CNBC Disruptor 50

7. Zipline

Founders: Keller Rinaudo (CEO), Keenan Wyrobek, William Hetzler
Launched: 2014
Headquarters: Half Moon Bay, California
Funding:
 $225 million
Valuation: $1.2 billion
Key technologies:
 AI, drones/UAVs, edge computing, machine learning, robotics
Industry:
Drones, logistics, robots
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 2 (No. 39 in 2019)

George Kavallines

This California-based drone-delivery company transports critical medical supplies such as blood and vaccines in Rwanda and Ghana. In April it added Covid-19 test samples to the list. The service began in Ghana's two largest cities — Accra and Kumasi — and were collected from patients at rural health facilities and delivered to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research for testing. Zipline says this is the first time that autonomous drones have been used to make regular long-range deliveries into densely populated urban areas.

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Both Ghana and Rwanda have mountainous geography and poor road conditions, making it extremely difficult to deliver medical supplies by land vehicles. Since its founding in 2014, Zipline has gone from one base serving half of Rwanda to two bases serving the whole country. It also has launched four new bases in Ghana. The six facilities combined will deliver to hospitals serving over 20 million people.

Here's how the company works: A doctor in a hospital or clinic in a remote area texts Zipline a list of what it needs. The products are stored at the company's distribution centers in that country (in this case, Rwanda and Ghana) and then packaged in a small, red Zipline box. The box is attached to a small parachute that the drone then gently drops at the hospital or clinic. The company claims the box floats gently enough to the ground that someone could stand below and catch it. The autonomous aircraft then flies back to the distribution center to await its next delivery. Zipline's goal, says co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo, is to put every person on Earth within a 15- to 30-minute delivery radius of any essential medical product they need, no matter where they live.

Zipline's customers are governments, pharmaceutical companies and large logistics networks. In May the company partnered with Novant Health in North Carolina to start long-distance deliveries of PPE and critical medical supplies to frontline workers in the Charlotte area through an emergency waiver by the FAA. The company's goal in the U.S. is to ramp up emergency efforts that would focus on delivering new treatments and an eventual vaccine to the places that need them most. So far, the company has raised $225 million from some of the world's top investors, including Andreesen Horowitz, GV, Temasek, Baille Gifford, Sequoia Capital, Katalyst Ventures and a $3 million grant from the UPS Foundation. In September singer Bono joined Zipline's board of directors, after TPG's Rise Fund, which he co-founded, also invested in Zipline.

A look back at the CNBC Disruptor 50: 8 years, 209 companies