Startup Will Use Drones to Deliver Drugs and Blood Across Ghana 

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. venture capitalists Sequoia Capital Operations LLC and Andreessen Horowitz are backing a tech startup that says it’s the world’s largest medical drone delivery service, sending 148 types of medicine to areas around Ghana.

San Francisco-based Zipline International Inc. struck a deal with the West African nation’s government to make on-demand deliveries of vaccines, blood products and other treatments, Chief Executive Officer Keller Rinaudo said Wednesday in an interview from Omenako, the site of the first distribution center about 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of the capital, Accra.

Venture capitalist funds invest in early stage companies they see as having the potential for rapid growth. Sequoia’s investments include room-booking giant Airbnb Inc, while Andreessen Horowitz was a backer of Pinterest Inc. ahead of last week’s IPO. The rollout in Ghana will be a boost to the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who will seek re-election next year in one of Africa’s most competitive democracies.

At completion, the project will make as many as 600 deliveries a day in less than 30 minutes per trip to 2,000 health facilities in four regions with a population of 22 million people, the CEO said.

The infrastructure investment is “in the tens of millions of dollars,” he added. The rollout in Ghana followed after Zipline started deliveries of blood products to 25 hospitals in Rwanda in 2016.

‘Unsolved Problem’

“Healthcare is an unsolved problem globally,” the CEO said. ‘A couple of really forward-thinking, innovative governments in Africa decided to be the first ones to solve the problem.”

Zipline will launch two similar projects elsewhere in the next two years, including North Carolina, according to a company statement. One of the biggest obstacles is working with national civil aviation authorities on the regulation of the drone service, Rinaudo said.

“We operate at the intersection of two highly regulated industries,” he said. “The nice thing is that because by now we have tens of thousands of hours of available flight data, every country we launch in is getting easier.”

Apart from Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz, Zipline’s other backers include Katalyst Ventures and Yahoo! Inc. founder Jerry Yang, according to a company statement.

“We have plenty of resources to undergo a pretty dramatic global expansion over the next three to four years,” he said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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