Mobility startup Plentywaka picks up $1.2M seed, acquires Ghana’s Stabus

Lagos and Toronto-based mobility startup Plentywaka has raised a $1.2 million seed round to scale its operations on the back of leaving the Techstars Toronto accelerator program last month. 

Canadian-based VC firm The Xchange led the round, SOSV and Shock Ventures participated, while Techstars Toronto made a follow-on investment. Nigerian firms Argentil Capital Partners and ODBA & Co Ventures took part in the seed round, alongside some angel investors from Canada, other parts of Africa, and the U.S.

In March, when TechCrunch covered Plentywaka, CEO Onyeka Akumah said the two-year-old company eyed both regional and global expansion. There hasn’t been much development on the latter except that the company set up its headquarters in Canada. However, for the former, it’s in the form of an acquisition. The company says it has fully acquired Ghanaian mobility startup Stabus but declined to comment on the acquisition price.

Plentywaka is primarily a bus-booking platform but, per its website, has over 900 vehicles ranging from cars to vans to buses. The company provides intrastate travel (via its Dailywaka offering) and interstate travel (via its Travelwaka offering) for its users via a mobile application. Since going live in September 2019,  Plentywaka says it has acquired over 80,000 users while completing up to half a million rides.

Stabus, on the other hand, commenced operations in Ghana a month after Plentywaka’s launch. Its co-founder and CEO, Isidore Kpotufe, shared that the startup has since moved over 100,000 people within the country’s capital city Accra using different vehicles.

Plentywaka

The Plentywaka and Stabus executives

Akumah tells TechCrunch that before talks on an acquisition started, he and Kpotufe kept in touch frequently on a personal and business level since they launched their respective companies two years ago.

Then in April this year, Isidore, intrigued by the pace at which Plentywaka was scaling, asked Akumah if his company had plans to scale to Ghana. The Plentywaka CEO answered in the affirmative, revealing a timeline edging towards the end of the year. That meant competition, but the duo thought the better outcome for both companies was to merge.

“Isidore is someone I’ve known for going to two years now. And I’ve seen what he has done with Stabus and I understand exactly how they operate. So it was an easy yes for us to do this,” Akumah said to TechCrunch.

The complexities of what structure to use came up; run with the Stabus brand or change it. Eventually, they settled for the latter, renaming the acquired 12,000-user strong business to Plentywaka Ghana. Some of Stabus’ (now Plentywaka Ghana) customers include multinationals like MTN and GB Foods. Meanwhile, Kpotufe becomes Country Manager of the new business.

“Plentywaka’s acquisition of Stabus is a firm statement about our commitment to grow and build the largest shared mobility startup in Africa, one country at a time. Isidore is a brilliant entrepreneur and we are excited about having him and his team execute our plans for the Ghanaian market,” Akumah said in a statement.

In Nigeria, the company caters to travelers across 21 cities. Travelers in Accra will begin to use the service when Plentywaka Ghana goes live on September 16. And the next plan after Accra is to replicate the expansion in six other African countries within 24 months. Akumah also mentioned that Plentywaka is raising its Series A to ramp up these expansion efforts.

“We are incredibly excited by our investment in Plentywaka. Techstars is a huge believer in the future of Africa and a proud supporter of African entrepreneurs. Onyeka is a two-time Techstars founder which deepens this relationship further,” managing director of Techstars Sunil Sharma said in a statement.

Speaking on the seed round, managing partner at lead investor The Xchange, Todd Finch said, “The Xchange is on a mission to fuel purpose-driven founders with the capital and resources they need to realize the world-changing potential of their ideas. Given Onyeka’s proven track record, his team’s undeniable thirst for making an impact, and Plentywaka’s impressive growth, we knew this was an opportunity we wanted to invest in.” 

#africa, #automotive, #fundings-exits, #ghana, #ma, #nigeria, #plentywaka, #sosv, #techstars, #transportation

Ankara Print Dresses? These Aren’t Shakespeare’s ‘Merry Wives.’

Shakespeare in the Park is back, and Dede Ayite’s West African-influenced costume designs are just as lively as Jocelyn Bioh’s adaptation.

#africa, #ali-saheem, #ayite-dede, #bioh-jocelyn, #content-type-personal-profile, #costumes, #design, #fashion-and-apparel, #ghana, #merry-wives-play, #shakespeare-in-the-park, #theater

Moove raises $23M to create flexible options for drivers to own cars in Africa

Africa is home to more than a billion people where a majority have limited or no access to vehicle financing. In fact, the continent has the lowest per capita vehicle ownership in the world. In 2019, Africa had fewer than 900,000 new vehicle sales. The U.S. sold more than 17 million new cars that same year.

In Nigeria, owning a car is a luxury very few people can afford. It is a similar case across Africa where car owners often recycle used cars between themselves because of the difficulty of accessing new ones. Moove, an African mobility company with a fintech play, wants to change that and is raising $23 million in Series A to scale rapidly across the continent.

Moove was founded by Ladi Delano and Jide Odunsi in 2019. In an interview with TechCrunch, Delano said he and Odunsi, whilst trying to figure out the problems to solve in Nigeria after years of running successful businesses, were left startled by the figures highlighted above: Less than a million new cars sold in an entire continent and over 17 million in the U.S. alone.

“It became clear to us that people aren’t buying cars in Africa because there’s no access to finance. When you look anywhere else in the world, you have financing in most parts of the developed world when you try to buy a car. It’s that way in the UK, or Europe and the US. And that’s what’s driving mobility drive and vehicle sales,” Delano said during the interview.

The founders saw it as a huge task to address this deficit and figured that deploying an asset financing model was the go-to approach. Moove says it is democratizing vehicle ownership by employing a revenue-based vehicle financing model. However, this applies to only a subset of the driving population across the continent: mobility entrepreneurs.  

Why mobility entrepreneurs instead of the overall populace? Delano tells TechCrunch that inasmuch as Moove is changing how people have access to new cars in Africa, he wants the company to solve some of the unemployment problems facing the continent, even more so in Nigeria.

So instead of providing the service for individuals from all spheres of life who cannot guarantee a payback, why not target mobility entrepreneurs who would use the opportunity to work and, in turn, generate income to pay back.

Mobility entrepreneurs include drivers who work in the mobility space (car-hailing, ride-hailing, bus-hailing, among others). Although they make up a small part of Africans who need Moove’s services, Delano says the market for mobility entrepreneurs is enormous.

Moove is Uber’s exclusive car financing and vehicle supply partner in sub-Saharan AfricaThe company embeds its alternative credit-scoring technology, allowing access to proprietary performance and revenue analytics to underwrite loans. It provides loans to these drivers by selling them new vehicles and financing up to 95% of the purchase within five days of sign up. They can choose to pay back their loans over 24, 36, or 48 months, using a percentage of the weekly revenue generated while driving on Uber.

Moove’s loan repayment process is more suitable to drivers than what traditionally exists in the market. Nigerian banks, for instance, are known to collect a 10-50% deposit from drivers; Moove says it charges 5%. The net effective annual interest rate also differs significantly. Nigerian banks charge between 20 to 25%; however, Moove runs on an 8-13% rate.

Also, when you consider the tenure of a vehicle financing loan, Nigerian banks rarely give a repayment duration of more than two years. Moove’s maximum duration is four years. In the long run, Delano says the company wants to extend the repayment duration to five years, a span with more parity to the West.

That said, Moove is looking to add financing to other vehicle classes and types in the coming months, including buses and trucks.

Though Moove was founded in 2019, it didn’t fully launch until June 2020. In a full year of operation, Moove has scaled aggressively. With headquarters in the Netherlands, the company counts Lagos, Accra, Johannesburg as cities where it operates. Moove has over 19,000 drivers using its platform, while up to 13,000 are on its waitlist. Moove-financed cars have also completed over 850,000 Uber trips, and Delano says the company has grown 60% month-on-month since last year.

Moove raised a $5.5 million seed round last year. The majority of the funding came from the founders and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, c-founder of Andela and Flutterwave, and a key partner at the company. In addition to its $23 million Series A, Moove also revealed that it raised $40 million in debt financing, bringing Moove’s total funding to $68.5 million.

Speedinvest and Left Lane Capital led the Series A round. Other investors like DCM, Clocktower Technology Ventures, thelatest.ventures, LocalGlobe, Tekton, FJ Labs, Palm Drive Capital, Kora Capital, KAAF Investments, Class 5 Global, and Victoria van Lennep, co-founder of Lendable, Verod,  Kepple Africa Ventures, and one of Moove’s existing lenders, Emso Asset Management, also joined the round. Moove’s investment is the first for many of its U.S. backers in this round.

“With Ladi and Jide at the helm of a world-class team, and their unique approach to vehicle financing, Moove has quickly established itself as one of the most exciting tech companies in Africa,” said the general partner at Speedinvest, Stefan Klestil. “The company’s expansion to three cities in under 12 months demonstrates the huge demand for vehicle financing in Africa, where just five percent of new cars are purchased with financing, compared to 92 percent in Europe.”

Delano and Odunsi are British-born Nigerians educated at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, and MIT. Delano has always been an entrepreneur. Odunsi, on the other hand, was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and a management consultant at McKinsey.

Both reconnected years after (since parting ways in their teens) to run a venture studio called Grace Lake Partners with thick they have built three non-tech successful businesses in Africa in the past decade. Moove is their first tech business, and Delano calls it the fastest-growing he has ever run.

The Series A funding will allow Moove to grow and expand into new markets. It gives the company ammunition to develop and launch new products and services geared towards gaining more share in a competitive market where Nigeria’s Autochek and South Africa’s FlexClub are making significant strides.

Delano believes what gives Moove an edge over other companies is its trademark of getting drivers to access new cars instead of used ones. He also adds that the company is moving towards creating electric and hybrid vehicle fleets. He cites helping mobility entrepreneurs who need to have fuel-efficient cars and climate change as reasons for creating this new product line.

But how will EVs be affordable for the average Uber driver in Africa? Delano argues that with Moove’s strong bargaining power with its OEM partners and the debt financing raised, Moove can buy new EV cars and resell them at a lower price to thousands of drivers. The aim is to ensure that at least 60% of the vehicles it finances are electric or hybrid in the coming years. The company is also trying to drive gender inclusion by increasing the number of female drivers using its platform to 50%.

One interesting bit in Moove’s imminent plans is creating wallets for drivers who do not have bank accounts to make and accept payments. The feature is live only in Ghana and will be coming to other markets in no distant time.

“Moove’s technology is fundamentally changing access to mobility and empowering thousands to earn a new source of income,” said managing partner at Left Lane Capital, Dan Ahrens. “As we look ahead, the potential for that technology and the Moove team to expand even further is very exciting. They have the opportunity to become a full-service mobility fintech and expand their offerings to insurance and other financial services.”

#africa, #finance, #funding, #ghana, #nigeria, #south-africa, #tc, #uber

Ghana’s Jetstream lands $3M to build the digital infrastructure for Africa’s trade corridors

The share of exports from Africa to the rest of the world ranged from 80% to 90% between 2000 and 2017. This has created a growing demand for Africa to be less dependent on commodity exports and focus on regional commerce. Not only does this decrease export dependence, but it also forms new markets for value-added goods to be exchanged.

Yet, Africa is home to the slowest and costliest ports in the world. Reports say that sometimes it is logistically cheaper and faster for African businesses to trade goods with distant overseas partners than via Africa’s intracontinental trade corridors. That’s a big problem and Jetstream, a Ghanaian-based company proposing to change that just closed a $3 million seed round.

Local and international investors participated in the round. They include Alitheia IDF, Golden Palm Investments, 4DX Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Asia Pacific Land, Breyer Labs, and MSA Capital.

The startup was founded by Miishe Addy and Solomon Torgbor in 2018. The founders started Jetstream to enable African businesses to see and control their own cross-border supply chains. It aggregates private sector logistics providers at African ports and borders, and brings them online.

Initially, the founders’ insight was around fragmentation problems and lack of coordination at African ports; an experience Torgbor was all too familiar with. He had worked at Maersk’s freight forwarding subsidiary Damco for eight years. There, he saw cargoes sitting for weeks at container terminals without moving forward in the supply chain. The delays were due to errors and incorrect paperwork at customs, importers, and exporters not having working capital at the right time to pay their logistics bills and poor coordination on the ground. For exports, the cargo volumes were sometimes too small to ship cost-effectively by sea freight.

Jetstream

L-R: Miishe Addy (CEO) and Solomon Torgbor (COO)

Meanwhile, Addy taught business at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a Pan-African incubator and entrepreneur training program. Before MEST, the law graduate from Stanford worked for management consulting company Bain & Company.

As Torgbor spoke with Addy about the challenges he noticed at Damco, she immediately thought they were worth tackling. “As he was talking, a light bulb went off and I thought. ‘These are exactly the types of problems that technology solves,’” the CEO said to TechCrunch. “We discussed and tried lots of different solutions for about a year and discovered that cargo aggregation generated strong traction almost immediately.”

Jetstream started operations in Ghana in March 2019 with a Less Than Container Load (LCL) aggregation service. The service allowed agricultural exporters to group their shipments into shared sea freight containers. Then in November of that year, Jetstream added trade finance for customers who found it difficult to fill large purchase orders

Today, Jetstream is white labeling the systems built internally to manage shipments and financing for customers.

“We are different from a more siloed freight management system because we are leveraging financing to integrate the customs brokers, freight forwarders, shipping lines, airlines, and container terminals all onto the Jetstream platform so that shipments can be managed and tracked every step of the way. We are bringing many of the local providers online for the first time,” Addy said of the changes Jetstream has had to make along the way.

Jetstream’s business model is straightforward. It charges for the freight, clearance, and financial services offered. For freight, it charges a per-container or per-kilogram fee. For customs clearance, it charges a flat fee that varies depending on the tax category and location of the shipment. And for financing and insurance services, it charges a commission on the value of the goods being shipped.

During the pandemic, inefficiencies and a lack of coordination between providers around the ports were made more evident and created stronger growth for Jetstream as its logistics service revenue significantly grew 512% from March 2020 to March 2021. Addy believes that the pandemic further intensified Jetstream’s vision to bring cross-border trade corridors online and drive toward an inflection point in the speed and growth of commerce on the continent.

“We see a future where trade running on Jetstream’s digital rails has a powerful competitive edge on logistics. Jetstream is to cross-border logistics what Flutterwave is to fintech in Africa,” she continued.

Reports estimate that the market for cross-border logistics services in Africa is about $32 billion in revenue. It is predicted to double in size over the next decade. For Jetstream, starting with Ghana is the perfect place to capture as much value and expand vis-a-vis the continent’s growth. As a Ghanaian native, COO Torgbor hammers home this point. In a statement, he calls Ghana a springboard to intracontinental trade and intercontinental trade with other fast-growing emerging markets. The West African nation currently sits at the helm of Africa’s newly enacted, continent-wide free trade zone AfCFTA. Ghana is also home to Port Tema, the largest container terminal in West and Central Africa that plans to handle one million containers a year

In addition to Port Tema, Jetstream counts an unnamed Asia-based global shipping line as a major early adopter and customer of its technology. This has seen Jetstream’s business generate seven-figure revenue and Addy claims the startup grows more than 100% year on year.

Per reports, women-led startups in Africa attract less than 15% of the total VC investments that flow into the continent. However, many female-targeted funds have launched in the last couple of years to fill this gap and one of such participated in this round. Alitheia IDF, a VC firm focused on gender-diverse startups, usually invests five- to seven-figure sums and is one of the few venture capital firms in Africa tackling the low access to funding for women-led teams. Thus, Jetstream’s funding presents a rare win for this demographic (investors and founders alike) especially for the latter who are based in Ghana where few female tech CEOs exist.

Addy tells me she looks forward to when more African female-led teams are well funded, wishing Jetstream could help set off the trend. “I especially hope that our business growth encourages the investor side of the tech ecosystem to take a second look at all of the women leaders who aren’t being adequately funded,” she commented.

That aside, Jetstream also has operations in Nigeria with agents present in South Africa, China, the U.S., the U.K., and Europe. This talent placement is one of Jetstream’s moves geared towards 2028 when the CEO says the company hopes to have a presence at ports and borders in Africa comprising 80% of the continent’s total global trade.

#africa, #cargo, #ghana, #jetstream, #logistics, #port, #tc, #transportation, #west-africa

Float wants to provide liquidity to African SMBs in a way never done before

According to research, 85% of African SMBs have zero access to financing, and each day, African SMBs have billions locked up in receivables due to long payment cycles. This leads to cash flow problems that cause businesses to be late on important expenses and fulfilment of new orders.

Jesse Ghansah and his co-founder Barima Effah want to answer these problems with their newly launched startup Float.

Ghansah is a serial entrepreneur. Since leaving the university in 2014, he has co-founded several tech startups but made his mark globally with OMG Digital, a startup with offices in Ghana and Nigeria that wanted to become the “BuzzFeed of Africa.” In 2016, OMG Digital was one of the first African companies accepted into Y Combinator.

Ghansah had a good run with the company and left two years ago. For his newest venture, he turned his focus outside media to fintech. Formerly Swipe, Float is an 18-month-old Lagos and San Francisco-based company aiming to close the $300 billion liquidity gap for Africa’s small and medium businesses. The company took part in YC’s Winter batch 2020, making Ghansah one of the few two-time YC founders in Africa.

Float has evolved from the last time we partly covered them during their Demo Day as “Brex for Africa.” According to CEO Ghansah, Float is “rethinking the way African businesses manage their financial operations, from managing cash and making payments to accessing credit.”

After 18 months in stealth, Float is finally going live, and we spoke with the CEO to get a glimpse into its progress and what makes it different from similar platforms on the continent.

TC: What problem would you say Float is solving?

JG: If you ask any small business, cash flow will most likely be the number one problem that they face. And this stems from the whole payment cycle, which is after you provide a service or deliver a product. Businesses that serve other businesses have to wait typically for 30-90 days for their payments to come in. This is like a traditional payment cycle where you have to offer credit sales to your customers to stay competitive; that’s why you send an invoice, and the customer will pay you back within that time frame. 

That creates a lot of problems in terms of constant cash crunches. Because you’re waiting for your revenue to come in, they sometimes fall behind in meeting certain expense payments like payroll, inventory, utilities. That’s what really causes a lot of these cash flow issues, and because of that, businesses can’t grow. For existing businesses, these are the issues they face and getting credit in terms of working capital is extremely difficult if you’re dealing with banks. 

TC: Did you have a personal experience with this problem seeing as your past venture was in media?

JG: As you know, I was a co-founder at OMG Digital, and as a media company, we had to wait for months to get paid by our partners. We needed credit this time and proceeded to get an overdraft from a long-term partner bank where we had transacted more than $100,000. But the bank wanted us to deposit 100% collateral in cash before they could give the overdraft. 

I also remember taking money from loan sharks with ridiculous interest rates, sometimes as high as 20% a month, just to meet payroll. That sort of threw me into solving those problems with Float.

TC: There are a plethora of lenders giving loans to businesses. How is Float solving the credit issue differently?

JG: So our credit product is quite different regarding how we present it to the customer. It is less complex than a loan; it is more flexible than a business overdraft. Also, there’s a difference in the tools that we provide. So we don’t just give money; what we’ve provided is a software solution with credit embedded. 

Float

Right now, we’ve built what we call the cash management tool for businesses where they get credit at the critical set of moments in time. For instance, if you want to pay a lender and need credit, you can withdraw the credit and make payment immediately. We provide a credit line that businesses can tap into any time they want as soon as they onboard to our platform, and it increases and decreases based on the transactions performed on our platform. 

So that’s just on the credit side. We’ve also built tools to help businesses stay on top of their cash flow. We give them invoicing, budgeting tools and spend management tools and a way for them to manage all their bank accounts because we know that existing businesses usually have more than one bank account. On Float, they can see all their balances and transactions, and we’re building a way for these businesses to make payments from their accounts on Float. 

You can think of Float as a really well-built cash management platform. You get credit when you need it to make vendor payments or boost your working capital, which has been pivotal to our loss rate of 0%. Then two, tools that give total visibility about your businesses so you know where your money is coming in and going out.

TC: Float’s loss rate is 0%? Does that mean no business has defaulted on your platform?

JG: Yes, we’ve not had any default so far. We’ve advanced $2.8 million to our pilot customers in Nigeria, and we don’t have any losses in the last eight months; it’s because of the type of loans we’re giving. We give businesses money to boost their working capital. So we’re essentially giving you an advance for your future revenue. 

If you look like, in the U.S., Pipe has built this for SaaS companies and are building for other customer segments, which is essentially what we’re doing. So, for us, the way we’re solving the cash flow issue is that we’re sorting your future revenue and as your customers pay you through our platform, then we make deductions. 

You can think of us as a Stripe Capital, Square Capital, Pipe or the new multidimensional lending platforms we have now. When you consider lending, I’d say there are different phases. Lending 1.0 was when you’d fill an application online, and you’d get a loan decision. Lending 2.0 and 3.0 is where credit is embedded in online tools businesses already use. That’s why it has worked really well because the businesses on our platform aren’t exactly looking for a lifeline but are looking to boost their cash flow and basically step on the gas to grow.

TC: But this loss rate will likely change as soon as you onboard more businesses, right?

JG: Yes, definitely it’s going to change. The thing with lending is that with more customers, your credit model gets tested. The more customers you have, the more probability that you’re going to have default losses. But as long as you have, like a solid credit risk criteria and assessment, you must always try to keep it as small as possible. It’s almost impossible to have a 0% default rate when you begin to grow fast.

TC: What strategy does Float put in place to mitigate losses and reduce risk?

JG: The way our credit product works is that we’re constantly connected to your bank; we know who your vendors are, know who your suppliers are, and know who your customers are. We know how much money is flowing in and out of your business at any point in time. So as I mentioned, we can quickly adjust your credit limits as soon as we sense a difference in your activity. If we notice your invoice activity has dropped and we’re not receiving as much money as you were in the previous weeks, we reduce your limit. It’s a very dynamic sort of type of product, and it is really different from what you see out there today.

TC: Aside from lending, how have the other tools been helpful to businesses?

JG: With our pilot phase, we’ve been able to give credit and also processed invoicing and vendor payments for our customers worth about $5 million. 

When you think of business payments, sometimes people always think about Paystack and Flutterwave. They’re tackling a different segment which is basically consumers paying businesses. For us, we’re centred around businesses paying other businesses. Their method, as we know, is a very drawn-out process, and that market is 10 times bigger than the market Paystack and Flutterwave are serving. 

Float

L-R: Barima Effah and Jesse Ghansah

If you look at your big multinational corporations, they have thousands of vendors on their payroll every month. Globally trillions of dollars are flowing from business to business, and that is where we want to play in. We’re launching the new version of our invoicing product and vendor payments, and a product where we can pay for services upfront on behalf of our customers and they pay back in 30 days.

TC: I’m tempted to call Float a digital bank for small businesses. Would you say there are differences?

JG: Of course there are. Almost any business owner will tell you that business banking is mostly broken. Legacy banks typically provide an outdated, underwhelming user experience. Businesses quickly move beyond basic banking needs, and for them, the options are frustratingly limited.

African neo-banks are aiming to compete with traditional banks. Still, in reality, they are actually now competing with each other for a relatively tiny slice of the market due to not solving the core problems facing businesses. A marginally better UX and a quick account opening experience is the value proposition that probably resonates well with a new startup business or a budding freelancer. However, to an already operating retail business owner that struggles to make timely payments to suppliers due to poor cash flow, that’s grossly inadequate.

This, coupled with the trust matters, reconciliation, and auditing headaches involved in moving accounts, is why neobanks haven’t taken off in this market.

There are little to no switching costs using Float because we have designed our platform to run on top of existing business bank accounts and payment processors. The idea is to provide a single platform that provides businesses with the credit they need, a consolidated view of their existing business banking and cashflow activity, coupled with various payment tools to enable them to speed through their financial operations so they can spend more time actually growing their business.

#africa, #buzzfeed, #cashflow-management, #economy, #finance, #float, #ghana, #liquidity, #media, #nigeria, #omg-digital, #online-lending, #payments, #square-capital, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

This Is the Wrong Way to Distribute Badly Needed Vaccines

Countries should be getting vaccines based on their needs, not their population.

#argentina, #brazil, #coalition-for-epidemic-preparedness-innovations, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #gavi-the-vaccine-alliance, #ghana, #india, #ivory-coast, #kenya, #malawi, #mongolia, #peru, #rationing-and-allocation-of-resources, #south-sudan, #united-states, #uruguay, #vaccination-and-immunization, #world-health-organization

Paystack expands to South Africa seven months after Stripe acquisition

Nigerian fintech startup Paystack has been relatively quiet since it was bought by fintech giant Stripe last October. The deal, worth more than $200 million, caused shockwaves to the African tech ecosystem and offered some form of validation to work done by founders, startups and investors alike.

Today, the payments company, which powers businesses with its payment API and is actively present in Nigeria and Ghana, is announcing its official launch in South Africa.

In 2018 when we reported Paystack’s $8 million Series A (which Stripe also led), it was powering 15% of all online payments in Nigeria. The company had more than 10,000 businesses on its platform and expansion to other African countries was one way it planned to use the money. Ghana was its next stop.

Since expanding to Ghana, Paystack has grown and claims to power 50% of all online payments in Nigeria with around 60,000 customers, including small businesses, larger corporates, fintechs, educational institutions and online betting companies. Some of its customers include MTN, SPAR and UPS, and they use the company’s software to collect payments globally.

The South African launch was preceded by a six-month pilot, which means the project kickstarted a month after Stripe acquired it. Stripe is gearing toward a hotly anticipated IPO and has been aggressively expanding to other markets. Before acquiring Paystack, the company added 17 countries to its platform in 18 months, but none from Africa. Paystack was its meal ticket to the African online commerce market, and CEO Patrick Collison didn’t mince words when talking about the acquisition in October.

“There is an enormous opportunity. In absolute numbers, Africa may be smaller right now than other regions, but online commerce will grow about 30% every year. And even with wider global declines, online shoppers are growing twice as fast. Stripe thinks on a longer time horizon than others because we are an infrastructure company. We are thinking of what the world will look like in 2040-2050,” he said. 

Although Stripe said the $600 million it raised in Series H this March would be used mainly for European expansion, its foray deeper into Africa has kicked off. And while Paystack claims to have had a clear expansion roadmap prior to the acquisition, its relationship with Stripe is accelerating the realization of that pan-African expansion goal.

Now, Africa accounts for three of the 42 countries where Stripe currently has customers today.

“South Africa is one of the continent’s most important markets, and our launch here is a significant milestone in our mission to accelerate commerce across Africa,” said Paystack CEO Shola Akinlade of the expansion. “We’re excited to continue building the financial infrastructure that empowers ambitious businesses in Africa, helps them scale and connects them to global markets.”

The six-month pilot saw Paystack work with different businesses and grow a local team to handle on-the-ground operations. However, unlike Nigeria and Ghana, where Paystack has managed to be a top player, what are the company’s prospects in the South African market where it will face stiff competition from the likes of Yoco and DPO?

“The opportunity for innovation in the South African payment space is far from saturated. Today, for instance, digital payments make up less than half of all transactions in the country,” Abdulrahman Jogbojogbo, product marketer at Paystack said. “So, the presence of competition is not only welcome; it’s encouraged. The more innovative plays there are, the faster it’ll be to realize our goal of having an integrated African market.”

Khadijah Abu, head of product expansion, added that “for many businesses in South Africa, we know that accepting payments online can be cumbersome. Our pilot in South Africa was hyper-focused on removing barriers to entry, eliminating tedious paperwork, providing world-class API documentation to developers, and making it a lot simpler for businesses to accept payments online.”

Many people compare Paystack to Africa’s newest fintech unicorn Flutterwave. Founded a year apart, both companies help businesses accept payments from thousands of businesses. When the latter raised its recent juggernaut $170 million round, it claimed to have 290,000 businesses on its platform. While Flutterwave has been high-flying with its pan-African expansion (it has a presence in 20 African countries), Paystack has adopted a rather scrupulous approach. The company said the reason behind this lies with the peculiarities each African country presents and because each country has different regulations, launching at scale takes time. 

“Our goal isn’t to have a presence in lots of countries, with little regard for service quality. We care deeply that we deliver a stellar end-to-end payment experience in the countries we operate in,” Jogbojogbo continued. “And this takes some time, careful planning and lots of behind-the-scenes, foundational work.”

But being backed by Stripe and armed with millions of dollars, Paystack might need to switch things up eventually. Even as it operates independently, its pan-African vision is equally important to Stripe, and speed will be crucial, even the five-year-old company acknowledges this and said, “its pace of expansion will quicken as it expands into more African countries.”

#africa, #financial-technology, #flutterwave, #ghana, #nigeria, #online-commerce, #online-payments, #payments, #paystack, #south-africa, #stripe, #tc

Andela begins global expansion in 37 countries months after going remote across Africa

More than a year after the pandemic began, remote work shows no signs of going away. While it has its cons, it remains top of mind for potential employees around the world before joining a new company.

But while most people in Africa still go to physical offices, despite the pandemic, a few companies have nevertheless embraced this concept. Andela, a New York-based startup that helps tech companies build remote engineering teams from Africa, was one of the first to publicly announce it was going remote on the continent.

Today, it is doubling down on this effort by announcing the global expansion of its engineering talent. Over the past six months, the company has seen a 750% increase in applicants outside Africa. More than 30% of Andela’s inbound engineer applications also came from outside the continent in March alone. Half this number came from Latin America while Africa saw a 500% increase in applications, as well.

When Andela launched in 2014, it built hubs in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to source, vet and train engineers to be part of remote teams for international companies. It also tested satellite models in Egypt and Ghana as substitutes to physical hubs.

The company would issue a call for applications, select a few (less than 1%), pay them a salary for the first six months and provide them with housing and food. It also helped developers improve their skills via training and mentorship. Over 100,000 engineers have taken part in the company’s learning network and community, and, as of 2019, Andela had more than 1,500 engineers on its payroll.

However, after noticing that this model wasn’t sustainable, it began to make changes.

In September 2019, it let go of 420 junior engineers across Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. Nine months later, citing the pandemic, it laid off 135 employees while introducing salary cuts for senior staff. But despite the layoffs, the pandemic provided some form of clarity to how Andela wanted to operate — which was remote, judging by the success of the satellite models.

“In the very beginning, a developer had to be in Lagos to work with Andela. Then it became living in Nigeria. Then Kenya. Then Uganda, Rwanda,” CEO Jeremy Johnson told TechCrunch. “Before the pandemic, Andela was opening applications in country after country. The pandemic came and changed that as we opened up to the entire continent.”

Shutting down its existing physical campuses and going remote also helped the company focus on getting engineers with more experience to meet its clients’ requirements. That experiment, which the company conducted in less than a year, is also part of its mission to be a global company.

“That went so well and we thought ‘what if we accelerated it now that we’re remote and just enable applicants from anywhere?’ because it was always the plan to become a global company. That was clear, but the timing was the question. We did that and it’s been an amazing experiment,” Johnson added.

Now with its global expansion, its clients can tap into regional expertise to support international growth.

According to a statement released by the firm, it currently has engineers from 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, North America and Europe.

Johnson didn’t go into details about how many of these engineers are getting jobs from Andela, or even its total developer count. He’s more interested in helping its clients solve the diversity issues that have plagued many Western corporations.

Andela is currently working with eight companies that have hired its engineers in Latin America and Africa. In addition to the diversity play, the CEO says that means Andela engineers get to prove themselves on a global playing field in a way the company has “always wanted to see.”

Andela serves more than 200 customers, including GitHub, ViacomCBS, Pluralsight, Seismic, Cloudflare, Coursera and InVision. GitHub is one company that seems to be benefitting from Andela’s new offerings. The company’s VP of Engineering, Dana Lawson, in a statement said, “As a business in the developer tool space, a lot of us are trying to enter those areas of the world (Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa) where the emergent developers are coming so we can better understand their needs. Having a local presence there with amazing talent is super valuable to building a global product.”

Andela

Image Credits: Andela

In its quest to become a global company, going up against competition is unavoidable for the seven-year-old company. But since most of these companies are horizontal marketplaces (providing a wide range of expertise), whereas Andela is vertical, Johson believes there’s enough market share to be acquired by the company.

“We are focused on building digital products, and because of that, we’re able to do more, essentially, for our customers… That’s where our focus is — [building long-term relationships] and around building great digital products.”

The company was founded by Jeremy Johnson, Christina Sass, Nadayar Enegesi, Ian Carnevale, Brice Nkengsa and Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. It has raised more than $180 million (up to Series D) from firms like Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Generation Investment Management, Google Ventures and Spark Capital, at a valuation of about $700 million.

While announcing the layoffs last year, Andela said it was on an annual revenue run rate of $50 million. But when asked how this number has changed over the past year, Johnson said the company is “growing at a healthier pace as we’ve ever had.”

The future of remote work is global and Johnson believes Andela provides the vital link to talent wherever it is found. The company’s head of talent operations, Martin Chikilian, echoes similar sentiments.

“We’ve seen exponential growth and interest from engineers from across Africa who want to work with some of the world’s most exciting technology-focused companies,” he said. “Growing our network of talent from Africa to include more markets is a unique proposition and we continue to match talent with opportunity beyond geographical boundaries.”

#africa, #andela, #asia, #egypt, #engineer, #europe, #ghana, #jeremy-johnson, #kenya, #lagos, #latin-america, #new-york, #north-america, #software-engineering, #southeast-asia, #startups, #talent, #tc, #technology, #uganda

Ghana’s Redbird raises $1.5M seed to expand access to rapid medical testing in sub-Saharan Africa

For patients and healthcare professionals to properly track and manage illnesses especially chronic ones, healthcare needs to be decentralized. It also needs to be more convenient, with a patient’s health information able to follow them wherever they go.

Redbird, a Ghanaian healthtech startup that allows easy access to convenient testing and ensures that doctors and patients can view the details of those test results at any time, announced today that it has raised a $1.5 million seed investment.  

Investors who participated in the round include Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Newton Partners (via the Imperial Venture Fund), and Founders Factory Africa. This brings the company’s total amount raised to date to $2.5 million.

The healthtech company was launched in 2018 by Patrick Beattie, Andrew Quao and Edward Grandstaff. As a founding scientist at a medical diagnostics startup in Boston, Beattie’s job was to develop new rapid diagnostic tests. During his time at Accra in 2016, he met Quao, a trained pharmacist in Ghana at a hackathon whereupon talking found out that their interests in medical testing overlapped.

Beattie says to TechCrunch that while he saw many exciting new tests in development in the US, he didn’t see the same in Ghana. Quao, who is familiar with how Ghanaians use pharmacies as their primary healthcare point, felt perturbed that these pharmacies weren’t doing more than transactional purchases.

They both settled that pharmacies in Ghana needed to imbibe the world of medical testing. Although both didn’t have a tech background, they realized technology was necessary to execute this. So, they enlisted the help of Grandstaff to be CTO of Redbird while Beattie and Quao became CEO and COO, respectively.

L-R: Patrick Beattie (CEO), Andrew Quao (COO), and Edward Grandstaff (CTO)

Redbird enables pharmacies in Ghana to add rapid diagnostic testing for 10 different health conditions to their pharmacy services. These tests include anaemia, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol, Hepatitis B, malaria, typhoid, prostate cancer screening, and pregnancy.  

Also, Redbird provides pharmacies with the necessary equipment, supplies and software to make this possible. The software —  Redbird Health Monitoring — is networked across all partner pharmacies and enables patients to build medical testing records after going through 5-minute medical tests offered through these pharmacies.

Rather than employing a SaaS model that Beattie says is not well appreciated by its customers, Redbird’s revenue model is based on the supply of disposable test strips.

“Pharmacies who partner with Redbird gain access to the software and all the ways Redbird supports our partners for free as long as they purchase the consumables through us. This aligns our revenue with their success, which is aligned with patient usage,” said the CEO.

This model is being used with over over 360 pharmacies in Ghana, mainly in Accra and Kumasi. It was half this number in 2019, and Redbird was able to double this number despite the pandemic. These pharmacies have recorded over 125,000 tests in the past three years from more than 35,000 patients registered on the platform.

Redbird will use the seed investment to grow its operations within Ghana and expand to new markets that remain undisclosed.

In 2018, Redbird participated in the Alchemist Accelerator just a few months before launch. It was the second African startup after fellow Ghanaian startup mPharma to take part in the six-month-long program. The company also got into Founders Factory Africa last year April.

According to Beattie, most of the disease burden Africans might experience in the future will be chronic diseases. For instance, diabetes is projected to grow by 156% over the next 25 years. This is why he sees decentralized, digitized healthcare as the next leapfrog opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Chronic disease is exploding and with it, patients require much more frequent interaction with the healthcare system. The burden of chronic disease will make a health system that is highly centralized impossible,” he said.Like previous leapfrog events, this momentum is happening all over the world, not just in Africa. Still, the state of the current infrastructure means that healthcare systems here will be forced to innovate and adapt before health systems elsewhere are forced to, and therein lies the opportunity,” he said.

But while the promise of technology and data is exciting, it’s important to realize that healthtech only provides value if it matches patient behaviors and preferences. It doesn’t really matter what amazing improvements you can realize with data if you can’t build the data asset and offer a service that patients actually value.

Beattie knows this all too well and says Redbird respects these preferences. For him, the next course of action will be to play a larger role in the world’s developing ecosystem where healthcare systems build decentralised networks and move closer to the average patient.

This decentralised approach is what attracted U.S. and South African early-stage VC firm Newtown Partners to cut a check. Speaking on behalf of the firm, Llew Claasen, the managing partner, had this to say.

“We’re excited about Redbird’s decentralised business model that enables rapid diagnostic testing at the point of primary care in local community pharmacies. Redbird’s digital health record platform has the potential to drive significant value to the broader healthcare value chain and is a vital step toward improving healthcare outcomes in Africa. We look forward to supporting the team as they prove out their  business model and scale across the African continent.”

#africa, #biotech, #chronic-disease, #cto, #diabetes, #enterprise, #founders-factory, #funding, #ghana, #health-systems, #healthcare, #redbird, #startups, #tc

Ghana’s mPharma partners with Ethiopian conglomerate to enter its eighth market

mPharma, a Ghanaian health tech startup that manages prescription drug inventory for pharmacies and their suppliers, today announced its expansion to Ethiopia.

The company was founded by Daniel Shoukimas, Gregory Rockson and James Finucane in 2013. It specializes in vendor-managed inventory, retail pharmacy operations and market intelligence serving hospitals, pharmacies and patients.

In Africa, the pharmaceutical market worth $50 billion faces challenges such as sprawling supply chains, low order volumes, and exorbitant prices. Many Africans still suffer preventable or easily treated diseases because they cannot afford to buy their medications.

With a presence in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zambia, as well as two unnamed countries, mPharma wants to increase access to these medications at a reduced cost while assuring and preserving quality. The company claims to serve over 100,000 patients monthly and has distributed over a million drugs to Africans from 300 partner pharmacies across the continent.

CEO Rockson says that when mPharma started eight years ago, he wanted to own a pan-African brand with operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria from the get-go.

By 2018, mPharma went live in the West African country. In 2019, the health tech acquired Haltons, the second-largest pharmacy chain in Kenya, subsequently entering the market and gaining 85% ownership in the company. However, it seemed like a stretch to the Ghanaian-based company to expand to the East African country as it met several pushbacks. Rockson attributes this to the harsh nature of doing business with foreign companies.

“Ethiopia is one of the most closed economies on the continent. This has made it a bit hard for other startups to launch there just because the government rarely allows foreign investments in the retail sector.”

According to Rockson, most foreign brands operate in the country through franchising, a method mPharma has employed for its expansion into Africa’s second most populous nation.

The company signed a franchise agreement with Belayab Pharmaceuticals through its subsidiary, Haltons Limited. Belayab Pharmaceuticals is a part of the Belayab Group — a conglomerate that is also an official franchisee of companies like Pizza Hut and Kia Motors in Ethiopia.

Rockson says we should expect the partnership to open two pharmacies in Addis Ababa this year. Each pharmacy will offer the company’s consumer loyalty membership program called Mutti, where they’ll get discounts and financing options to access medication

Image Credits: mPharma

This franchising is a part of mPharma’s growth plans of enabling companies looking to enter the pharmacy retail sector. The plan is to provide access to a “pharmacy-in-a-box” solution where mPharma handles every infrastructure involved, and the pharmacy is just concerned about the consumer

“What we’ve done is that we enable these pharmacies with our software, and we have the backend physical infrastructure and warehousing,” he said. ‘They can rely on mPharma to do all the background work from getting the products into your pharmacy and also providing the software infrastructure to be able to run delivery services while they focus on clinical care.”

mPharma is one of the well-funded healthtech startups in Africa and has raised over $50 million. Last year when it secured a Series C round of $17 million, Helena Foulkes, former president of CVS, the largest pharmacy retail chain in the U.S., was appointed to its board. She joined Daniel Vasella, ex-CEO and Chairman of Novartis as members who have decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

This sort of backing, both in expertise and investment, has proven vital to how mPharma runs operations. Rockson doesn’t mince words when saying the company wants to dominate African healthcare with Ethiopia, its toughest market to enter, already secured.

“There are issues of fragmentation in pharmacy retailing, poor standards and high prices that haven’t been fixed. The African opportunity is still huge, and we are still at the beginning stages of privatisation of healthcare on the continent,” he said.

#africa, #biotech, #ethiopia, #ghana, #health, #healthcare, #kenya, #mpharma, #nigeria, #pharmacy, #rwanda, #startups, #tc

How African startups raised investments in 2020

The venture capital scene in Africa has consistently grown, with an influx of capital from local and international investors reaching unprecedented heights in recent years. To understand how much growth has occurred, African startups raised a meagre $400 million in 2015 compared to the $2 billion that came into the continent in 2019, according to Africa-focused fund Partech Africa.

However, that figure isn’t the only yardstick. With other outlets like media publications WeeTracker and Disrupt Africa disclosing different results for the African venture capital market, we compared and contrasted their results last year. The result of that investigation detailed differences in methodology, as well as similarities.

In comparison to Partech’s $2 billion figure for 2019, WeeTracker estimated that African startups raised $1.3 billion while Disrupt Africa, $496 million for the same year.

It was expected that these figures would increase in 2020. But with the pandemic bringing in utter confusion and panic, companies downsized as investors re-strategized, and due diligence slowed during the first few months of the year. Also, new predictions came into light in May with some pegging expected deals to close between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion by the end of the year.

Investments did pick up, and from July, VC funding on the continent had a bullish run until December. Although 2020 didn’t witness the series of mammoth deals in 2019 and didn’t reach the $2 billion mark, it proved to be a good year for acquisitions. Sendwave’s $500 million purchase by WorldRemit; Network International buying DPO Group for $288 million; and Stripe’s larger than $200 million acquisition of Paystack were high-profile examples.

To better understand how VCs invested in Africa during 2020, we’ll look into data from Partech Africa, Briter Bridges and Disrupt Africa.

Behind the numbers

In 2019, Partech Africa reported that a total of $2 billion went into African startups. For 2020, the number dropped to $1.43 billion. Briter Bridges pegged total 2020 VC for African startups at $1.31 billion (for disclosed and undisclosed amounts), up from $1.27 billion in 2019.  Disrupt Africa noted an increase in its figures moving from $496 million in 2019 to $700 million in 2020. 

Just as last year, contrasting methodologies from the type of deals reviewed, to the definition of an African startup contributed to the numbers’ disparity. 

Cyril Collon, general partner at Partech says the firm’s numbers are based on equity deals greater than $200,000. Also, it defines African startups “as companies with their primary market, in terms of operations or revenues, in Africa not based on HQ or incorporation,” he said. “When these companies evolve to go global, we still count them as African companies.”

Briter Bridges has a similar methodology. According to Dario Giuliani, the firm’s director, the research organisation avoided using geography to define an African startup due to factors contributing to business identities like taxation, customers, IP, and management team.

For Disrupt Africa, the startups featured in its report are seven years or less in operation, still scaling, and a potential to achieve profitability. It excluded “companies that are spin-offs of corporates or any other large entity, or that have developed past the point of being a startup, by our definition of one.”

The continued dominance of fintech and the Big Four

Despite the drop in total funding, Partech says African startups closed more total deals in 2020 than previous years. According to the firm, 347 startups completed 359 deals compared in 2020 compared to 250 deals in 2019. This can be attributed to an increase in seed rounds (up 88% from 2019) and bridge rounds due to shortage of cash amidst a pandemic-induced lockdown.

A common theme in the three reports shows fintech, healthtech, and cleantech in the top five sectors. But, as expected, fintech retained the lion’s share of African VC funding.  

According to Partech, fintech represented 25% of total African funding raised last year, with agritech, logistics & mobility, off-grid tech, and healthtech sectors following behind.

Briter Bridges reported that fintech companies accounted for 31% of the total VC funding over the same time period. Cleantech came second; healthtech, third; agritech and data analytics, in fourth and fifth.

Fintech startups raised 24.9% of the total African VC funding counted by Disrupt Africa. E-commerce, healthtech, logistics, and energy startups followed respectively.

2020 also showed the Big Four countries’ preponderance in terms of investment destination, at least in two out of the three reports.

The countries remained unchanged on Partech’s top five as Nigeria remained the VC’s top destination with $307 million. At a close second was Kenya accounting for $304 million of the total investments in the continent. Egypt came third with its startups raising $269 million, while $259 million flowed into South African startups. Rounding up the top five was Ghana with $111 million, displacing Rwanda which was fifth in Partech’s 2019 list.

The sequence remained unchanged from Disrupt Africa’s 2019 list as well. Funding raised by Kenyan startups reached $191.4 million; Nigeria followed with $150.4 million; South Africa, third at $142.5 million; Egypt came a close fourth with $141.4 million; while Ghanaian startups raised $19.9 million.

Briter Bridges took a different approach. Whereas Partech and Disrupt Africa highlighted funding activities per country of origin and operations, Briter Bridges chose to attribute funding to the startups’ place of incorporation or headquarters. This premise slightly altered the Big Four’s positions. Startups headquartered in the US received $471.8 million of the total funding, according to Briter Bridges. Those in South Africa claimed $119.7 million. Mauritius-headquartered companies received $110 million while African startups headquartered in the U.K. and Kenya raised $107.6 million and $77.1 million respectively.

On why Briter Bridges went with this narrative, Giuliani said the company wants its data to be an impartial conversation starter which can be used to investigate more complex dynamics such as the need for better policies, regulation, or financial availability.

This speaks particularly to the absence of Nigeria as a primary location for incorporation. Due to unfriendly regulations, business and tax conditions, Nigerian startups are increasingly incorporating their startups abroad and other African countries like Seychelles and Mauritius. It’s a trend that may well continue as most foreign VCs prefer African startups to be incorporated in countries with business-friendly investment laws.

Regional and gender diversity check

With an increase in startup activity in Francophone Africa, one would’ve expected an uptick in VC funding in the region. Well, that’s not exactly the case. Senegal, the region’s top destination for VC funding dropped from $16 million in 2019 to $8.8 million in 2020 according to Partech. The country was 9th on the list while Ivory Coast, placed 10th, raised a meagre sum of $6.5 million.

However, the good news is that 22 other countries received investments outside this Big Four this year, according to Partech data. Will we see this continue? And if yes, which countries will likely join the nine-figure club?

Tidjane Deme, a general partner of Partech Africa, believes Ghana might be next. He references how it previously used to be a Big 3 of Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa before Egypt became a dominant force, and says a similar event might happen with the West African country.

“We see a clear diversification happening as investors are going into more markets. Ghana, for instance, is already attracting above $100 million. Of course, we all wish it would happen faster, but we also recognize that this is a learning process for both investors entering new markets and for founders learning about this game.”

Ghana also emerged in Giuliani’s forecast. He adds the likes of Tunisia, Morocco, Rwanda as second-tier countries quickly entering global investors’ radar and building more sophisticated ecosystems.

Tom Jackson, co-founder of Disrupt Africa, doesn’t mention any names. But he thinks that while there are some positives from other markets, the Big Four dominance will continue.

“Funding will filter down to other markets more and more, and there are already positive signs in that regard. But the space is still relatively early-stage and those four big markets have a big head start and will remain far ahead for years to come,” he said.

Another diversity check that cannot be overlooked is that of gender. Despite all the talk of inclusion, Briter Bridges reported that 15% of the funded startups in 2020 had women as founders, co-founders, or C-level executives. Partech, on the other hand, places this number at 14%. There’s still a lot of work to be done to increase this figure, and we might see more early-stage firms looking to plug that gap.

#africa, #egypt, #funding, #ghana, #kenya, #nigeria, #partech, #south-africa, #startups, #tc

African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and Maijid Moujaled. The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

#500-startups, #africa, #amazon, #america, #apple, #banking, #bezos-expeditions, #chipper-cash, #e-commerce, #facebook, #financial-services, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #ham-serunjogi, #hsbc, #interswitch, #iowa, #jeff-bezos, #joe-montana, #kenya, #liquid-2-ventures, #maijid-moujaled, #mastercard, #mobile-payments, #nigeria, #online-payments, #p2p, #paystack, #ribbit, #ribbit-capital, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #series-b, #south-africa, #stripe, #tanzania, #tc, #tesla, #uganda, #united-states, #venture-capital, #visa, #worldremit, #yahoo

Nigeria’s Autochek raises $3.4M for car sales and service platform

Nigeria based startup Autochek looks to bring the sales and servicing of cars in Africa online. The newly founded venture has closed a $3.4 million seed-round co-led by TLcom Capital and 4DX ventures toward that aim.

The raise comes fresh off of Autochek’s September acquisition of digital car sales marketplace Cheki in Nigeria and Ghana. It also follows the recent departure of Autochek CEO Etop Ikpe from Cars45 — the startup he co-founded in 2016, now owned by Amsterdam based OLX Group.

That’s a lot of news in a short-time for Ikpe. His new company will likely be in direct competition with his previous venture (also located in Nigeria). Still, the Nigerian entrepreneur — who built his early tech credentials at e-commerce startups DealDey and Konga — says Autochek is a new model.

“It’s different in the type of technology we’re building and that it’s asset light. I don’t have any inventory. I don’t buy cars. I don’t transact any [physical] cars. I don’t own any inspection locations. I don’t own any dealerships,” Ikpe told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

Autochek’s model, according to its CEO, is aimed at creating the digital infrastructure for a new system to better coordinate sales, servicing, and vehicle records of the car market in Nigeria and broader Africa.

Autochek CEO Etop Ikpe, Image Credit: Autochek

Ikpe characterizes that market as still largely informal and fragmented. “We’re basically focused on technology solutions to build the rails of [Africa’s] automotive sector to run on. We’re focusing on three foundations of the market: transactions and trading, maintenance, and financing,” he said.

Autochek’s platform — managed by a developer team in Lagos and Nairobi — is a network for consumers and businesses to buy cars, sell cars, service cars, and finance cars sales.

On the financing side, the startup launched with 10 bank partnerships in Nigeria and two in Ghana, according to Ikpe. Creating more financing options is both a big opportunity for the startup and consumers, he explained. “The used car market in Africa is a $45 billion a year market that has only a 5% financing penetration rate…so there’s huge upside for growth.”

Image Credit: Autochek

Across its core product offerings, Autochek has created a network of partners and standards. The company generates revenues through fees charged on consumer transactions and commissions paid by dealers and service shops on the platform. Consumers can sign up and use the Autochek app for free.

On the sudden departure from his previous startup, Cars45, “I left because I wanted to build something else,” explained Ikpe. There’s been plenty of speculation in local tech press as to what happened, including reports of forced exits by investors. Ikpe declined to get into the details except to say, “I’ve resigned. I’ve moved on and I’m focused on doing what I’m doing right now.”

In addition to its operations in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation, largest economy and top VC destination — Autochek plans to use its seed-financing to expand services and geographic scope. The startup will add associated auto related services, such as insurance and blue book pricing products. Autochek is also eying possible entry in new countries such as Ivory Coast, Senegal, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Algeria. More M&A could also be in play. “Acquisitions are going to be a core part of our expansion strategy,” said Ikpe.

TLcom Capital Partner Andreata Muforo confirmed the fund’s co-lead on the $3.4 million seed round. Speaking to TechCrunch on a call from Nairobi, she named Autochek’s asset light model, Ikpe’s repeat founder status, and the fund’s view of auto sales and service as an underserved market in Africa as reasons for backing the venture. Golden Palm Investments, Lateral Capital, MSA Capital, and Kepple Africa Ventures also joined the investment round.

While fintech gains the majority of VC financing across Africa’s top tech hubs — such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa — mobility related startups operating on the continent have attracted notable support. Drone delivery venture Zipline and trucking logistics company Kobo360 have both received backing from Goldman Sachs. In 2019, FlexClub, a South African startup that matches investors and drivers to cars for ride-hailing services, used a $1.3 million round to expand to Mexico in partnership with Uber.

#africa, #berlin, #cars45, #ceo, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #ghana, #goldman-sachs, #kenya, #kobo360, #lagos, #mexico, #nairobi, #nigeria, #private-equity, #south-africa, #startup-company, #tc, #tlcom-capital, #uber

Could developing renewable energy micro-grids make Energicity Africa’s utility of the future?

When Nicole Poindexter left the energy efficiency focused startup, Opower a few months after the company’s public offering, she wasn’t sure what would come next.

At the time, in 2014, the renewable energy movement in the US still faced considerable opposition. But what Poindexter did see was an opportunity to bring the benefits of renewable energy to Africa.

“What does it take to have 100 percent renewables on the grid in the US at the time was not a solvable problem,” Poindexter said. “I looked to Africa and I’d heard that there weren’t many grid assets [so] maybe I could try this idea out there. As I was doing market research, I learned what life was like without electricity and I was like.. that’s not acceptable and I can do something about it.”

Poindexter linked up with Joe Philip, a former executive at SunEdison who was a development engineer at the company and together they formed Energicity to develop renewable energy microgrids for off-grid communities in Africa.

“He’d always thought that the right way to deploy solar was an off-grid solution,” said Poindexter of her co-founder.

At Energicity, Philip and Poindexter are finding and identifying communities, developing the projects for installation and operating the microgrids. So far, the company’s projects have resulted from winning development bids initiated by governments, but with a recently closed $3.25 million in seed financing, the company can expand beyond government projects, Poindexter said.

“The concessions in Benin and Sierra Leone are concessions that we won,” she said. “But we can also grow organically by driving a truck up and asking communities ‘Do you want light?’ and invariably they say yes.” 

To effectively operate the micro-grids that the company is building required an end-to-end refashioning of all aspects of the system. While the company uses off-the-shelf solar panels, Poindexter said that Energicity had built its own smart meters and a software stack to support monitoring and management.

So far, the company has installed 800 kilowatts of power and expects to hit 1.5 megawatts by the end of the year, according to Poindexter.

Those micro-grids serving rural communities operate through subsidiaries in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and currently serve thirty-six communities and 23,000 people, the company said. The company is targeting developments that could reach 1 million people in the next five years, a fraction of what the continent needs to truly electrify the lives of the population. 

Through two subsidiaries, Black Star Energy, in Ghana, and Power Leone, in Sierra Leone, Energicity has a 20-year concession in Sierra Leone to serve 100,000 people and has the largest private minigrid footprint in Ghana, the company said.

Most of the financing that Energicity has relied on to develop its projects and grow its business has come from government grants, but just as Poindexter expects to do more direct sales, there are other financial models that could get the initial developments off the ground.

Carbon offsets, for instance, could provide an attractive mechanism for developing projects and could be a meaningful gateway to low-cost sources of project finance. “We are using project financing and project debt and a lot of the projects are funded by aid agencies like the UK and the UN,” Poindexter said. 

The company charges its customers a service fee and a fixed price per kilowatt hour for the energy that amounts to less than $2 per month for a customers that are using its service for home electrification and cell phone charging, Poindexter said.

While several other solar installers like M-kopa and easy solar are pitching electrification to African consumers, Poindexter argues that her company’s micro-grid model is less expensive than those competitors.

“Ecosystem Integrity Fund is proud to invest in a transformational company like Energicity Corp,” said James Everett, managing partner, Ecosystem Integrity Fund, which backed the company’s. most recent round. “The opportunity to expand clean energy access across West Africa helps to drive economic growth, sustainability, health, and human development.  With Energicity’s early leadership and innovation, we are looking forward to partnering and helping to grow this great company.”

#africa, #articles, #benin, #co-founder, #ecosystem-integrity-fund, #electricity, #energy, #energy-efficiency, #executive, #ghana, #managing-partner, #nature, #nigeria, #opower, #renewable-energy, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-nations, #united-states, #west-africa

African payment startup Chipper Cash raises $13.8M Series A

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has closed a $13.8 million Series A funding round led by Deciens Capital and plans to hire 30 new staff globally.

The raise caps an event filled run for the San Francisco based payments company, founded two years ago by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled.

The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds.

Two years and $22 million in total capital raised later, Chipper Cash offers its mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

“We’re now at over one and a half million users and doing over a $100 million dollars a month in volume,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Chipper Cash does not release audited financial data, but does share internal performance accounting with investors. Deciens Capital and Raptor Group co-led the startup’s Series A financing, with repeat support from 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures .

Deciens Capital founder Dan Kimmerling confirmed the fund’s lead on the investment and review of Chipper Cash’s payment value and volume metrics.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based mobile payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business.

The company will use its latest round to hire up to 30 people across operations in San Francisco, Lagos, London, Nairobi and New York — according to Serunjogi.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has already brought on a new compliance officer, Lisa Dawson, whose background includes stints with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Citigroup’s anti-money laundering department.

“You know in the world we live in the AML side is very important so it’s an area that we want to invest in from the get go,” said Serunjogi.

He confirmed Dawson’s role aligned with getting Chipper Cash ready to meet regulatory requirements for new markets, but declined to name specific countries.

With the round announcement, Chipper Cash also revealed a corporate social responsibility component to its business. Related to current U.S. events, the startup has formed the Chipper Fund for Black Lives.

“We’ve been huge beneficiaries of the generosity and openness of this country and its entrepreneurial spirit,” explained Serunjogi. “But growing up in Africa, we’ve were able to navigate [the U.S.] without the traumas and baggage our African American friends have gone through living in America.”

The Chipper Fund for Black Lives will give 5 to 10 grants of $5,000 to $10,000. “The plan is to give that to…people or causes who are furthering social justice reforms,” said Serunjogi.

In Africa, Chipper Cash has placed itself in the continent’s major digital payments markets. As a sector, fintech has become Africa’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion.

By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the continent is home to the largest percentage of the world’s unbanked population, with a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Increasingly, Nigeria has become the most significant fintech market in Africa, with the continent’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

Chipper Cash expanded there in 2019 and faces competition from a number of players, including local payments venture Paga. More recently, outside entrants have jumped into Nigeria’s fintech scene.

In 2019, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay (owned by Opera) and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale first in West Africa and then the broader continent.

Over the next several years, expect to see market events — such as fails, acquisitions, or IPOs — determine how well funded fintech startups, including Chipper Cash, fare in Africa’s fintech arena.

#africa, #african-tech, #america, #chipper-cash, #citigroup, #deciens-capital, #entrepreneurship, #ghana, #ham-serunjogi, #iowa, #joe-montana, #kenya, #lagos, #liquid-2-ventures, #london, #nairobi, #new-york, #nigeria, #p2p, #paga, #private-equity, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #startup-company, #tanzania, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #uganda, #united-states, #west-africa, #yahoo

The Statues Were Toppled. What Happens to Them Now?

What city leaders, museum officials and historians decide will have implications for how we remember the history the statues were designed to represent, as well as our current moment.

#antwerp-belgium, #art, #belgian-royal-museum-for-central-africa, #black-lives-matter-movement, #black-people, #bristol-england, #colston-edward-1636-1721, #columbus-christopher, #demonstrations-protests-and-riots, #dibbits-taco, #george-floyd-protests-2020, #ghana, #gryseels-guido, #history-academic-subject, #lee-robert-e, #leopold-ii, #locke-hew, #monuments-and-memorials-structures, #museums, #rijksmuseum, #slavery-historical, #southbank-centre-london-england, #united-states, #university-of-richmond

Uber Africa launches Uber Cash with Flutterwave and explores EVs

Uber is launching its Uber Cash digital wallet feature in Sub-Saharan Africa through a partnership with San Francisco based — Nigerian founded — fintech firm Flutterwave.

The arrangement will allow riders to top up Uber wallets using the dozens of remittance partners active on Flutterwave’s Pan-African network.

Flutterwave operates as a B2B payments gateway network that allows clients to tap its APIs and customize payments applications.

Uber Cash will go live this week and next for Uber’s ride-hail operations in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, according to Alon Lits — Uber’s General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Depending on the country, you’ve got different top up methods available. For example in Nigeria you can use your Verve Card or mobile money. In Kenya, you can use M-Pesa and EFT and in South Africa you can top up with EFT,” said Lits.

Uber Cash in Africa will also accept transfers from Flutterwave’s Barter payment app, launched with Visa in 2019.

The move could increase Uber’s ride traffic in Africa by boosting the volume of funds sent to digital wallets and reducing friction in the payment process.

Uber still accepts cash on the continent — which has one of the world’s largest unbanked populations — but has made strides on financial inclusion through mobile money.

Update on Uber Africa

Uber has been in Africa since 2015 and continued to adapt to local market dynamics, including global and local competition and more recently, COVID-19. The company’s GM Alon Lits spoke to TechCrunch on updates — including EV possibilities — and weathering the coronavirus outbreak in Africa.

Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa continued to run through the pandemic, with a couple exceptions. “The only places we ceased operations was where there were government directives,” Lits said. That included Uganda and Lagos, Nigeria.

Though he couldn’t share data, Lits acknowledged there had been a significant reduction in Uber’s Africa business through the pandemic, in line with the 70% drop in global ride volume Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed in March.

“You can imagine in markets where we were not allowed to operate revenues obviously go to zero,” said Lits.

Like Africa’s broader tech ecosystem, Uber has adapted its business to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Africa, which hit hardest in March and April and led to lockdowns in key economies, such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa

On how to make people feel safe about ride-hailing in a coronavirus world, Lits highlighted some specific practices. In line with Uber’s global policy, it’s mandatory in Africa for riders and drivers to wear masks.

“We’re actually leveraging facial recognition technology to check that drivers are wearing masks before they go,” said Lits. Uber Africa is also experimenting with impact safe, plastic dividers for its cars in Kenya and Nigeria.

Uber Africa Nairobi

Image Credits: Uber

In Africa, Uber has continued to expand its services and experiment with things the company doesn’t do in in any major markets. The first was allowing cash payments in 2016 — something Uber hopes the introduction of Uber Cash will help reduce.

Along with rival Bolt, Uber connected ride-hail products to Africa’s motorcycle and three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxi markets in 2018.

Uber moved into delivery in Africa, with Uber Eats, and recently started transporting medical supplies in South Africa through a partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mobility Africa

In addition to global competitors, such as Bolt, Uber faces local competition as Africa’s mobility sector becomes a hotspot for VC and startups.

A couple trends worth tracking will be Uber’s potential expansion to Ethiopia and moves toward EV development in Africa.

On Ethiopia, the country has a nascent tech scene with the strongest demographic and economic thesis — Africa’s second largest population and seventh biggest economy — to become the continent’s next digital hotspot.

Ethiopia also has a burgeoning ride-hail industry, with local mobility ventures Ride and Zayride. Uber hasn’t mentioned (that we know of) any intent to move into the East African country. But if it does, that would serve as a strong indicator of the company’s commitment to remaining a mobility player in Africa.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda, Image Credits: Ampersand

With regards to electric, there’s been movement on the continent over the last year toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use.

In 2019, Nigerian mobility startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round backed by Yamaha, a portion of which was dedicated to pilot e-motorcycles powered by renewable energy.

Last year the government of Rwanda established a national plan to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos, working in partnership with EV startup Ampersand.

And in May, Vaya Africa — a ride-hail mobility venture founded by mogul Strive Masiyiwa — launched an electric taxi service and solar charging network in Zimbabwe. Vaya plans to expand the program across the continent and is exploring e-moto passenger and delivery products.

On Uber’s moves toward electric in Africa, it could begin with two or three wheeled transit.

“That’s something we’ve been looking at in South Africa…nothing that we’ve launched yet, but it is a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Uber’s Sub-Saharan Africa GM Alon Lits.

He noted one of the challenges of such an electric model on the continent is lack of a robust charging infrastructure.

Even so, if Uber enters that space — with Vaya and others — emissions free ride-hail and delivery EVs buzzing around African cities could soon be a reality.

#africa, #african-tech, #business, #ceo, #dara-khosrowshahi, #e-motorcycles, #energy, #ethiopia, #evs, #flutterwave, #ghana, #kenya, #lagos, #nigeria, #player, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #tanzania, #tc, #transport, #uber, #uganda, #vaya-africa, #visa, #yamaha, #zimbabwe

When the Price of Freedom Is Detention, Frostbite and Amputation

“Between Everything and Nothing,” by Joe Meno, recounts the harrowing quest by two Ghanaian men to gain asylum in North America.

#accra-ghana, #between-everything-and-nothing-the-journey-of-seidu-mohammed-and-razak-iyal-and-the-quest-for-asylum-book, #books-and-literature, #canada, #ghana, #illegal-immigration, #immigration-and-emigration, #immigration-detention, #iyal-razak, #meno-joe, #mohammed-seidu, #politics-and-government, #refugees-and-displaced-persons, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government

Africa Roundup: DHL invests in MallforAfrica, Zipline launches in US, Novastar raises $200M

Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.

Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.

DHL acquired a minority stake in Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce company that grew out of MallforAfrica.com — a Nigerian digital-retail startup.

Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.

Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.

Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.

With MallforAfrica Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.

The e-commerce site went on to onboard over 250 global retailers and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the UK.

Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap an online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business

“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.

Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the non-profit’s medical center in Huntersville — where frontline healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Image Credits: Novant Health

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo,  Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s African operations back to 2016.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya,  South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.

The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.

With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .

On demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from min-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The compensation and staff reductions of 135 bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs.

Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.

There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch  

African tech around the ‘net

#africa, #andela, #articles, #auto-rickshaw, #ceo, #chris-folayan, #delivery-drone, #department-of-transportation, #dhl, #dorothy-zimuto, #east-africa, #electricity, #emerging-technologies, #ghana, #healthcare, #internet-service, #investment, #jeremy-johnson, #keenan-wyrobek, #keller-rinaudo, #kenya, #lagos, #link-commerce, #nairobi, #nigeria, #nissan, #north-carolina, #novant-health, #novastar-ventures, #online-sales, #online-stores, #oregon, #retail, #rwanda, #san-francisco, #south-africa, #steve-beck, #tc, #technology, #transport, #uber, #united-states, #ups, #zimbabwe, #zipline

The ‘Cradle Catholic’ Promoting Family Planning in Ghana

Dr. Leticia Adelaide Appiah is determined to slow her conservative country’s birthrate by any means, including contraception. Not everyone is pleased.

#appiah-leticia-adelaide, #birth-control-and-family-planning, #ghana, #roman-catholic-church, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #women-and-girls

Zipline begins US medical delivery with UAV program honed in Africa

Drones are being deployed in the fight to curb COVID-19 in the U.S.

Novant Health and California based UAV delivery startup Zipline have launched distribution of personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina.

Novant is a non-profit healthcare provider with a network in the Southeastern United States.

Through the partnership, Zipline’s drones will make 32 mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s emergency drone fulfillment center in Kannapolis to the company’s medical center in Huntersville, North Carolina — where front line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The program has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation — though the FAA offered TechCrunch nuanced guidance on how it classifies the undertaking.

This story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch and landing systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country.  Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

Zipline co-founder Keller Rinaudo (L) with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (Middle) in 2016

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19 related medication and lab samples.

Based on its Africa operations, Zipline was selected by regulators to participate in medical drone delivery testing in the U.S. in 2016, in coordination with the FAA.

The company’s Africa business also led to its pandemic response partnership with Novant Health. The North Carolina based company was in discussion with Zipline on UAV delivery before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but the crisis spurred both parties to speed things up, according to Hank Capps, a Senior Vice President at Novant.

That included some improvisation. For its current launch site the operation is using space donated by a local NASCAR competition team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

According to Capps, the current collaboration using drones to deliver medical supplies from that site could grow beyond the 32 mile route Zipline and Novant began flights on last Friday.

“Right now we plan to expand it geographically within our footprint, which is fairly large within North Carolina, South Florida, and Virginia,” he told TechCrunch on a call.

That, of course, will depend on regulatory approval. The FAA granted Novant Health permission to operate the current program — which the FAA classifies as a distribution vs. delivery operation — through a 107 waiver. This rolls up into the evolving federal code on operation of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. and allows Novant and Zipline to operate “until Oct. 31, 2020, or until all COVID-related restrictions on travel, business and mass gatherings for North Carolina are lifted, whichever occurs first,” according to the FAA. The U.S. regulatory body also stipulated that “Part 107 is a waiver, not a drone licence.”

The FAA offered cautious confirmation that the Zipline, Novant partnership is the first approved long range unmanned delivery service in the United States.

“I am not aware of any that are flying routes as far as what they are doing in North Carolina, but I try to be careful when talking about firsts,” an FAA spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Last month UPS and CVS announced a shorter range drone delivery program of prescription drugs to a retirement village in Florida.

Image Credits: Novant Health

The arrangement between Zipline and Novant is not for financial gain — according to both parties — but still supports Zipline’s profitability thesis advanced by co-founder Keller Rinaudo.

“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” he told me in a 2016 interview.

On a recent call, Rinaudo noted the startup is generating income on operations to serve that market, through the company doesn’t release financial data.

“At the distribution centers that have been operating for more than a year, Zipline is making money on the deliveries that we do,” he said.

Rinaudo pointed to the more favorable margins of autonomous delivery using small, electric powered UAVs versus large internal combustion vehicles.

“I think that these kinds of services are going to operate, much more profitably than traditional logistic services,” he said.

Zipline sold investors on that value proposition. The company has raised (a reported) $233 million in VC from backers including Andreeson Horowitz and Goldman Sachs. Zipline intends to expand its drone delivery business in the U.S. and anywhere in the world it finds demand, according to its CEO.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s Africa operations back to 2016.

The Zipline, Novant launch of UAV delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. is a high-point for the thesis that Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has become a hotbed for VC and startups — can produce innovation with global application.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

Image Credits: HHP/Harold Hinson

For all the talk that COVID-19 may force an isolationist shift across countries, the Zipline, Novant Health partnership is very much a globally incubated solution — applied locally in the U.S. — to an international problem.

The program combines a medical drone delivery startup founded in San Francisco with a model tested in Africa to an American healthcare venture in North Carolina, with a little help from a NASCAR race team. This could reflect the unique application of tech and partnerships to come in the fight against COVID-19.

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