Zipline, which launched in Rwanda, now a unicorn

By Lora Kolodny


  • Zipline, a drone-delivery start-up, is now valued at $1.2 billion, CNBC has learned.
  • The company delivers medical supplies, including blood, rabies vaccines and antivenom, to thousands of hard-to-reach health clinics in Rwanda and Ghana.
  • CEO Keller Rinaudo says the funding allows Zipline to expand its service to the U.S. starting this year in North Caroline.

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.

According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, drug overdose deaths have been a major factor in lower life expectancy in the U.S, especially in rural areas.

Zipline International 1

With its recent expansion into Ghana, Zipline is now able to deliver more than 170 different vaccines, blood products and medications to nearly 22 million people.Zipline International

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.

This article first appeared on CNBC and is republished with its permission

Partner Content


The City of eThekwini pulled out all stops to give fans of the annual Vodacom Durban July (VDJ). The Virtual Vodacom Durban...

GAUTRAIN – Why It Matters

Economic growth continues to be one of the focus areas for the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) and the Gautrain responds to that...

Tata International concludes a securitization transaction for its African Subsidiaries

UAE financial centers act as a gateway to benefit African businesses GCC, July 13th, 2020: Tata International Limited (TIL)...

Uber launches its largest region-wide initiative in partnership with Mastercard

Uber, in partnership with Mastercard to provide 120,000 free trips to frontline workers in MEA, including South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ivory Coast...

Trending Now

ZSE to resume trading after a month long shutdown

The Zimbabwean Stock Exchange will resume trading today after a month long shut down as the government ordered an investigation against illegal foreign dealings by some companies.

Explainer: How the next WTO chief will be chosen and the task ahead

In so-called “confessionals”, members will tell this “troika” their preferences, without ranking them and without vetoes in a process expected to last two months. The first phase will be on Sept 7-16. Voting on the next director-general is seen only as a last resort if consensus cannot be reached.

COVID-19: IMF approves second RFI loan to Gabon

Gabon is added to the list of African countries that have received an IMF loan under the Rapid Financing Instrument scheme; this is also the second loan to the country amid the COVID-19 crisis bringing the total loan to $300 million. Ridle Markus, Africa Strategist, Absa Corporate and Investment Banking joins CNBC Africa for more.

COVID-19: EAC countries resume commercial flights

East Africa Community member states, Rwanda and Kenya on the 1st of this month opened up their airspaces to commercial flights after more than four months of lock-downs. So what kind of impact will this have on the struggling aviation sector? Derek Nseko, Aviation Industry Expert and Managing Director iFly Aviation spoke to CNBC Africa for more.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

- Advertisement -