While many have phones and broadband network coverage, the affordability and power supply of charging devices are major hurdles in places lacking infrastructure. Globally, approximately one billion people lack access to a reliable supply.
Yet mobile phones are increasingly being used to access advice, run businesses, pay bills and stay in touch.
BuffaloGrid’s “connecting the unconnected” solution is centered around its hubs and its StreamSpot+ service.
Here, multiple phones can be charged at the same time, with each device serving up to 800 users who can download education, health, sports and entertainment content.
Belfast co-founder and chief executive Daniel Becerra said: “We are partnering with a mobile network operator and the thousands of local agents in stores selling their airtime and SIM cards.
“We also secure content partnerships. Our system is ready for the market, it can be installed and the agent trained in two hours. The return on investment in hardware, tasks and deployment costs is six months.
“Our customers are typically between the ages of 18 and 35. The pandemic has exposed the consequences of the digital divide as unconnected people have been left behind.
“For the displaced people, it was even worse. New thinking is needed for them and for those hosting them. Our solution is scalable and affordable.”
The technology was developed with Scottish companies A2E, who worked on the electronics and software, and Wideblue, who created the mechanical design. Both are part of the American group Pivot International.
“Everything we asked for was met in the cost effective way we needed,” says Becerra. Hardware development is complete and deployment is underway in Bangladesh, where BuffaloGrid has entered into a major agreement to provide hub locations. Nigeria will follow this summer.
The platform is expected to have three million users in 2023, generating revenue of over £5 million.
The £6m backing comes from grants and equity, including venture capitalists Seedcamp and LocalGlobe. A Series A capital raise of up to £8m is expected later this year as BuffaloGrid expands. It currently employs 15 people in the UK.
The company, which is also eyeing Zimbabwe and Gambia, has partnered with the United Nations to provide services in refugee camps and aims to help Ukraine.
“We have heard from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the huge need and plan to make our Buffalito food banks more available,” says Becerra.
“Get empowered and empowered – that’s our message.”