Ariel Revollo’s area of expertise is metal transformation. It’s not something commonly heard on a pitch, but you could say that MOBI, the company that Revollo is co-founder and CEO of, isn’t common either.
MOBI is based in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where it was launched two and a half years ago. It is a startup that makes electric vehicles (EV) and lithium batteries that run on solar energy. The company also develops its own software to connect the user with the EV fleets. MOBI also wants to turn into a multi-modal mobility platform that operates across several countries in Latin America.
The ambitious startup is already a star in the Bolivian ecosystem. MOBI closed a US$1,38 million seed round in May 2021, bringing its valuation to US$5 million. This is the largest ever for a seed-stage startup in Bolivia.
It’s one of the few startups in the South American country that have attracted such capital. In its case, this came from national investors: Biopetrol, the main network of gas stations in the country, and Kieffer & Asociados, an insurance company.
Before partnering with Daniel Revollo, Gustavo Pereyra and Juan Velasco to create MOBI, Ariel Revollo had launched Quantum, Bolivia’s first-ever vehicle factory. “Our production capacity was quite limited, so the business ran small for us,” says the founder.
Some time passed until Revollo came up with the idea to create another product, one that could solve four problems at once: pollution, obsolete transportation, high transportation costs, and poor life quality due to all those things. Such a product turned out to be the 100% solar-powered EVs that MOBI now builds.
The Route to the Bolivian Lithium
One of MOBI’s most interesting angles is the sourcing strategy it has in order to build its own vehicles. “For the first time in the history of Bolivia, a company our size was granted access by the government to extract and develop lithium,” Revollo says.
Home to the gigantic, 11,000 sq. km Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia has a fourth of the world’s known lithium reserve; close to 9 million metric tons, according to some estimates. Foreign companies, mostly Chinese, German and Russian, are competing for the necessary concessions to exploit the mineral. Lithium, which is extracted from salt fields, is a key resource for building alternatives to fossil fuel-based and highly polluting energy sources.
That MOBI is able to access this coveted resource in Bolivia gives it a large advantage when it comes to operating expenses. Through a partnership with another company, MOBI extracts lithium and then works with it to develop solar batteries for its EVs. These vehicles include motorbikes, scooters and e-bikes.
Revollo detailed that the company is also developing adequate infrastructure to make EVs mainstream. It’s created recharge stations, which MOBI calls swap stations or electrolineras, for up to 20 batteries. “The idea is that you arrive to one of these with your MOBI EV, leave the uncharged battery, and substitute it with another one that’s fully charged. It’s a way to solve the biggest problem EVs have,” the CEO explains.
No Lack of Ambition
MOBI already operates in several Bolivian cities, but it’s looking to reach other cities in LatAm. The plan is to connect several cities with a subscription that includes several EVs, including scooters, motorbikes, e-bikes, buses and swap stations to recharge the batteries.
“A multi-modal shared platform is the best transportation system,” says Revollo. “Not just in speed and price compared to Uber or city taxis, but also in terms of the city-level impact.” If 150 people use one solar-powered e-scooter every month, the impact on CO2 reduction becomes very powerful.
The company is currently employing close to 40 people and has its HQ in Delaware. It’s production plant is in Bolivia. As it keeps growing larger, Revollo plans to take MOBI to more small and mid-sized cities where there’s a huge need for transportation – places with around a million people.
For its next investment rounds, MOBI will be looking outside Bolivia and even outside LatAm. This is considering the capital limitations the ecosystem still has for late-stage startups. But, “if we manage to build something important, we’ll be a big inspiration for other startups in the Bolivian ecosystem and we’ll help it bloom, finally.”
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