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The Nigerian founder didn’t offer much new on the Lagos-based firm’s expected IPO, but he did reveal Interswitch will revive investments in African startups.
Founded by Elegbe in 2002, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly cash-based economy. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people. Interswitch has expanded to offer personal and business payment products in 23 Africa countries.
The fintech firm achieved unicorn status in 2019 after a $200 million equity investment by Visa gave it a $1 billion valuation.
Reviving venture investing
But Interswitch will soon be back in the business of making startup bets and acquisitions, according to Elegbe. “We’ve just certified a team and the plan is to begin to make those kinds of investments again.”
He offered a glimpse into the new fund’s focus. “This time around we want to make financial investments and also leverage the network that Interswitch has and put that at the disposal of these companies,” Elegbe told TechCrunch.
“We’ll be very selective in the companies we invest in. They should be companies that Interswitch clearly as an entity can add value to. They should be companies that help accelerate growth by the virtue of what we do and the customers that we have,” he said.
Recent venture events in African tech have likely pressed Interswitch to get back in the investing arena. As an ecosystem, VC on the continent has increased (roughly) by a factor of four over last five years, to around $2 billion in 2019. But most of that has come from single-entity investment funds, while corporate venture funding (and tech M&A activity) has remained light. That’s shifted over the last several months and the entire uptick has occurred in African fintech around entities that could be viewed as Interswitch competitors.
In July, Dubai’s Network International acquired Kenya -based payment mobile payment processing company DPO for $288 million. Shortly after the acquisition, DPO’s CEO Eran Feinstein said the company would pursue more African acquisitions on its own. In June, another mobile-money payment processor, MFS Africa, acquired digital finance company Beyonic. And in August, South Africa’s Standard Bank—Africa’s largest by assets and lending—acquired a stake in fintech security firm TradeSafe.
Since the rise of Safaricom’s dominant M-Pesa mobile money product in Kenya, fintech in Africa has become infinitely larger and more competitive. The sector has hundreds of startups and now receives nearly 50% of all VC investment on the continent.
The opportunity investors and founders are chasing is bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data, and mobile-based finance platforms have presented the best use-cases to shift that across the region.
Interswitch has established itself as a leader in the Africa’s digital finance race. But it’s hard to envision how it can maintain or extend that role without an active venture arm that invests in and acquires innovative, young fintech startups.
No news on IPO
Elegbe had less to offer on Interswitch’s long-anticipated IPO. Asked if the company still planned to list publicly, he offered up a non-answer answer. “At this point in time we’re focused on growing the business and creating value for our customers and that is the our primary focus.”
When pressed “yes or no” on whether an IPO was still a possibility Elegbe confirmed it was. “We have private equity investors and at some point in the life of the business they want exits.” he said. “When it is time for them to exit there are various options on the table and an IPO is an option.”
There’s been talk of an Interswitch IPO for years. In 2016, Elegbe told TechCrunch a dual-listing on the Lagos and London Stock Exchanges was possible. Then word came through other Interswitch channels that it was delayed due to recession and currency volatility in Nigeria in 2017. In November 2019, a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background, “an IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020.” Then came the Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying global economic slump, which may have delayed Interswitch’s IPO plans yet again.
If and when the company goes public, it would be a major event for Nigerian and African fintech. No VC backed fintech firm on the continent has listed globally. Exits for Interswitch’s investors would likely attract to Nigeria and broader Africa more VC from major funds—many of whom remain on the fence about startup opportunities on the continent.
Focus on Africa
On global product expansion, Interswitch plans to maintain an African focus for now, Elegbe explained. “There are enough opportunities for Interswitch on the continent. We’d like to be in as many African countries as possible…and position Interswitch as the (financial) gateway to the continent,” he said.
Elegbe explained the company would continue to work through alliances with major financial services firms to open up global financial access for its African client base. In August 2019, Interswitch launched a partnership that allows its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.
CEO Mitchell Elegbe concluded his Disrupt session with some perspective on balancing the stigmas and possibilities of doing business in Nigeria. Over recent years the country has shifted to become an unofficial hub for big tech expansion, VC investment, and startup formation in Africa. But Nigeria continues to have a difficult operating environment with regard to infrastructure and is often associated with political corruption and instability in its Northeast region due to the Boko Haram insurgency.
“Nigeria has a very large population and a very large market. We have lots of challenges that need to be solved, but it makes sense to me that lots of money is finding its way to Nigeria because the opportunity is there,” he said.
Elegbe’s advice to tech investors considering the country, “Don’t take a short-termist view. There are good people on the ground doing fantastic work—honest people who want to make impact. You need to seek those people out.”
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The CEO of Pan-African fintech unicorn, Mitchell Elegbe, is set to speak at TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 on September 16. He founded the company in Lagos in 2002 to connect Nigeria’s — then — largely disconnected banking system.
Over the next decade plus, Interswitch accelerated the adoption of digital payments across Africa and now stands as one of the continent’s rare fintech unicorns. The company is poised to list on a global exchange, which would also create Africa’s next big tech IPO.
At Disrupt 2020, TechCrunch will seek Elegbe’s perspective on the continent’s fintech scene, Interswitch’s venture plans, and the economic impact of Covid-19 on African startups. This year’s event is 100% virtual, making it possible for anyone with an internet connection to sign in and learn more about Elegbe’s company and digital innovation in Africa.
If you’re a VC or founder in London, Bangalore or San Francisco, you’ll likely interact with some part of Africa’s tech landscape for the first time — or more — in the near future. When measured by monetary values, the continent’s tech ecosystem is small by Shenzhen or Silicon Valley standards.
But when you look at year-over-year expansion in venture capital, startup formation and tech hubs, it’s one of the fastest-growing tech markets in the world.
Bringing the continent’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.
Interswitch became a pioneer of building the infrastructure to digitize finance on the continent. The company pre-dates the rise of mobile money in Kenya through Safaricom’s M-Pesa product, which is one of Africa’s most recognized fintech use-cases.
Interswitch’s path from startup to unicorn traces back to the vision of CEO Mitchell Elegbe, who was a Nigerian electrical engineering graduate before founding the firm in 2002. The company has since produced a run of product innovation and expansion, starting in Nigeria. Interswitch created the first electronic switch whereby Nigerian financial institutions could communicate and operate ATMs and point of sales operations. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system.
Interswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The fintech firm (now well beyond startup phase) has also shaped a Pan-African and global reach — selling its products in 23 African countries with a physical presence in Uganda, Gambia and Kenya . In August 2019, Interswitch launched a partnership that allows its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.
Interswitch also launched a venture arm in 2015 called its global ePayment Growth Fund. Another milestone came in November 2019 when Interswitch achieved a $1 billion unicorn valuation after Visa took a reported $200 million minority stake in the company. Other Interswitch backers include IFC and Helios Investment Partners.
The company’s Nigerian origins and operations have become more significant as Nigeria is now Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. The West African country has become the continent’s unofficial tech hub and fintech capital. Nigerian startups now raise the majority of Africa’s annual VC haul, according to a study by Partech.
Heading into 2020, the momentum was there and the pieces were falling in place for Interswitch to mark that next big achievement — an IPO. Where that listing stands for the firm, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, is one of many topics TechCrunch is excited to discuss with CEO Mitchell Elegbe at Disrupt 2020.
The event runs from September 14 through September 18 and (as mentioned) is 100% virtual this year, making it possible for anyone from London to Lagos to sign in. Get your front row seat to see Mitchell Elegbe live with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. We’re excited to see you there.
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Alphabet’s Loon has officially begun operating its commercial internet service in Kenya . This is the first large-scale commercial offering that makes use of Loon’s high-altitude balloons, which essentially work as cell service towers that drift on currents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Loon’s Kenyan service is offered in partnership with local telecom provider Telkom Kenya, and provides cellular service through their network to an area covering roughly 50,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles) that normally hasn’t had reliable service due to the difficulty of setting up ground infrastructure in the mountainous terrain.
Loon has been working towards deploying its first commercial service deployment in Kenya since it announced the signed deal in 2019, but the company says that the mission has taken on even greater significance and importance since the onset of COVID-19, which has meant that reliable connectivity, especially in light of the restrictions upon travel that the epidemic has placed, making the ability to remotely contact doctors, family members and others all the more important.
Some of the technical details of how Loon’s stratospheric balloons will offer this continuous service, and what kind of network quality people can expect include that the fleet includes around 35 balloons acting together which are moving constantly to maintain the target area coverage. Average speeds look to be around 18.9Mbps down, and 4.74 Mbps up, with 19 second latency, and real-world testing has shown that this has served well for use across voice and video calls, as well as YouTube streaming, WhatsApp use and more, according to Loon.
The company actually began testing its service earlier this year, with many customers connecting to the network without even realizing it during those tests, and Loon says it has served over 35,000 customers and provided the services listed during those tests.
Prior to today’s commercial service launch, Loon has also employed its balloons to provide emergency service to areas affected by disaster, including Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. It’s now working with a number of commercial telecom partners to deploy non-emergency service in a number of underserved regions globally.
A commercial deal in Kenya marks the first application of balloon-powered internet in Africa, the region with the lowest percentage of internet users globally.
The pandemic and economic crises have caused many workers to lose their jobs. Some have been detained, abused, deprived of wages and stranded far from home with nowhere to turn for help.
Africans are increasingly pushing to hold police agencies to account and “decolonize” the repressive institutions they inherited from colonial rulers.
From Kenya to Nigeria, South Africa to Rwanda, the pandemic is decimating the livelihoods of the once-stable workers who were helping to drive Africa’s economic expansion.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The arrangement will allow riders to top up Uber wallets using the dozens of remittance partners active on Flutterwave’s Pan-African network.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Nigerian angel investor Tomi Davies backed his first company — Strika Entertainment in 2001 — he admits he wasn’t aware of his future role.
“I was just helping out friends. I didn’t know it was angel investing. I didn’t know there was a structure to it,” he said.
Seven years later, Davies received a 20x return on his first exit and a decade after that he’s recognized as an architect of early-stage investing across Africa.
Davies is President of The African Business Angel Network and continues to fund and mentor young tech entrepreneurs in multiple countries.
On a call with TechCrunch, he shared advice for startups on fundraising, surviving COVID-19 and suggestions for global investors on entering Africa.
VC in Africa
Davies’ ascendance in fundraising runs parallel to the boom in startup formation and VC on the continent over the last decade.
When he began In 2001, there wasn’t much measurable venture or digital entrepreneurial activity in Sub-Saharan Africa, outside South Africa. In fact, there was limited data on VC investing on the continent until around five years ago.
An early Crunchbase assisted study estimated VC to African startups annually grew from $40 million in 2012 to $500 million by 2015. A recent assessment by investment firm Partech tallied $2 billion going to the continent’s digital entrepreneurs in 2019, across top markets Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya.
There are now thousands of VC backed startup entrepreneurs across the continent descending on every conceivable use-case — from fintech to on demand electric motorcycle mobility.
Increasingly, Davies’ home country of Nigeria has become the continent’s unofficial capital for venture investment and startup formation, given its market thesis of having Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people.
Even with the boom in VC to the continent’s startups — which has drawn investors such as Goldman Sachs and Steve Case — for years panels at African tech conferences have echoed the need for more early-stage funding options.
Davies has worked to meet that. He came to investing at the friends and family level after receiving an MBA at the University of Miami and an earlier career that spanned roles in management consulting, telecoms and IT.
After emerging as one of the early angels to Africa’s startups, supporting the continent’s innovation ecosystem became a mission for the Nigerian investor.
“My raison d’etre became, and will remain until the day I die, tech in African,” Davies said on a call from Lagos.
How to pitch
In his role as President of The African Angel Business Network, or ABAN, Davies has worked with a team to build out a local investor web across the continent.
“ABAN is very simply a network of networks…we have 49 networks in 33 African countries,” he explained.
Those include Lagos Angel Network, which Davies co-founded, Cairo Angels and Angel Investor Ethiopia, announced in Addis Ababa in 2019.
ABAN establishes certain guidelines and criteria for how member networks operate, but each chapter sets its own investment terms, according to Davies.
For example, ABAN affiliated Dakar Angel Network — founded in 2018 to support startups in French speaking Africa — offers seed investments of between $25,000 to $100,000 to early-stage ventures.
Where and how startups seek funds from ABAN’s family of networks depends on where they operate. “One thing I say to everybody, from presidents to business people to investors, is Africa is about cities,” Davies said.
“When you know which city your looking to invest in or seek investment in, automatically we’ll be in a position to say, ‘here’s your network.’”
For the Lagos Angel Network in Nigeria, the team has a pitch night the third Thursday of each month with a 30 day rule. “Before you leave, you’ll hear if we’re interested or not. If we’re interested, we’ve got 30 days to make you an offer,” explained Davies.
Advice to startups
In addition to his work with ABAN, Davies continues to invest in his own portfolio of startups — now at 32 ventures — and is a regular judge on Africa’s tech competition circuit.
He’s developed a framework to assess companies and shared parts of it with TechCrunch.
“What I say to any startup raising is the first thing any investor is listening to is how do I get my money back. That’s question number one, ‘How do I get my exit?,’” he said.
Davies stressed three things to satisfy that question: “The product service offering that you have, the customers who see value in that product service offering and the nature of the relationship in terms of channel and price offering,” he said.
“That’s what you’re always tinkering with after you start with some kind of value proposition.”
Davies referenced the increased significance of referrals, given the coronavirus has cancelled a number of events and limited mobility to pitch in person in Africa’s top VC markets.
“Because of COVID-19, networks have become critically important. Because investors can’t touch, can’t feel, can’t see [founders] people are looking now for referential integrity, ‘Who sent me this deck?,’” Davies said.
On how a coronavirus induced Nigerian recession may impact startups, Davies flagged the country’s non-stop informal commercial activity — and the adaptability of Nigerian entrepreneurs — as factors that could carry ventures through.
“There’s a significant chunk of the economy that’s in the informal market. So even if you look back at the recessions we’ve had…it hasn’t been felt on the streets,” he said.
Davies is also collaborating with partners on creating working capital solutions for startups whose revenues have been impacted by slowdown.
Tomi Davies is direct about his desire to draw new partners from tech centers such as Silicon Valley, into early-stage investing in Africa.
“We are always looking for co-investors and I speak on behalf of all 49 networks in ABAN,” he said. Davies highlighted the local expertise each network brings to their market as a benefit to VCs looking to invest on the continent through an African Business Angel Network affiliate.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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African tech around the ‘net