The Serbian startup and portfolio company of Bulgarian fund Eleven Ventures Strawberry Energy has raised €455K in a crowdfunding campaign and aims for expansion of its smart benches network. “We are developing a new smart city infrastructure to better service people living in big cities and our goal with the campaign is to expand our network. However, the main purpose of the crowdfunding campaign was to raise awareness around our products”, Milos Milisavljevic, the founder and CEO of the company told Trending Topics. By the end of its campaign in early September Strawberry Energy has gained 425 investors from 28 countries for 4.34% at £9M valuation on the platform Crowdcube.
“Being on the forefront of the technological transformation of cities around Europe into smart ones, Strawberry energy has emerged as one of the stars in our portfolio, and we’re very bullish about its prospects to become at least a 10x investment return”, Daniel Tomov, partner at Eleven Ventures, told Trending Topics.
Smart cities need smart benches
Strawberry Energy was founded in 2011 by Milos Milisavljevic, who was back then an engineering student at University of Belgrade. The initial product of the company was a solar bench called The Strawberry Tree, which captures the sun rays and turns them into usable energy so that anyone can charge their phones and mobile devices and use wireless for free. The Strawberry Tree was the first solar-powered public charger and was used over 10,000 times within the first 40 days, the company stated.
To fit better in public spaces, however, Strawberry Energy needed to develop a smaller, more efficient and marketable product, so the team came up with the Smart Bench. This second product is again a solar-powered bench, but way more compact, has sensors that collect data from their environment and could optionally function in a network of smart city infrastructure objects. “Even though we still produce the Strawberry Tree, our main focus is on the Smart Bench as it’s much more scalable and offers more monetization opportunities”, Milisavljevic explained. The team of 13, based between Belgrade and London, is also working on new products of the smart city infrastructure line.
The Serbian company is already present in 17 countries, including the U.S. and the Middle East, but the European market is the main target for Milisavljevic. So far Strawberry Energy has installed around 100 produced in Serbia benches in 31 cities. According to the plan there will be 200 of their products distributed across different markets by mid 2019. Growing a network of smart benches in London is the first milestone for the Serbian company, which has already signed a contract with the local government and installed 20 pieces in the city.
Free energy, expensive data
The Strawberry Tree is smart and there’s also money growing on it. Prior to the crowdfunding campaign the company had already raised €1M from Bulgarian, Serbian and UK investors and it will soon start raising another round to continue expansion.
Even though the startup is not profitable yet, it generates revenues from sales. Surprisingly, the main revenue source are not the benches themselves. “We’re offering the benches as a space for advertisers – both branding the physical bench, but also distribution of digital content via the free for citizens Wi-fi network. Next step is to start monetizing the data we collect on air quality, traffic and pedestrians in the public spaces”, Milisavljevic explained. Two thirds of Strawberry Energy’s clients are companies from the private sector such as Orange, Ford and Canary Wharf. For the public sector clients the rules are different – local governments don’t pay for the benches networks and the data.
Strawberry Energy is operating within the Smart City Infrastructure market that’s estimated to grow to reach＄1.2 Billion by 2022. Of course, products such as the smart benches represent a very tiny part of this market and the Serbian startup is not the one and only player. There are several younger companies on the market such as the Croatian Include with their bench Steora or the American Soofa. “The main difference is in the energy capacity of the benches and the costs. We have seven years of R&D so our competitive advantage is among others the power capacity of our products”, explained Milisavljevic.
Strawberry Energy’s first institutional investors Eleven seem to also see a very bright future ahead of the company. “The recent successful round of the Company on Crowdcube is a positive signal that SE is one the right path to become one of the stars of the CEE startup scene in the years to come”, Daniel Tomov, told Trending Topics.