Drone-delivery businesses cropped up all over the globe in recent years, but most focused on last-mile logistics for food and retail. The concept of air dropping a burrito to a hungry college co-ed is a fun one. But one drone-delivery business that has pulled ahead of the pack, Zipline, gained commercial traction by flying lifesaving medical supplies to thousands of rural clinics instead.
Now Zipline, which ranked No. 39 on the 2019 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, has raised $190 million in venture funding and attained a $1.2 billion valuation from its investors. Its backers include Baillie Gifford, The Rise Fund (which is TPG's global impact fund), Temasek, Alphabet's investment arm GV and Katalyst Ventures. The funding brings Zipline's total capital raised to $225 million.
CEO Keller Rinaudo, who co-founded Zipline with Keenan Wyrobek and William Hetzler in 2011, says that with the new funding, Zipline will be able to set up delivery hubs at 2,600 health facilities in Rwanda and Ghana by the end of this year. And it will soon be making deliveries of medical supplies in the U.S., starting in North Carolina, where it has secured permission from the FAA to do so.
"People think what we do is solving a developing economies problem. But critical-access hospitals are closing at an alarming rate in the U.S., too, especially if you live in the rural U.S. Life expectancy there has declined over the past several years," Rinaudo said.
By partnering with health-care facilities, governments and pharmaceuticals businesses, Rinaudo said Zipline aims to provide a much higher level of access to necessary treatments wherever people live.
The company's drones carry up to about 4 lbs (or 1.75 kg) of cargo, fly at up to 68 mph (or 110 km/hr) in all weather and have a round-trip range of about 99 miles (or 160 km). In Rwanda, Zipline's drones have flown more than 1 million km and have made more than13,000 deliveries.
Zipline's efforts illustrate the humanitarian potential of drones. The company anticipates that the additional funding will support global expansion across Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Americas and position the company to serve 700 million people in the next five years.
Zipline announced in late April that its service, which launched in Rwanda just three years ago, had officially expanded to Ghana, making it the world's largest autonomous medical drone-delivery service, covering an area that serves nearly 22 million people.
The $190 million in additional funding was split between a previously unannounced round of $70 million completed in spring 2018, which included Katalyst Ventures, Baillie Gifford, GV, Temasek and Goldman Sachs, and a recent round of $120 million, which included additional investments by Baillie Gifford and new investor The Rise Fund.