African fintech OPay is reportedly raising $400M at over $1.5B valuation

Chinese-backed and Africa-focused fintech platform OPay is in talks to raise up to $400 million, The Information reported today. The fundraising will be coming two years after OPay announced two funding rounds in 2019 — $50 million in June and $120 million Series B in November.

The $170 million raised so far comes from mainly Chinese investors who have begun to bet big on Africa over the past few years. Some of them include SoftBank, Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, GSR Ventures, Source Code Capital.

In 2018, Opera, popularly known for its internet search engine and browser, launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos. It didn’t take long for the company to expand aggressively within the city using ORide, a now-defunct ride-hailing service, as an entry point to the array of services it wanted to offer. The company has tested several verticals — OBus, a bus-booking platform (also defunct); OExpress, a logistics delivery service; OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform; OFood, a food delivery service, among others.

While none of these services has significantly scaled, OPay’s fintech and mobile money arm (which is its main play) is thriving. This year, its parent company Opera reported that OPay’s monthly transactions grew 4.5x last year to over $2 billion in December. OPay also claims to process about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of the country’s non-merchant point of sales transactions.Last year, the company also said it acquired an international money transfer license with a partnership with WorldRemit also in the works.

It’s quite surprising that none of OPay’s plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya (countries it expressed interest in during its Series B) has come to fruition despite its large raises. The company blamed the pandemic for these shortcomings. However, earlier this year, the country set up shop in North Africa by expanding to Egypt. This next raise, likely a Series C, will be instrumental in the company’s quest for expansion, both geographically and product offerings. Per The Information, OPay’s valuation will increase to about $1.5 billion, three times its valuation in 2019.

We reached out to OPay, but they declined to comment on the story.

#africa, #china, #egypt, #finance, #financial-technology, #funding, #kenya, #lagos, #nigeria, #north-africa, #opay, #opera, #oride, #payments, #sequoia-capital-china, #softbank-group, #startups, #tc, #worldremit

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Kenya’s Ajua acquires WayaWaya to consolidate consumer experience play in African SMEs

Kenyan consumer experience platform for businesses in Africa, Ajua today announced that it has acquired WayaWaya, a Kenya-based AI and ML messaging and payments company.

WayaWaya’s customers and partners include the likes of I&M Bank, Interswitch and MTN. The company offers a range of services, from digital banking and payment services to financial services APIs and payment bots.

According to Ajua, the acquisition is primarily focused on WayaWaya’s payments bots system known as Janja. The platform, which has customers like Airtel, Ezee Money, Housing Finance Company of Kenya (HF Group), enables borderless banking and payments across apps and social media platforms. Teddy Ogallo, the entrepreneur who founded WayaWaya, joins Ajua as VP of Product APIs and Integrations.

Per Crunchbase, WayaWaya has just raised $75,000. Although the two companies did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition, Ajua is expected to have paid 10 times more than WayaWaya’s total raise.

Ajua, formerly mSurvey, was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith. The company is solving a consumer data problem for African businesses to understand their business better and drive growth.

“There’s a lot of commerce happening on the continent and Ajua wants companies to move from transaction numbers to the customers behind such transaction,” Griffith told TechCrunch. “Imagine if we knew what drove consumer habits for businesses. I mean, that’s a huge exponential curve for African businesses.”

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Teddy Ogallo (Founder, WayaWaya) & Kenfield Griffith (CEO, Ajua)

Nigeria’s SME market alone is valued at $220 billion annually. And while businesses, mostly big enterprises, can afford customer communication tools, a large segment of small businesses are being left out. Ajua’s play is to use data and analytics to connect companies with their customers in real time. “We’ve taken what makes enterprise customers successful, and we’re capturing it in a simple format so SMEs can have the same tools,” Griffith added

Since most consumer behavior for these SMEs happens offline, Ajua gives businesses unique USSD codes to receive payments, get feedback and offer discounts to their customers. It is one of the products Ajua has launched over the years for customer feedback at the point of service to businesses that cumulatively have over 45 million customers.

The company’s partners and clients also include Coca-Cola, FBNQuest, GoodLife Pharmacy, Java House, Safaricom, Standard Chartered and Total.

As an intelligent messaging bot, Janja is used by individuals and businesses across WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram to automate customer support and make cross-border payments. So, Janja’s integration into Ajua’s product stack will close much of the acquirer’s customer experience loop by automating responses and giving customers what they want, when they want it.

This acquisition comes a month after Ajua announced that it partnered with telecom operator MTN Nigeria to launch a customer management product for Nigerian businesses. The product called MTN EnGauge carries the same features present in Ajua but, in this case, is tailored solely for businesses using the MTN network. The roll-out is expected to generate more data for Ajua’s thousands of users. It will also be upgraded to incorporate Janja and other services.

In hindsight, it appears Ajua could have created a product like Janja in-house due to its vast experience in the consumer experience space. However, the company chose an acquisition and Griffith gave two reasons why — building a similar product would have taken a long time and Ogallo seemed to know Janja’s business and operations so well, it just made sense to get him on board. 

“Teddy was going the same direction we’re going. We just thought to acquire WayaWaya instead and make a really good company out of both products attempting to solve the same problem. To me, it’s all about solving the problem together rather than going alone,” said the CEO. 

On why he accepted the acquisition, Ogallo, who now has a new role, noted that Ajua’s ability to scale customer service and experience and also help businesses was one reason and earned admiration from him. “Seeing how WayaWaya’s technology can complement Ajua’s innovative products and services, and help scale and monetize businesses, is an exciting opportunity for us, and we are happy that our teams will be collaborating to build something unique for the continent,” he added

This is a solid infrastructure play from Ajua coming from a founder who is a massive advocate of acquisition and consolidation. Griffith believes that the two are strategies for a speedier route to new markets and channels in Africa

I think there are lots of ways we can build the ecosystem. There are lots of young talent building stuff, and they don’t have access to capital to get to the next stage. The question is if they want to race to the finish line or take off time and get acquired. I think there’s a huge opportunity in Africa if you want to solve complex problems by acquisition.”

There has been an uptick in local acquisitions in Africa from startups within a single country and between two countries in the past three years. For the former, Nigerian recruitment platform Jobberman’s acquisition of NGCareers last year comes to mind. And there are pan-African instances like Lagos-based hub CcHub’s acquisition of iHub, its Nairobi counterpart; Ethiopian software provider Apposit sell-off to Nigerian fintech Paga; and Johannesburg-based fintech MFS Africa acquiring Uganda’s Beyonic.

The common theme among the acquisitions (and most African acquisitions) is their undisclosed sums. For Ajua, Griffith cited regulatory issues as one reason why the company is keeping the figure under wraps.

Since launching nine years ago, Ajua has raised a total of $3.5 million, according to Crunchbase. Given the nature of this acquisition and partnership with MTN, the company might set sights on another fundraise to scale aggressively into Nigeria (a market it entered in 2019) and other African countries.

#africa, #airtel, #artificial-intelligence, #cchub, #ceo, #customer-experience, #customer-relationship-management, #enterprise, #exit, #interswitch, #kenya, #lagos, #ma, #messenger, #nairobi, #nigeria, #tc, #uganda

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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

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Nigeria’s Termii raises $1.4M seed led by Future Africa and Kepple Africa Ventures

Ideally, it is expected of every business to reach its customers effectively. However, that’s not the case as limiting factors that hinder proper digital communication come into play at different growth stages. Termii, a Nigerian communications platform-as-a-service startup that solves this problem for African businesses, announced today that it has closed a $1.4 million seed round.

The round was co-led by African early-stage VC firm Future Africa and Japanese but Africa-focused VC Kepple Africa Ventures. Other investors include Acuity Ventures, Aidi Ventures, Assembly Capital, Kairos Angels, Nama Ventures, RallyCap Ventures, and Remapped Ventures.

Angel investors like Ham Serunjogi, co-founder and CEO of Chipper Cash; Josh Jones, former co-founder and CTO, Dreamhost; and Tayo Oviosu, co-founder and CEO of Paga also participated.

Gbolade Emmanuel and Ayomide Awe launched Termii after Emmanuel’s experience as a digital marketer helped him recognize the need for businesses to have exceptional communication channels. The CEO consulted for these companies and leveraged emails to retain customers, but as he found out that this process was lethargic, he sought other channels as a replacement.

“That got me to start thinking about multichannel messaging. What it meant was that we needed to find how to allow companies to use WhatsApp, voice, SMS effectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “And we had to make the process simple because in the African market, you can’t do complex stuff. You have to be as simple as possible.”

In 2017, the company officially launched and subsequently secured investment from Lagos-based VC Microtraction. Emmanuel says the company found product-market fit two years later after collating enough data from companies in different industries to understand what they really wanted.

Termii found out that in addition to assisting businesses to retain customers, there was a clear need to verify, authenticate and engage them.

“Many of these businesses we started engaging said they required tools to effectively communicate and verify customers because they were losing money at those points. For us, we saw it was a bigger problem,” Emmanuel added.

After making some tweaks, the team began to see an increase in customers numbers, especially amongst fintech startups. Positioning itself in the fast-moving space, Termii created an API-based communication infrastructure that caters to over 500 fintech startups across the continent. That’s not all. More than 1,000 businesses and developers are also using Termii’s API.

Some of these businesses include uLesson, Yassir, Helium Health, Piggyvest, Bankly, Paga, and TeamApt.

Playing in a $3.6 billion B2C communications market estimated to grow 6% annually, Termii runs a B2B2C model. But how does it make money? While a subscription-based model would’ve made sense, the two years spent by the company trying to find PMF made them think otherwise.

So the company leverages a virtual wallet system tied to a bank account and customers can make payments to the platform using mobile money, bank transfer, and credit cards. The startup charges these wallets on a per-message basis. It also does the same on every successful customer verification made towards customers’ contacts.

The Termii team

In early 2020, Termii started seeing immense progress and this coincided with their acceptance into Y Combinator. The growth continued throughout the year, growing its messaging transactions by 1000% and experiencing a 400% increase in its ARR.

Spilling into this year, Emmanuel says the company’s revenue is growing 60% month-on-month as a result of the surge in online financial transactions which to date makes up for 68% of the company’s total messaging transactions.

The seed investment that is coming a year after Termii graduated from the YC will be used for expansion and launch more messaging offerings across Africa.

Emmanuel says the company has its sights on North Africa with a physical presence in Algeria for the expansion. The reason lies behind the fact that in this quarter, Nigeria has accounted for 76% of the company’s messaging transactions, while Algeria currently accounts for 15%.

With this new fundraising, the company plans to tap into the wealth of experience from some of its new investors like Oviosu and Serunjogi who have also taken local companies into expansion phases.

Termii’s round is also noteworthy because it strays away from the usual fintech, mobility, agritech and cleantech sectors that investors typically notice. In fact, there are only a handful of venture-backed communications platform-as-a-service companies on the continent. A notable example is Kenya’s Africa Talking. It might be a stretch to say we might see more funding activity from this segment but one thing is apparent — investors are willing to place bets on less popular sectors.

Another highlight of Termii’s investment is that while foreign investors continue to dominate rounds in African tech startups, local and Africa-focused firms are beginning to step up by leading some which is a good sign for the bubbling ecosystem.

This round is also a big step for Future Africa. According to publicly available information, the firm is leading a million-dollar round for the first time since officially launching last year. This achievement is a continuation of its work over the past three quarters having invested in more than 10 African startups in the last three quarters and 30 startups in general. 

Kepple Africa Ventures, the co-lead, is also an active investor and can be argued to be the most early-stage VC firm on the continent — in terms of the number of deals made. So far, the firm has invested in 79 companies across 11 countries. 

Speaking on the investment for Kepple Africa, Satoshi Shinada, a partner at the firm, said, “Fragmented and unstable communication channels are one of the biggest challenges for the digitization of businesses in Africa. Emmanuel has proven that with his visionary goals and solid implementation of iterations on the ground, his team is unparalleled to build an innovative solution in this space.”

#africa, #algeria, #api, #enterprise, #funding, #lagos, #nigeria, #saas, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

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Backed by YC, Vendease is building Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa

For small and mid-sized restaurants in Nigeria and most of Africa, food procurement can be a complex process to manage. The system is such that a business can easily run out of money or have considerable savings. Most restaurants don’t have access to deal directly with farms to get better deals because they lack the staffing to chase them. Besides, they also don’t have the aggregation pull as single entities to directly get good value from the farms.

Nigerian startup Vendease solves this problem by building a marketplace that allows restaurants to buy directly from farms and food manufacturers.

The company was founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu, and Wale Oyepeju. The idea for Vendease came when founders who have been friends for more than five years noticed their favorite restaurants in cities like Lagos and Accra shutting down. Inquisitive, they asked the owners who were acquaintances why, and the problems boiled down to the unreliable and expensive nature of food procurement in the cities.

Some months later they saw a hotel manager openly complain to a vendor about the unsteady supply of produce the hotel was getting. It sparked an idea in the founders’ minds.

The established processes involved staff or a contract employee going to the market or using third-party vendors. The founders saw that these processes were often unreliable from the two unrelated events, and restaurants lost a lot of money from price inflation and bad produce.

“We thought to ourselves that if restaurant owners and hotel managers have these problems, let us actually do some research and find out if it is a problem we can solve, scale and make money while doing it,” Kara said to TechCrunch.

At the time, Kara, the CEO, and Fayankin, the COO, held the respective positions at a Pan-African media consulting company called RED Media. Aliyu, the chief product officer (CPO), also held a similar role at another Lagos and San Francisco-based, YC-backed startup, 54gene. Oyepeju, the CTO, was working on a couple of technology projects for corporates.

Before Vendease, they had founded an adtech startup for ride-hailing companies, which didn’t survive for long. So this was another shot at another entrepreneurial journey, and after two and half months of iteration, the founders decided to launch the company in January 2020. They also closed an undisclosed pre-seed round to kickstart operations. 

On its website, it is described as “a procurement platform that provides a transparent process for hotels and restaurants to get the best quality products at the best possible price.” But Kara has a more fanciful description: The Amazon Prime for restaurants in Africa.

Customers can order anything ranging from bread to grains and meat to vegetables on the website. The order notification goes to the farms or food manufacturers, gets processed, and delivery is done within 24 hours. 

“Why we call ourselves that is because we are deliberate about fulfilling our orders to restaurants and hotels in less than 24 hours. As most of us know, this is similar to how Amazon Prime prioritizes delivery,” he commented.

The speed and timely manner in which Vendease carries out its operations are such that it currently completes 80% of on-time and one-time deliveries across all orders.

Image Credits: Vendease

To further highlight how effective the company has been thus far, Kara claims that a good number of the 100 businesses using Vendease went from procuring only one type of produce to 80% of their catalog in two months.

As much as Vendease helps restaurants a lot, it also looks out for the vendors and farmers involved in the supply chain. Typically it takes two to three months for these set of customers to get the payments and this happens because restaurants and hotels take too long to balance their books before making payments. In effect, farmers and vendors mark up their prices to mitigate losses, making products more expensive for restaurants and hotels

While growing up, Kara and Fayankin were on both sides of the vicious cycle. Growing up on a farm and helping his parents with livestock and crop care, Kara knows what it means to be owed for a long time.

“Those experiences help fuel what I do right now. Then, we had a problem selling our products and most times we ended up consuming them because we didn’t have enough off-takers. Even when you did, they’ll owe for six months. And this problem still exists to date.”

On the other side of the marketplace is Olumide, who grew up in a hotel and restaurant business. He runs and handles procurement activities and his experience is vital to how Vendease handles issues around unreliable and expensive supply of food produce. But now they are helping these customers reduce the waiting time to days.

Although they would’ve wanted to solve these problems earlier, their careers strayed toward media and energy. However, it has brought them back, and they’re solving additional problems they didn’t recognise in the past. They soon figured that customers couldn’t track most of their orders and be certain of what they got alongside the supply and cost issues.

Vendease has built all that to help these businesses digitize, track and automate their procurement and inventory management processes. It also helps with logistics, warehousing, quality control and financing where restaurants can buy goods and pay later.

In the next five years, the one-year-old company wants to be the operating system for food supplies in Africa. Kara talks of plans to expand to other African cities in the coming months but is tight-lipped on the names. As Demo Day approaches, the team will be looking to raise some money and follows Egypt’s Breadfast as the only restaurant-focused companies from Africa (although they have very different business models) that the accelerator has funded.

#africa, #amazon-prime, #food, #lagos, #logistics, #restaurant, #startups, #tc, #vendease

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Nigeria’s Plentywaka gets backing from Techstars, plans expansion to Canada

Plentywaka, a Nigerian bus-booking platform, today announced that it has been accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program.

It will join nine other startups in the class of 2021 and secure funding from the accelerator as it sets its sights on global expansion.

The Lagos-based company, founded by Onyeka Akumah, Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi, operates an ‘Uber-for-buses’ model connecting commuters with buses via an app.

Plentywaka launched in September 2019, and in the first two months, moved an average of six people daily, according to CEO Akumah. By its sixth month, this number increased to about 1,500 daily, and the company completed more than 100,000 rides within that timeframe.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic-induced lockdown hit businesses across Lagos and other states within Nigeria. Due to the nature of its business, Plentywaka had to make a slight pivot and began transporting essential services across Lagos, especially food items. It also opened a logistics service.

As the lockdown eased across the city and commuting resumed, the company moved 60% capacity while the operational cost remained the same. Although growth was steady and picking up, the company started seeking external investment. It received $300,000 pre-seed from its parent company, EMFATO and other early-stage investors like Microtraction and Niche Capital in August.

Backed with the new funding, Plentywaka has since doubled down on its core offering — transporting people via buses. The logistics arm that it launched, as well as a car service, have since been shuttered.

Akumah says the focus on a primary offering has paid a dividend. The company has expanded its intrastate services into two other cities in Nigeria including the country’s capital city, Abuja and has moved about 300,000 people. Following this announcement though, there are immediate plans to launch an interstate service across different cities in Nigeria.

This service will see Plentywaka partner with some major bus travel companies, which collectively have more than 2000 buses and ply over 100 routes in the country. Plentywaka acts as an aggregator, and commuters can see options of various transport companies, compare fares, and book on its platform.

“Plentywaka is getting to a point where we’re now becoming more like an aggregator as we onboard transportation companies on our platform. Interstate travel in Nigeria is data insufficient, and we want to be the first company to solve this.” Ena, co-founder and president of Plentywaka, said to TechCrunch. 

In addition to this and the new capital from Techstars, Plentywaka is looking to scale its platform across Africa and North America. Akumah says this global expansion plan will start with a city in Canada, most likely Toronto, on or before Q4 2021.

Sunil Sharma, the managing director of Techstars Toronto, confirmed this to TechCrunch. According to Sharma, Techstars is backing the Nigerian mobility startup because it’s solving a massive problem in Nigeria that can be likened to urban transportation challenges in other populated cities worldwide.

“We know that Western cities have legacy transportation systems. However, there are many transportation challenges, even in a city like Toronto,” he said. “And we think that Plentywaka’s technology and approach in improving the lives of citizens and their daily commute needs can be brought over to cities in the West just as they are in Africa.”

Plentywaka plans to launch its intracity service first after engaging the country’s necessary stakeholders before introducing the intercity model. Sharma thinks that most cities in Canada aren’t well serviced by buses, leading to a broken intercity transit infrastructure. Plentywaka’s presence will bring the much-needed option the city deserves, he says.

“Cities and towns here should have bus connectivity, but they quite simply don’t have it, and my view is that the arrival of Plentywaka will be an immediate option to the status quo. It will also resonate with people as a way to supplement existing transportation options,” he said.

Techstars’ relationship with Akumah also proved crucial in Plentywaka’s acceptance into the accelerator. A second-time Techstars-backed founder, Akumah co-founded Farmcrowdy, a Nigerian digital agriculture platform in 2016. Having gone through the accelerator’s Atlanta program four years ago with the agritech startup, Akumah is doing the same with Plentywaka. He doubles as CEO at both companies

The serial founder said the relationship with Techstars is one reason the company is expanding to Canada instead of neighbouring African countries.

“If the opportunity we have in Toronto right now to expand was similar to what we had in Ghana or South Africa, of course we’ll be having those conversations already. But when we have the support system from Techstars, Sunil, and regulators in Toronto without even putting feet on the ground, I mean that makes it exciting for us to expand to Canada,” the CEO remarked.

Nigerian or African startups, in general, rarely make their way into Canada. Plentywaka is on the verge of doing so, and it will be looking to close a seed round from investors to carry out these expansion plans and further improve its technology.

#africa, #atlanta, #canada, #funding, #lagos, #nigeria, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #techstars-toronto, #toronto, #transportation

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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

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Interswitch to revive its Africa venture fund, CEO confirms

Pan-African fintech company Interswitch plans to fire up its corporate venture arm again—according to CEO Mitchell Elegbe—who spoke at TechCrunch Disrupt on Wednesday.

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

Interswitch, which is well beyond startup phase, launched a $10 million venture arm in 2015 that has been dormant since 2016, after it acquired Vanso—a Nigerian fintech security company.

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.”

#africa, #african-tech, #ceo, #corporate-finance, #dubai, #economy, #finance, #financial-technology, #interswitch, #kenya, #lagos, #m-pesa, #mitchell-elegbe, #money, #nigeria, #safaricom, #south-africa, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #venture-capital, #visa, #world-bank

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Interswitch CEO Mitchell Elegbe to discuss African fintech at TechCrunch Disrupt

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.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

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 Quickteller

Image Credits: Interswitch

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.

#africa, #african-business, #african-tech, #bangalore, #banking, #ceo, #disrupt-2020, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-technology, #helios-investment-partners, #interswitch, #kenya, #lagos, #london, #mitchell-elegbe, #money, #nigeria, #private-equity, #safaricom, #san-francisco, #shenzhen, #startup-company, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #uganda, #venture-capital, #world-bank

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TradeDepot adds $10 million to add financial services to its supply chain services for African SMBs

Nigeria’s e-commerce startup TradeDepot, which connects international brands to small businesses in Africa, has raised $10 million in a new round of funding to expand its business into financial services and credit offerings for retailers.

First launched in 2016, TradeDepot has built up a network of 40,000 small businesses in Nigeria and connects them to local distributors of global consumer brands like Nestlé, Unilever, GB Foods and Danone, according to a statement.

The initial business model managed to attract a $3 million investment led by Partech back in 2018. And now, as the firm invests from its largest African fund, Partech returned to co-lead TradeDepot’s latest round with the International Finance Corp., Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative and MSA Capital.

TradeDepot’s business depends on making a range of household supplies like milk, soap, and detergent more accessible and affordable for the street-side vendors and small shops that provide goods and services for hundreds of communities in cities like Lagos — where the company is headquartered.

Using the company’s mobile apps on Android or Whatsapp, USSD short code messaging or a toll-free phone number, retailers can place orders and have goods and services delivered through TradeDepot’s fleet of vans and tricycles. They can make payments, order stock, and manage inventory online or through the app as well.

For consumer brands, they have a central hub through which to distribute directly to vendors on the continent, along with data that can help them manage their relationship with these small vendors.

Image Credit: TradeDepot

Africa’s offline retail market is estimated at $1 trillion, and this new investment allows us to capture an even greater segment of that market,” said Onyekachi Izukanne, in a statement. “We will continue to use data to drive efficiencies and provide an easier stock acquisition service for our [over] 40,000 retailers, driving down costs for them by negotiating even better deals with our global manufacturing partners, whilst simultaneously providing a better, faster route to market for our suppliers.”

The company said that a new store comes online to use its services every three minutes and that the company receives an order from retailers every four seconds, on average.

Now, with the new capital, TradeDepot will expand into a suite of financial services and lending products for its retailers. Many of the company’s customers lack a credit rating, but TradeDepot has alternative ways to score credit based on the data it has from its existing trading relationships.

“The founders’ vision to build a digital platform that improves the unit economics of serving the mass market is one we feel privileged to support,” said Wale Ayeni, the head of Africa Venture Capital investment at the IFC.

That support disproportionately goes to helping women entrepreneurs, according to the company. Women account for over 75% of the retailers on the company’s platform. Now, with the help of its new investor We-Fi, TradeDepot will look to offer mentorship opportunities and link these business owners to global markets.

“Women play a pivotal role in driving economies across Africa, but lack of access to capital, limited market linkages, cultural norms and other challenges often prevent them from achieving the success they want,” saiid Hanh Nam Nguyen, who represents the We-Fi initiative with the IFC. “We-Fi financing will incentivize TradeDepot to build stronger women-led small and medium enterprises (SME) retailer and distributor networks, which will support them to become drivers of economic growth in their communities.”  

#africa, #android, #articles, #business, #economy, #financial-services, #head, #inventory, #lagos, #merchandising, #nestle, #nigeria, #online-shopping, #partech, #retail, #tc, #unilever

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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

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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

0

Africa’s top angel Tomi Davies eyes startups and co-investors

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.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

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.

Tomi Davies (L) judges pitches with Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge at Startup Ethiopia 2019, Image Credits: Jake Bright

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.

Tomi Davies (center) at Startup Battlefield Africa 2017

“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.”

Weathering recession

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.

Co-investors

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.

#africa, #angel-investors, #business-incubators, #cellulant, #ceo, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #goldman-sachs, #investment, #ken-njoroge, #kenya, #lagos, #marieme-diop, #money, #nigeria, #partech, #president, #private-equity, #south-africa, #startup-company, #steve-case, #tc, #united-states

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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

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Carry1st has $4M to invest in African mobile gaming

Gaming development startup Carry1st has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital .

That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.

The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.

“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.

“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”

Carry1st looks to match gaming demand in Africa to the continent’s fast growing youth population, improving internet penetration and rapid smartphone adoption.

The startup has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.

“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.

Carry1st Africa

Image Credit: Carry1st

The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.

The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.

The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.

“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.

Image Credits: Carry1st

Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.

“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.

That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.

“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.

He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.

The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”

#africa, #african-tech, #app-store, #asia, #carry1st, #ceo, #co-founder, #cre-venture-capital, #digital-media, #gaming, #internet-penetration, #investment-banking, #lagos, #new-york, #nigeria, #smartphone, #south-africa, #tc, #tencent, #websites, #world-wide-web

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Kenya’s Apollo Agriculture raises $6M Series A led by Anthemis

Apollo Agriculture believes it can attain profits by helping Kenya’s smallholder farmers maximize theirs.

That’s the mission of the Nairobi based startup that raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Anthemis.

Founded in 2016, Apollo Agriculture offers a mobile based product suit for farmers that includes working capital, data analysis for higher crop yields, and options to purchase key inputs and equipment.

“It’s everything a farmer needs to succeed. It’s the seeds and fertilizer they need to plant, the advice they need to manage that product over the course of the season. The insurance they need to protect themselves in case of a bad year…and then ultimately, the financing,” Apollo Agriculture CEO Eli Pollak told TechCrunch on a call.

Apollo’s addressable market includes the many smallholder farmers across Kenya’s population of 53 million. The problem it’s helping them solve is a lack of access to the tech and resources to achieve better results on their plots.

The startup has engineered its own app, platform and outreach program to connect with Kenya’s farmers. Apollo uses M-Pesa mobile money, machine learning and satellite data to guide the credit and products it offers them.

The company — which was a TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 finalist — has served over 40,000 farmers since inception, with 25,000 of those paying relationships coming in 2020, according to Pollak.

Apollo Agriculture Start

Apollo Agriculture co-founders Benjamin Njenga and Eli Pollack

Apollo Agriculture generates revenues on the sale of farm products and earning margins on financing. “The farm pays a fixed price for the package, which comes due at harvest…that includes everything and there’s no hidden fees,” said Pollak.

On deploying the $6 million in Series A financing, “It’s really about continuing to invest in growth. We feel like we’ve got a great product. We’ve got great reviews by customers and want to just keep scaling it,” he said. That means hiring, investing in Apollo’s tech, and growing the startup’s sales and marketing efforts.

“Number two is really strengthening our balance sheet to be able to continue raising the working capital that we need to lend to customers,” Pollak said.

For the moment, expansion in Africa beyond Kenya is in the cards but not in the near-term. “That’s absolutely on the roadmap,” said Pollak. “But like all businesses, everything is a bit in flux right now. So some of our plans for immediate expansion are on a temporary pause as we wait to see things shake out with with COVID.”

Apollo Agriculture’s drive to boost the output and earnings of Africa’s smallholder farmers is born out of the common interests of its co-founders.

Pollak is an American who who studied engineering at Stanford University and went to work in agronomy in the U.S. with The Climate Corporation. “That was how I got excited about Apollo. I would look at other markets and say “wow, they’re farming 20% more acres of maize, or corn across Africa but farmers are producing dramatically less than U.S. farmers,” said Pollak.

Pollak’s colleague, Benjamin Njenga, found inspiration in his experience in his upbringing. “I grew up on a farm in a Kenyan village. My mother, a smallholder farmer, used to plant with low quality seeds and no fertilizer and harvested only five bags per acre each year,” he told the audience at Startup Battlefield in Africa in Lagos in 2018.

Image Credits: Apollo Agriculture

“We knew if she’d used fertilizer and hybrid seeds her production would double, making it easier to pay my school fees.” Njenga went on to explain that she couldn’t access the credit to buy those tools, which prompted the motivation for Apollo Agriculture.

Anthemis Exponential Ventures’ Vica Manos confirmed its lead on Apollo’s latest raise. The UK based VC firm — which invests mostly in the Europe and the U.S. — has also backed South African fintech company Jumo and will continue to consider investments in African startups, Manos told TechCrunch.

Additional investors in Apollo Agriculture’s Series A round included Accion Venture Lab, Leaps by Bayer, and Flourish Ventures.

While agriculture is the leading employer in Africa, it hasn’t attracted the same attention from venture firms or founders as fintech, logistics, or e-commerce. The continent’s agtech startups lagged those sectors in investment, according to Disrupt Africa and WeeTracker’s 2019 funding reports.

Some notable agtech ventures that have gained VC include Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, Hello Tractor — which has partnered with IBM and Twiga Foods, a Goldman backed B2B agriculture supply chain startup based in Nairobi.

On whether Apollo Agriculture sees Twiga as a competitor, CEO Eli Pollak suggested collaboration. “Twiga could be a company that in the future we could potential partner with,” he said.

“We’re partnering with farmers to produce lots of high quality crops, and they could potentially be a great partner in helping those farmers access stable prices for those…yields.”

#accion-venture-lab, #africa, #agriculture, #agtech, #apollo, #articles, #bayer, #ceo, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #farmcrowdy, #flourish-ventures, #hello-tractor, #ibm, #kenya, #lagos, #machine-learning, #nairobi, #nigeria, #private-equity, #stanford-university, #startup-battlefield, #startup-battlefield-africa-2018, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #the-climate-corporation, #twiga-foods, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Novastar Ventures becomes $200M African VC fund after $108M raise

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. He spoke to TechCrunch on Novastar Ventures’ plans for the new fund.

A notable update to Novastar’s VC focus is geographic scope. The firm was originally co-founded in Kenya by Beck and British investor Andrew Carruthers and built its first portfolio largely around companies based in East Africa. Novastar Ventures made 15 investments with its first fund, including companies such as Uganda and Kenya focused energy startup SolarNow and agtech venture M-Farm.

“The second fund is basically the same strategy as the first, but…the biggest difference is that we opened up a second front in West Africa — more particularly to be in and around the entrepreneurial system in Lagos,” Beck told TechCrunch on a call.

Before closing its Africa Fund II, Novastar Ventures had already made several investments in West Africa, including leading a round in Nigerian on demand motorcycle transit startup Max.ng and backing Ghanaian health company, MPharma. Novastar opened an office Lagos in 2019.

On the types of startups Novastar will target with its new fund, the focus is more on mission than industry silos, according to co-founder Steve Beck. “We’re sector agnostic. I would describe us more as a segment fund than a sector fund,” he said.

“We really try to look for businesses called breakthrough businesses, [those] that are addressing the biggest problems in the largest markets.”

That has led Novastar Ventures to invest in digital companies in education, information access, agtech, mobility and off-grid energy.

“Essentially what we’re doing is looking for those businesses that are addressing the basic needs, basic goods and services across the true mass markets of the continent,” said Beck.

On whether the firm is a dedicated impact fund, Beck said, “The way we characterize ourselves is we’re a commercial venture fund with an impact screen.”

On investment amounts and types, Novastar Ventures is fairly flexible on ticket size, from seed to later stage.

“We’re gonna…have some portfolio companies where we put to work a million dollars or less or were going to have some where we put $8 or $9 million dollars in through capital rounds. That’s…the deployment strategy,” Beck said.

Novastar Ventures works closely with its portfolio companies, according to its co-founder.

“We’re very active investors and always take a board seat to be close to the entrepreneurs. We often are the first institutional investor that they have.”

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Startups who want to pitch to the company can reach out to the fund’s founders and directors via the website or LinkedIn, according to Beck. He added that Novastar Ventures is recruiting to add another member to its investor team in 2020.

The firm’s latest raise and $200 million capital amount creates another high value fund focused on African startups.

On the high end of estimates, the continent’s tech ecosystem reached $2 billion in VC to startups in 2019, compared to less than half a billion dollar five years ago.

Other large Africa focused VC shops include TLcom Capital — which closed a $71 million fund in February —  and Partech, which doubled its Africa fund to $143 million in 2019. The venture arms of major global companies have also become more active in African tech recently, including that of Goldman Sachs and Visa.

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Nigeria’s Helium Health raises $10M Series A for Africa expansion

Nigerian startup Helium Health sits in a good position during a difficult period, according to its co-founder.

The Lagos based healthtech venture is in the black, has batted away acquisition offers, and just raised a $10 million Series A round, CEO Adegoke Olubusi told TechCrunch.

The startup offers a product suit that digitizes data, formalizes monetization and enables telemedicine for health care systems in Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana.

Helium plans to use the latest funding round to hire and expand to North and East Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Morocco, Olubusi confirmed on a call.

He co-founded the startup in 2016 — with Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia — to bring better delivery of medical services in Nigeria and broader Africa.

“It’s really about tackling three core problems that we see in the healthcare sector in Africa: inefficiency, fragmentation and a lack of data,” said Olubusi.

When he and co-founders Sofowora and Oviato set out doing research for Helium, they noted a data desert on medical info across the continent’s healthcare infrastructure.

“We figured out very quickly that that is a long term problem to solve. And the best way to get the data and access to it is to give simple technology to the providers and let them use it to make their lives more efficient.”

Helium Health has since developed several core product areas for healthcare entities with application for providers, payment, patients, and partners.

It offers tech solutions and developer resources for administration, medical records and financial management. Helium Health has digital payment and credit products for hospitals and insurance providers.

As part of the latest financing, the startup is launching several new products — such as the MyHelium Patient app to facilitate appointments and information sharing between healthcare providers and citizens.

Images Credits: Helium Health

Helium also accelerated deployment of a telemedicine platform in response to the coronavirus hitting Nigeria and the lockdowns that ensued.

“In the last three weeks since we launched we’ve had roughly 360 hospitals sign up, and they’ve had thousands of [online] visits already,” Olubusi said.

Helium Health generates revenues by charging percentages and fees on its products, services and accompanying transactions. Current clients include several hospitals in the West Africa region, such as Paelon Memorial in Lagos.

Helium Health’s model got the attention of the startup’s $10 million Series A backers and Silicon Valley accelerator Y-Combinator — which accepted the startup into its spring 2017 batch.

Global Ventures and Africa Healthcare Masterfund co-led the investment with participation that included Tencent and additional Y-Combinator support.

Global Ventures General Partner Noor Sweid confirmed the Dubai based fund’s co-lead of the round and that the firm will take a Helium Health board seat.

The path of the startup’s CEO —  Adegoke Olubusi — to tech founder passed through the U.S. and traditional corporate roles. He went to Maryland in 2014 to complete an advanced degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University, then did a stint at Goldman Sachs before landing positions in big tech with eBay and PayPal.

Olubusi found work with big corporates less than stimulating and gravitated to forming his own company and returning to Nigeria.

“When I was at eBay and Goldman I was really bored and I wanted to do something more challenging,” he said. “We thought, ‘why don’t we pick a problem that is a long-term problem in Africa,’” Olubusi explained.

Helium Health founders (L to R) Dimeji Sofowora, Tito Ovia, and Adegoke Olubusi: Image Credits: Helium Health

The founder believes the products Helium Health creates can improve the poor health care stats in countries such as Nigeria — which stands as Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Nigeria also ranked 142nd out of 195 countries on health performance indicators in The Lancet’s 2018 Healthcare Access and Quality Index.

On the dismal stats, “We need more properly run hospitals, and we need more profitable hospitals, health systems and health care providers,” said Olubusi.

Better monetization and organization of hospitals could lure more doctors back to African countries, he believes.

“Half my family are doctors but none of them practice in Nigeria. Everyone’s practicing all over the place, but Nigeria,” Olubusi said.

The founder also sees a more digitized and data driven health care sector as something that can draw more entrepreneurs to African healthtech. Compared to dominant sectors, such as fintech, health related startups in Africa gain a small percentage of the continent’s annual VC haul — only 9.3% by Partech’s 2019 stats.

“There are people who want to invest in the market but they can’t…and founders can’t really tackle a healthcare problem because they don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

As for his venture, Olubusi expects growth even given the precarious economic outlook COVID-19 is creating for countries, such as Nigeria — which is expected to enter recession this year.

The coronavirus and lockdowns are shining a light on the country’s healthcare inadequacies (according to Helium Health’s CEO) that people can’t ignore, including the elite.

“This is the first time they can’t get on their jet and leave so they have to go to the hospitals we have. The system was neglected for the last few decades because people had that [previous] option,” said Olubusi.

“I’m hoping this coronavirus crisis will be a period that forces everyone to rethink what we’re doing [on healthcare].”

That could lead to more business for Helium Health.

The startup doesn’t release financial information but has positive net income. “We do generate revenues in millions of dollars and are profitable,” Olubusi said.

Helium Health has received acquisition offers, but declined them, according to its CEO. Olubusi and team intend to grow the venture to the point where it can list on a major global exchange.

“We know this is the kind of business we can take public, without having to sell,” he said.

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