Agsol, a Kenyan start-up based in Nairobi which manufactures solar-powered agro processing machines for off-grid farming communities, has been selected for Microsoft’s third annual Airband Grant Fund. Microsoft announced that this is part of its Airband Initiative, launched last year to extend internet connectivity around the globe. Agsol is among three other early-stage companies selected from Africa including Mesh Power and ColdHubs from Rwanda and Nigeria respectively.
Internet is the electricity of the 21st century and vital for participation in the digital economy. It empowers entrepreneurs to start and grow small businesses, farmers to implement precision agriculture, doctors to improve community health, and students to do better in school and prepare for the workplace of the future. However, only 35.2 percent of the African population is online and therefore miss out on opportunities to take advantage of and become part of the digital economy.
In Kenya, despite an 89.4% internet penetration rate, a fairly large percentage of the population still has no access to the internet. As a global technology company, Microsoft believes in the responsibility and the great opportunity to help close this gap.
These start-ups are overcoming barriers to provide affordable internet access to unconnected and underserved communities using TV white spaces (TVWS) and other promising last-mile access technologies. The grant fund will provide financing, technology, mentorship, networking opportunities and other support to help scale their innovative new technologies, services and business models.
Agsol’s village-scale machines process crops and its excess power is used for lights, phone chargers and small appliances. The grant fund will be used to help develop and deploy these cloud-connected agro-processing machines in East Africa to increase efficiency for agricultural workers, make energy more accessible for off-grid farming communities, and improve yields.
In Kigali, Rwanda, Mesh Power is focused on off-grid regions. They have developed a smart, internet connected, PV DC microgrid, providing 48V DC energy to customers at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions. The next phase of work will focus on driving economic development and diversifying beyond energy, to increase internet access and scale mini-grids to eco lodges and schools. The grant fund will be used to provide affordable internet access in Rwanda.
Based in Owerri, Nigeria, ColdHubs provides solar-powered walk-in cold rooms installed in rural markets to store and preserve perishable foods 24/7. Their technology eliminates loss of crops and increases farmers’ income. The Airband Grant Fund will help with ColdHubs’ next phase of work: turning their hubs into Wi-Fi hot spots. ColdHubs will use excess power from each hub to deliver affordable Wi-Fi to smallholder farmers, who will benefit from internet-based agricultural training, and digital skills and marketing training.
These companies are improving life for some of the most underserved communities in Africa. Microsoft is eager to work in close partnership with these Airband Grant Fund recipients over the next year to refine and expand the reach of their solutions.