Chris Baker-Brian is the co-founder and Chief Technology Innovation Officer of BBOXX, a next generation utility, transforming lives and unlocking potential through the provision of affordable, reliable and clean energy.
Founded in 2010 by Chris and two fellow Imperial College London students, the company has enjoyed fast growth. The company has raised $100 million worth of funding from a range of different sources. 2019 alone has been a milestone year – culminating in a $50 million Series D funding round led by Mitsubishi Corporation.
On February 6th Chris will be joining a panel of fellow Club members to share his experience and expertise on raising smart capital. Book your ticket here.
We caught up with Chris to hear more about his journey so far and his greatest learnings when it comes to raising capital.
How have you raised finance so far and what have you learnt from these experiences?
Investors in BBOXX over the years have come in all different types and sizes and importantly from across the globe.
Shared technical expertise and global insights gained from these investors have been instrumental as we’ve grown our business from strength to strength.
In March 2015, we raised $3 million in our Series B funding round, with Bamboo Finance and the DOEN Foundation. While in August 2016, we closed a $20 million Series C investment by MacKinnon, Bennett & Company (MKB), ENGIE Rassembleurs d’Energies and KawiSafi Ventures, as well as existing investors Khosla Impact Fund, Bamboo Finance, and DOEN Foundation.
In March 2019, together with the crowdfunding platform Trine, we raised 6 million in what was the largest crowd-funded debt raise in the history of solar energy in Africa. And in May, we received an $8 million loan from a new African Development Bank-backed fund to expand operations in Rwanda, BBOXX’s first and largest market.
We started 2019 by securing $31 million from Africa Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM) for a stake in the business. This was to expand operations in some of BBOXX’s key markets like Rwanda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Throughout our journey, we have built lasting partnerships that have put us in great stead. We're recognised internationally as a tool for development and advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
You mentioned recent investment from a large corporate, how did this come about? How has the investment changed the business aside from financial gains?
Our recent Series D funding round led by Mitsubishi Corporation, a globally integrated business enterprise headquartered in Japan, was a major milestone for us a business. The funds are further enabling our mission to use technology to unlock potential and transform lives worldwide through access to energy.
As we enter this next phase of our business’ growth trajectory, we are looking to open new markets and expand our geographic footprint. We have a substantial platform to build on as we currently operate in 13 countries across Africa and Asia.
We are also using these funds to further develop our product range to suit a wide variety of energy needs, but also value-added services beyond energy. We firmly believe that energy provision brings people into the digital economy, and creates demand in other areas including – gas, water, internet, and finance – a demand which we also seek to meet.
What value beyond capital did you gain from your investors?
When seeking investors, it is important to look for advisors and partners that are aligned with your vision and can deliver meaningful value. For example, through our Series D round, Mitsubishi Corporation was interested in working alongside us to develop our technology.
At BBOXX, we are linking homes to household solar and mini-grid systems, using Internet of Things (IoT) technology and data. We remotely monitor and manage our solar home systems using BBOXX Pulse™ and have installed over 300,000 systems across 13 countries to date.
As we embark on our expansion plans across Africa and Asia, we are engaging with a range of companies via Mitsubishi Corporation. In particular, we have been in conversation with Lithium Battery specialists in Japan to discuss improvements and developments to the lifetime of our batteries.
What (if any) difficult lessons did you learn along the way?
From progressing many rounds of investments with a wide variety of partners, you gain a better understanding of where each ones’ interests lie. For example, there are infrastructure investors who want exposure to the end retail market but also the tech investor who is committed to optimising digital solutions.
There are investors for all types of scenarios, and we have not found it difficult to find either. The key is understanding their goals upfront to ensure alignment and a seamless partnership.
What do you wish you had known before seeking capital?
A key learning is the time taken to raise capital. Few entrepreneurs or businesses appreciate that capital raising takes a lot of time and patience. Rarely will it take less than six months from start to finish.
The due diligence process and negotiations, in particular, are hugely time-consuming. Professional guidance is essential here and is why we hired our Global Head of Legal & Compliance – having advised us over the years throughout our funding rounds and debt financing – ahead of our Series D capital raise.
What one piece of advice would you give entrepreneurs looking to raise capital?
Do not underestimate the power of forging long-lasting relationships and building a strong network. While many factors underpin a successful fund raise, relationship building is key – especially in new markets. Establishing trusted partnerships is crucial to unlocking future success.
When it comes to securing follow-on finance in existing markets, data comes into play. Here, it’s important to provide individual investors with dashboards that show the performance of the portfolio over the last few months. Investors can then decide if they are willing to take a bigger exposure in that market.
I would love to get to a place where we can get reliable data on a new market and start to model how that market develops. For now, data on the energy access market is still being gathered and as such, building trusted relationships at the outstart is central to our expansion.