), it is the first attempt to invest in projects targeting Sub-Sahara Africa (the region in Africa south of the Sahara) although it has invested in development funds in some cases for the Middle East or North Africa. The raised money was made from JICA’s Base of the Pyramid – Feasibility Study (BOP FS) scheme, and it is also the first investment case for the scheme in any business project (which is not limited to surveys).

According to Yuichiro Sano who is Chief Assistant of Public-Private Partnership Department of JICA and in charge of this investment, although JICA has to collect the fund in the end because it is not a grant but is funded by tax money, JICA decided to invest in Wassha as a growth capital because “provision of development efficacy” can be expected through business expansion in addition to its supports possibly reaching areas where yen loans / grants / conventional ODA cannot cover.

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L to R: Satoshi Akita (CEO, Digital Grid) and Atsushi Shito (CFO, Digital Grid)
(photo courtesy: Shinichi Kuno / JICA)

JICA has local offices in almost all of the 54 African countries and has been dispatching JOCV or senior overseas volunteer staffs there. Since it grasps the demand of local residents’ daily life, as well as building a strong network of governments and relevant ministries in the African countries, Digital Grid will be able to realize a smoother business scale by leveraging said network.

During the previous interview in June, Wassha was provided to 650 partner kiosks mainly in two cities including the largest city of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam; thereafter the number of partner kiosks increased to 820 as of late October. Currently Digital Grid develops the service in ten regions in Tanzania and covers three cities as bases for dispatching of technical staffs or the repairing item. Besides the power provision services, the firm plans to work with other startups in sales of their service or test marketing utilizing its partner kiosk network in the future.

JICA has an investment scheme targeting three sectors; infrastructure, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs; development goals specified by United Nations), and climate change, so that it continues to consider active investments in social startups focusing on these growth-stage markets.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy

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Lamps and battery boxes for smartphone charging provided with Wassha
(photo courtesy: Shinichi Kuno / JICA)

How Japanese energy startup Wassha delivers prepaid solar power to rural Africa

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See the original story in Japanese. Updated on Nov. 8, 2019: Wassha told The Bridge that they positioned the funding up to the date when this article was published as an series A extension round instead of a series A round. Some words were modified accordingly. The percentage of households owning a landline phone once used to be considered the measure of industrialization for that country. Some decades ago, the ownership rate of the landline phone in China was much lower than that in Japan. However, as mobile devices were developed and smartphones appeared around the world, the ownership rate of smartphones in Chinese urban areas has exceeded 100% (it comes to more than one smartphone per person), which is twice as much as in Japan. In several years from now, tourists to China probably would not need credit cards nor to exchange currencies at the airport, but would be able to settle all bills using mobile devices while traveling. This example indicates that countries with well-developed infrastructures are apt to be influenced by old infrastructures when some new system has appeared, but it is rather quicker for undeveloped areas to adopt to the new system. Although Japan looked better…

powergrid
CC BY-SA 2.0: Via Flickr by Ian Muttoo

See the original story in Japanese.

Updated on Nov. 8, 2019: Wassha told The Bridge that they positioned the funding up to the date when this article was published as an series A extension round instead of a series A round. Some words were modified accordingly.

The percentage of households owning a landline phone once used to be considered the measure of industrialization for that country. Some decades ago, the ownership rate of the landline phone in China was much lower than that in Japan. However, as mobile devices were developed and smartphones appeared around the world, the ownership rate of smartphones in Chinese urban areas has exceeded 100% (it comes to more than one smartphone per person), which is twice as much as in Japan. In several years from now, tourists to China probably would not need credit cards nor to exchange currencies at the airport, but would be able to settle all bills using mobile devices while traveling.

This example indicates that countries with well-developed infrastructures are apt to be influenced by old infrastructures when some new system has appeared, but it is rather quicker for undeveloped areas to adopt to the new system. Although Japan looked better in information infrastructure than China, the appearance of the mobile system which does not need telephone lines to be set up has changed the order in both countries.

And now, a revolution is about to break out in the electric power industry. The disruption is being wrought by Japanese startup Digital Grid.

Increasing demand for power in Africa

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Image credit: Digital Grid

The world’s population marked 7.3 billion as of 2016, and 1.2 billion people among them are living without electricity, whether they like it or not. Among 900 million people living in Africa, 6.3 million people cannot even access electric power. This is due to poor cost-effectiveness of power grid development resulting from the low population density. On the other hand, the ownership rate of mobile phones of 50% across the entire African continent is unexpectedly high; almost every adult male owns a mobile phone, though the ownership ratio may differ according to local area. They go to shops located a few kilometers away from their own home that avail power equipment, where the mobile phones can be recharged almost everyday. Such scenes may be unimaginable in advanced countries where power is available with a touch of a button, but that is many Africans’ everyday life.

As for illumination at night in such areas, kerosene lamps are mostly used. Since these lamps oftentimes generate soot from low-quality fuel, leading to respiratory illnesses, thus ranking in as a global social problem. According to World Bank’s survey, it is estimated that women or children living in these area inhale kerosene lamp soot indoors equaling smoke from as much as 40 cigarettes daily. In addition, there are many people who suffer from serious burns due to overturned lamps.

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Digital Grid aims to solve these social problems through its service Wassha, which networks small-sized kiosks (or should they be referred to as jacks-of-all-trade) found in all African villages.

wassha-team-in-tanzania
Digital Grid CEO Satoshi Akita and marketing staff of Wassha in Tanzania

Digital Grid installs solar panels or battery units in the kiosks, and provides 30 LED lanterns, radios or tablets for rental. The kiosk owners rent these out as home electrical appliances to villagers and charges them for charging power at the kiosks. The owners settle the electricity bills from smartphones and energize charging boxes for the appliances, even collecting from each kiosk through use of mobiles. The kiosk’s income is 16% of electricity sales, and average monthly income per kiosk is about 20,000 yen (about $188).

digital-grid-satoshi-akita-atsushi-shito
L to R: CEO Satoshi Akita, CFO Atsuhi Shito

CEO of Digital Grid Satoshi Akita explains Wassha:

If we opened retail outlets ourselves, management would be difficult because we don’t know who the trustworthy customers are. However, such matters will not occur by joining hands with existing kiosks in villages because they know each others well. Also, retailer network expansion can take place much faster.

Digital Grid has already expanded the service to 650 kiosks in Tanzania during the first half of this year. It plans to increase the number of user kiosks to 1,700 within the year, to reach one million end-users. It has participated in the Spring 2016 Season batch of Orange Fab Asia, and intends to develop service in west Africa including Senegal through support from Orange, the carrier providing telephony or mobile settlement service in such African countries.

Extension of powered area coverage as a virtual ‘surface’ can be realized without placing lines like those of the power grid, but rather through networking of kiosks with solar panels posited as ‘dots.’

No regulation for power business in Africa

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Image credit: Digital Grid

Digital Grid had originally spun off from a research effort on ‘power network innovation (digital grid)’ by Prof. Rikiya Abe of the University of Tokyo. The concept of a digital grid is similar to the process in which the voice communication method using telephones has changed from landline to the mobile network or VoIP (Voice over IP), for example. As deregulation of electric power has commenced in Japan, ordinary households can now purchase electricity from any electric power utility, just by setting up smart meters.

Beyond the deregulation of electricity can be found the Smart Grid and beyond that, the digital grid. Over the digital grid, a device called the digital grid router – which is just like the router for packet switching in data communication – is used, providing for intelligent routing between power suppliers and consumers.

Demonstration tests will be needed before the digital grid is realized, but there are many constraining conditions upon the testing of new technologies in advanced countries, where a stable power supply is mandated. So it is that Wassha had found its way to Africa, burdened with poor power supply. Although today’s Wassha contains little of the original digital grid concept, we cannot rule out the possibility that the disruption in the mobile communication field may parallel that in the power supply field when Wassha plays comes to play a central role on the African continent, as mentioned in the introduction.

Wassha not only supplies power but changes lifestyles

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Image credit: Digital Grid

Since its launch back in 2013, Digital Grid has fundraised a total of 900 million yen (about $8.6 million) 800 million yen (about $7.6 million) from The University of Tokyo Edge Capital (UTEC), Development Bank of Japan, Innovative Venture Fund (jointly operated by NEC group and SMBC group) and J-Power, and has already closed its series B round series A extension round. With recommendation by UTEC, the team is going to participate in Stanford University’s accelerator program StartX as the first startup from Japan.

In addition to the power supply business, Digital Grid is thinking to develop various other businesses, such as remote healthcare, telemedicine, test marketing, financing, remote education or cold supply chain at kiosk shops by leveraging its network. It will showcase its service at Viva Technology Startup Connect being held from June 30 to July 2 in Paris, so please check it out if you are interested.

Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by “Tex” Pomeroy