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Hot startup of the month: Rwanda's Ampersand

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e-Mobility startups are emerging as trailblazers on the African continent and are transforming the transportation landscape while fostering a sustainable future for the continent's young population.

From developing electric vehicles to creating and deploying charging mechanisms, these startups are playing a key role in decarbonizing transportation in Africa.

To reduce carbon emissions, rising fuel costs, and air pollution in Africa, many companies have invented electric solutions for their transportation businesses.

Startups like Ampersand have led the shift toward electric mobility, not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the continent but also to help riders with their incomes.

An eight-year-old startup and one of Africa's first EV energy companies, Ampersand motorcycles operate using an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack instead of a traditional internal combustion engine.

Ampersand's core business

Ampersand's core business is its network of battery swapping stations that are placed at different locations in the country, as well as more than 2,000 Ampersand vehicles on the roads.

"Riders easily swap depleted batteries for fully charged ones at our battery swap stations, minimizing downtime," Ampersand CTO and co-founder Alp Tilev said in an interview with Connecting Africa.

Drivers purchase or lease an Ampersand motorcycle; they then pay a fee to use the battery pack. Tilev said that renting a charged battery from Ampersand saves drivers around 35% compared to fuel and oil changes.

Ampersand motorcycles operate using an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack instead of a traditional internal combustion engine.   (Source: Ampersand)
Ampersand motorcycles operate using an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack instead of a traditional internal combustion engine.
(Source: Ampersand)

"Each battery delivers around 350,000km of range over its lifetime, and 50-110km per swap depending on the type of usage, the roads travelled, and weight carried," Tilev explained.

"Our customers can access our motorcycles through leasing agreements from our different Asset Financing partners, where they pay a weekly fee that covers the cost of the motorcycle," he added.

Tilev believes that this model makes it affordable and convenient for "moto taxi" drivers to adopt electric motorcycles. A moto taxi is a motorcycle taxi service, not only found in Rwanda but also in different parts of the globe.

Tilev added that the upfront cost of the electric motorcycles is roughly equal to a petrol or diesel alternative, but that drivers using Ampersand's battery packs reduce their operating costs by more than one-third.

e-Mobility and regulation

The Ampersand CTO said the startup entered the space because of several factors.

"The region has a high prevalence of taxi motorcycles, which are a primary mode of transportation and a vital source of employment for many young people," he said.

"However, these motorcycles also contribute significantly to CO2 emissions, impacting the environment and public health," he continued.

He said Ampersand aims to make a double impact by addressing both issues: reducing emissions and improving the livelihoods of hardworking taxi drivers.

"By transitioning to electric motorcycles, we can cut down on harmful emissions, thus contributing to a cleaner environment," Tilev explained.

"Simultaneously, our electric motorcycles offer lower operating costs, allowing drivers to save on fuel and maintenance, thereby increasing their net incomes and improving their quality of life," he noted.

In 2022, Ampersand expanded into the Kenyan market and since then, it has over 600 motorcycles on Kenyan roads.  (Source: Ampersand)
In 2022, Ampersand expanded into the Kenyan market and since then, it has over 600 motorcycles on Kenyan roads.
(Source: Ampersand)

Moreover, Tilev believes that progressive governmental policies in the "land of a thousand hills," as well as partnerships with financing companies, have played a huge role in helping Kigali-based startup grow.

Competitive advantage and expansion plans

Tilev said the company's current competitors include the existing internal combustion engine (ICE) bikes that have been dominant in the market for decades and have strong brand recognition among consumers.

"Additionally, we face competition from new players on the continent, such as Spiro, ROAM, and other electric motorcycle startups," he added.

He said these companies are also striving to capture the growing market for sustainable and efficient transportation solutions in Africa.

"Despite the competition, Ampersand distinguishes itself through our innovative battery swapping infrastructure, local manufacturing, and strong community engagement," he reiterated.

"The main competitive advantage that sets us apart from other players, it is that our product is designed and tested here on the continent, where we continuously get direct feedback from our customers which helps us to design the best product and service for the market," Tilev said.

To date, the company has raised US$34.4 million, with investment from a crop of African and international investors, including AlphaMundi and Total Energy Ventures.

Ampersand is backed by the Rwandan Green Fund, the government's environment and climate change investment initiative.

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In 2022, Ampersand expanded into the Kenyan market and has since then, it has over 600 motorcycles on Kenyan roads.

"Our plans are to explore all the East Africa region, and the whole of Africa at large in the near future," he concluded.

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*Top image is of Ampersand staff members. (Source: Ampersand).

Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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