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Microsoft funds three African startups to boost rural internet access

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Microsoft has, through its Airband Grant Fund, invested an undisclosed amount in three startups to provide internet access and cloud-enabled solutions to underserved African communities. The three startup are: Mesh Power and ColdHubs which hail from Rwanda and Nigeria, respectively, and Agsol — which is registered in Hong Kong and Australia — has operations in Kenya.

The three were part of eight startups from the US, Africa and Asia that the company announced it had invested in yesterday.

In a blog post on Wednesday (1 August), Microsoft head of technology and corporate responsibility Shelley McKinley said the eight startups are helping to provide affordable internet access to unconnected and underserved communities using TV white spaces (TVWS) and other promising last-mile access technologies.

Mesh Power team in the Bugesera District, Eastern Province, Rwanda (MeshPower Ltd via Facebook)

“Our grant fund will provide financing, technology, mentorship, networking opportunities and other support to help scale these startups’ innovative new technologies, services and business models,” said McKinley. Ventureburn contacted Microsoft to establish just how much the company had invested in the startups but had not received a response from the company at the time of publication.

Kigali-based Mesh Power operate solar-powered microgrids that use innovative electrical and mobile technology to provide clean and affordable electricity services to low-income, off-grid communities in Rwanda. Oweri-based ColdHubs has developed a “plug and play” modular solar-powered walk-in cold room for for 24/7 off-grid storage and preservation of perishable foods. The company is currently transforming their various refrigerated crop storage rooms into Wi-Fi hot spots using TV White Space technology.

Agsol manufactures solar powered agro-processing machines purpose built for poor, off-grid farming communities in developing countries. The startup’s machines convert staple foods into edible and higher-value products, and provide a scalable solar power platform that offers essential energy services.

Launched last year, the Airband Grant Fund is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative which aims to extend broadband access across the US, and ultimately connectivity around the globe.

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