Zembo nabs $3.4 million from Toyota, DOB Equity and InfraCo Africa to grow its motorcycle startup in Uganda

Mobility 54 Investment SAS, a corporate venture capital subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho Corporation and CFAO group, DOB Equity and InfraCo Africa have invested $3.4 million (€3 million) in electric motorcycle startup Zembo to help it grow its business.

Zembo, a French startup with operations in Uganda, was founded in 2018 and sells electric motorcycles through a lease-to-own program. It also operates a network of solar charging and battery swapping stations in the East African country.

Mobility 54 said it will help the startup to scale its operations across Africa “by leveraging the group’s (Toyota’s) automotive footprint throughout the continent.” Additionally, Mobility 54 will work with Zembo to forge new partnerships, especially for its battery and solar panel businesses -- an area in which the startup anticipates the greatest growth.

“Mobility 54’s investment in Zembo envisions to accelerate the carbon neutrality in Africa by electrification of the mobility industry. Toyota Tsusho and CFAO group will contribute to deploy Zembo’s business in Africa by leveraging the group’s automotive footprints throughout the continent,” Mobility 54 said in a statement.

The new funding will go toward increasing the number of motorcycles, by about 2,000, and the installation of more than 60 charging and battery swapping stations across Uganda’s capital, Kampala. Its motorcycles cover 37 miles (60km) on a single charge.

“We’re excited to partner with impact-focused institutions like InfraCo Africa, DOB Equity, and Mobility 54 to continue developing electric boda bodas (motorcycles) and charging stations for our customers,” said Zembo co-founder, Étienne Saint-Sernin.

“Zembo’s mission to improve incomes for Uganda’s boda boda riders while cutting air pollution is shared by our supporters and is a driving force for this partnership. We look forward to continuing to serve our customers and making sustainable mobility a reality in Uganda,” he said.

Zembo assembles the electric motorcycles in Uganda and works with external financial institutions to sell them through rent-to-own plans. Its battery-as-a-service model allows riders to swap discharged batteries with fully charged ones at a fee.

InfraCo Africa’s CEO, Gilles Vaes, said “… Zembo has a great track record of delivering electric two-wheeler vehicles to the market and our joint effort with DOB Equity and Mobility 54 to scale and develop the business will expand the company’s ability to cut urban air pollution, create jobs and promote economic development in Kampala. The project also aligns with global efforts to improve air quality and to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.”

InfraCo Africa, part of Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), which is funded by six governments and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), provides funding and expertise to infrastructure projects, while DOB Equity is a Dutch family-backed investor with an interest in East Africa.

Motorcycle taxis are popular across Africa, and are widely used in major cities like Kampala. However, they are regarded as a major source of noise and air pollution, problems that would be addressed by a transition to electric power.

Zembo Storm motorcycles is one of the many businesses that are rising in African markets to offer e-mobility solutions as cleaner travel options.

Other players include Kenya’s Opibus, which is set to start mass production of motorcycles next year. Opibus told TechCrunch in an earlier interview that the competitive advantage of electric transport includes declining operational costs of up to 60% lower than fossil fuel alternatives.

A switch to electric power also holds the promise of lowering carbon emissions, which contribute greatly to the climate change problems that the world is working to address.

Reports, however, show that electric mobility in Africa is nascent even as opportunities remain vast, especially if the infrastructure to support its adoption is built. To bridge the gap, companies like Zembo and Opibus are building their own infrastructure.