According to a study by the United Nations, an estimated $4BN of food is wasted each year. This waste mainly occurs between harvesting and before distribution, due to a considerable energy gap and insufficient cold chain infrastructure.
Koolboks is a clean-tech company providing “cooling-as-a-service” to small business owners, particularly women in the informal sector, in off-grid and weak grid areas in Nigeria and across Africa. Since its launch in 2018, the innovative startup has deployed 2,000 refrigeration systems across Africa and currently operates in 14 countries. At the height of the COVID19 pandemic, Koolboks also distributed solar-powered vaccine freezers in rural off-grid areas in Nigeria.
Koolboks’ goal is to make eco-friendly refrigeration accessible and affordable to everyone.
The informal economy accounts for 65% of Nigeria’s GDP and 70% of employment across Sub-Saharan Africa. Women make up a majority of this informal economy, often running their own enterprises to support their families.
Founded in 2018 by Ayoola Dominic and Deborah Gael, Koolboks is creating a bridge between clean technology and sustainable business models — combining embedded financing and solar-powered cooling for small businesses that rely on refrigeration for sales and income. Their proprietary solar-powered ice thermal storage freezers provide long-term and reliable storage on a continent prone to unreliable energy infrastructure; over 85 million people lack access to grid electricity in Nigeria, often relying on diesel-powered generators.
“The challenge of this business is that I’d gain and lose when I was using a generator,” says Madam Oshuntolu, an entrepreneur in Nigeria currently using a Koolboks solar-powered freezer to sell frozen food. “The electricity bill was around 3000 Naira ($7.22), and for generator fuel, I’d buy 2000 Naira ($4.81) worth of fuel per month,” she continues.
This over-reliance on fossil fuels is particularly tenuous, especially now when Sub-Saharan Africa, like much of the world, is experiencing a surge in fuel prices due to the ongoing Russia – Ukraine war. Diesel prices in Nigeria have doubled from an average of 288 Naira ($.70) per liter in January to over 700 Naira ($1.69) per liter currently.
Koolboks is solving an additional problem for its customers like Madam Oshuntolu: affordability. While female informal traders in Nigeria play a huge role in building the country’s economy, they are often left out of some of the advantages of a formal economy — most are unbanked, meaning they often cannot access credit lines from banks to purchase expensive equipment for their businesses.
Instead of selling their freezers to small-scale entrepreneurs who cannot afford the upfront cost, the startup offers them on a lease-to-own model through its integrated PAY-GO and IoT system, which makes it more affordable for end users like Madam Oshuntolu. “Empowering women is what Koolboks does because no one is currently invested in extending a line of credit to market women entrepreneurs,” says Ayoola Dominic, CEO at Koolboks. “For us, it’s a no-brainer. What we’re inadvertently doing is offering these small businesses the capital to run their operations.”
This is on trend with the rapid digitization happening across numerous other industries and countries in Africa. Embedded financing with solutions like PAYGO solar freezers makes expensive items affordable for small scale entrepreneurs like Madam Oshuntolu. It means that they can purchase assets that help them make more money and then use that extra profit to pay back the financing on a timeline that works for them, and their business.
Smart Asset Financing with Koolboks
According to Untapped Investment Officer, Yvonne Okafor, “Koolboks’ is a great investment for Untapped because of the challenges it addresses through its physical assets, the proven customer use case in its first market — Nigeria, and the large market opportunity due to the adaptability of the assets across sectors and countries in Africa.”
Millions of refrigerators are imported into Africa every year. Majority of them are cheap, second-hand versions that often have high Global Warming Potential (GWP). Koolboks also addresses the digital graveyard problem of dumping non-compliant refrigerators in Africa, brought on by the low purchasing power of local consumers and the limited energy access across most of the continent.
Untapped finances Koolboks’ solar freezers up front, allowing them to lease thousands of them to entrepreneurs like Madam Oshontula. This lowers the overall cost of acquisition, and provides revenue generating assets that create value for the local economy and access to capital — a step towards financial freedom for small scale women entrepreneurs in Nigeria and across Africa.
“Untapped has the same vision [as us], to lower the entry barrier for people to own revenue-generating assets . It’s a natural fit for us.”
Ayoola Dominic, CEO and Co-Founder at Koolboks
Untapped Global’s Smart Asset Financing investment model finances revenue-generating assets for entrepreneurs and SMEs in the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, like Koolboks.
Source: Fiona Njagi | Medium.com