Instant Logistics Startup Zipline Raises $250 Million; Plans To Scale In The U.S. And Africa

Hospital systems are now faced with reorganizing their care delivery in the wake of a global crisis and disruptions to supply chains. Zipline, the instant logistics startup founded by CEO Keller Rinaudo, uses autonomous planes to deliver critical medical supplies such as blood packets and vaccines throughout Africa.

Zipline announced Wednesday that it raised $250 million in a Series E round. This brings the total funding of Zipline to $486 million and raises its valuation to $2.75 Billion. Fidelity and Intercorp led the funding round, along with existing investors Baillie Gifford and Temasek.

In 2013, Zipline was founded by CTO Keenan Wyrobek and Rinaudo. This year, Jeff Bezos also announced plans for drone delivery. Robotics software entrepreneurs recognized a market opportunity in the essential medical supply industry. They partnered with hospitals and governments to transport their goods instead of selling directly to customers.

“We emphasized the importance of rural hospitals and health centers. It is easier to obtain regulatory approval. Forbes reports that the impact is very high due to the high need.” Rinaudo says.

Eight years later, the drone delivery market is crowded by tech giants like Alphabet’s Wing drone delivery service and Amazon’s Prime Air. However, these technologies are still being developed, and companies are working hard to get type certification from Federal Aviation Administration.

According to the company, Zipline has delivered 75% of Rwanda’s national blood supply outside of U.S. airspace and performed 15,000 life-saving emergencies. The startup has partnered with hospitals systems like Novant Health in North Carolina and the Ministry of Health of Ghana to deliver more than 2,500 hospitals. It also began delivering Covid-19 vaccines to rural Ghana after they became available. Rinaudo explains that Ghana was the first African country to be given the vaccine because it had the best-prepared supply chain.

This new funding will enable the company to expand its distribution network and delivery efforts through new partnerships in the U.S. and other African countries. Recently, the company announced a partnership agreement with Pfizer to develop and test an end-to-end model for COVID-19 vaccinations in countries that Zipline serves. The company joined forces with Walmart in September 2020 to launch a drone delivery site from its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Rinaudo states that it is a paradigm shift. Most people believe that advanced technology will start in the U.S. and slowly trickle out to other countries. This is not the case. It’s the exact opposite, at least for certain types of technology.

Zipline managed to provide safe flight data for thousands of hours to the FAA by operating in Rwanda, Ghana and without any safety incidents. He says that this allows the FAA to stop playing guessing games.

Turbulence has been part of every flight. Zipline engineers had to change and update the design of drones and associated infrastructure many times. Zipline’s technology is constantly evolving. Zipline has designed vehicles that can withstand severe weather conditions like lightning and dust storms. Zipline has developed preflight checks, a communications infrastructure and a universal air traffic management system. He says that the vehicle represents only 20% of what they do.

Rinaudo states that Zipline is comparable in cost to other modes of transportation. You can already get an idea of the cost of Lyft or Uber if you know what they would cost. He says that it is generally much cheaper than people think.

Frost & Sullivan aerospace defense analyst Michael Blades says that the funding round shows that drone technology is expanding and has essential applications. He also believes that drone operators are more open to cooperation with regulators. However, blade states that the public’s support for drone use, particularly in the wake COVID-19, has cooled.”

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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