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#Dealflow: Follow the Money
Fenix acquired by Engie SA to accelerate off-grid solar in Africa. The San Francisco-based maker of small pay-as-you-go solar systems will anchor the French utility company’s efforts to grow in Africa. Engie will provide capital and help raise financing to expand Fenix’s services into at least 10 African countries over five years, Fenix CEO Lyndsay Handler told Bloomberg. Pay-as-you-go solar products have exploded across Africa in recent years, as costs have fallen and mobile payments and other innovations in finance have opened credit for unbanked and underbanked customers. “The transaction is a sign that this new business model has reached a stage of maturity that will see it attracting more capital and serving more of the 600 million people in Africa who do not have access to the grid,” said Laurie Spengler of Enclude, which advised Fenix on the deal. Founded in 2009, Fenix in January reported that it doubled its customer base to 100,000 from 50,000 the previous year. Engie, then called GDF Suez, was part of Fenix’s 2015 raise of $12.6 million, which also included Schneider Electric, Orange France Telecom, clean tech entrepreneurs Tom Dinwoodie and Warner Philips and other investors.
Rabobank puts up $1 billion to ‘kickstart’ sustainable farming. The world needs to produce 50 percent more food by 2050 to keep pace with the world’s population growth, but it needs to do it more sustainably. That’s the opportunity. Netherlands-based Rabobank is joining forces with U.N. Environment to finance initiatives working to reduce food waste, restore depleted soil and promote nutrition and resilient farming practices. Called “Kickstart Food,” the program is part of the bank’s efforts to invest in the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Rabobank, with experience analyzing risks and financing agriculture, says it has $109 billion in loans to food supply chain projects. Its role is to “motivate and facilitate clients in adopting a more sustainable food production practice,” says Wiebe Draijer, chair of Rabobank’s managing board. The Netherlands is a leader in sustainable food: IDH manages a $400 million fund, backed by Unilever and the Norwegian government, to protect forest and peatlands, and the Dutch government in March said it is spending €1.4 million ($1.5 million) to collect satellite data to “do its bit to solve the global food crisis.”
Telehealth company Avizia acquires Seattle competitor. Reston, Va.-based Avizia develops telemedicine “carts” that enable doctors to conduct video consultations with their patients. The company partners with 35 U.S. health systems and is doubling the size of its network with the acquisition of Seattle-based Carena, which designs virtual healthcare clinics. With the deal, Avizia’s telemedicine service will reach 1,300 U.S. hospitals. Avizia, a spinoff from telecommunications tech giant Cisco, launched in 2013 with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve added 30 million people to the rolls of the insured, and they didn’t come along with 50,000 doctors to take care of them,” Avizia’s founder Mike Baird said in an interview.
#Signals: Ahead of the Curve
Families wrangle with impact investing. “We are on the verge of a Golden Age in impact investing,” said Josh Mailman, founder of Serious Change. Mailman, a longtime impact investor, kicked off the Impact Summit hosted by Family Wealth Report last week in New York. Enthusiasm from younger members in some intergenerational family offices is meeting resistance from older decisionmakers who are skeptical about financial results. Mailman highlighted the positives: growing assets, greater availability of investment products and a surge of investor interest. Liz Luckett from the Social Entrepreneurs’ Fund highlighted Pigeonly, part of the fund’s portfolio, which seeks to reduce the destructive impact of incarceration by lowering the cost of communication to and from correctional facilities. Comparable data on both financial and impact performance is needed. Without impact benchmarks, “we are giving up on the meaning of money in the market,” Benjamin Bingham of 3Sisters Sustainable Management told summit attendees.
Today’s look at India’s urban future. A collection of rural villages in Andhra Pradesh is set to become India’s first smart city, called Amaravati, to be built from scratch and eventually home to 3.5 million people. “India’s second growth story will start from Amaravati,” Sreedhar Cherukuri, the Andhra Pradesh development commissioner told the Wall Street Journal (paywall). It is one of 100 smart-city developments India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to build across the country.
In Amaravati, planners envision using technology to tackle the problems of India’s urban hubs. Aerial drones will check for informal housing. Underground power lines and smart meters will make electricity theft impossible. A biometric database of every property owner will “prevent owners from dodging visits by government debt collectors,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Local farmers — about 100,000 occupy the site of the future Amaravati — have been trading farmland for the promise of urban plots. Meanwhile, planners are scoping out “micro-plots” for low-income business owners, starting at $3,000 for a 50-square-meter spot. (At that price, micro-financiers will probably follow.) The Andhra Pradesh development agency plans to preserve the 12,000-person village of Tulluru, close to the future city center, as a heritage site.
Not everyone is convinced. All that monitoring smacks of Big Brother. Criticsargue the project diverts resources away from investing in existing cities, especially the rapidly growing second- and third-tier urban centers. “The focus should be on how these cities can grow sustainably,” Ani Dasgupta of the World Resources Institute Ross Center for Sustainable Cities says.
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