New South African partnership gets $3M, launches telehealth product

For the early detection and treatment of health conditions, easy access to primary healthcare is crucial. Primary healthcare is best delivered by teams of primary care clinicians coordinating care between them. However, ubiquitous access to such care is scant across Sub-Saharan Africa.

There is a real opportunity for digital healthcare platforms to scale access to team-based care across the region. They can reduce the cost of quality care while improving health outcomes, reach patients in remote areas and reduce the pressure on the traditional medical support systems.

The pandemic has seen such platforms scale globally, and Africa is not exempt. A new platform (without a name yet) is launching out of South Africa and it wants to provide accessible quality care for Africans with its telehealth service. Today, it has closed a $3 million pre-Series A round to that end.

Yes, you’re wondering why the platform doesn’t have a name (I am too), but what’s interesting is the fact that a VC firm (Webrock Ventures) and two health tech companies ( and joined forces to launch this new venture

Here’s summarized information on the trio.

Webrock Ventures is a Sweden-based investment company that employs a venture-building model. So essentially, the firm partners with tech companies in Sweden and combines its cash with the company’s business models to create portfolio businesses. It does this while maintaining a sizeable stake in the company.

Healthforce is a South Africa-based health tech company that tries to improve healthcare through multidisciplinary clinical teams. So far, it has set up nurses in over 450 clinics across the country while conducting more than 1 million nurse consultations. Healthforce also has a telemedicine play with over 110,000 consultations since launching the service last year.

As a Sweden-based telehealth company, allows patients to contact healthcare professionals through their smartphones across the whole spectrum of primary care. Most of its customers are in Europe, as well as in Latin America.

So why form a partnership to launch a telehealth product in South Africa with a plan for further roll-out in other African countries down the line?

Globally, telehealth investments have skyrocketed and increased by more than 50% since the start of the pandemic. With many of the fastest-growing economies globally, investors and companies (in this case, Webrock and are now turning to Africa as a major growth region for such high-demand services.

South African telehealth

Saul Kornik (CEO & Co-Founder of Healthforce and CEO of the new venture)

Now, has two models for commercialising its telemedicine application. The first is to use its technology to personally deliver healthcare services. The second model licenses the core technology to third parties in markets in which has no intention of expanding. achieved this with Brazilian health tech startup ViBe Saúde (via Webrock), and last year, the platform had over 1.2 million patient consultations. It plans to do the same by licensing its technology to deliver care through Healthforce across Africa.

By forming a new partnership, a completely new opportunity is set up. Healthforce can leverage its current position to take core tech from to a new direct-to-patient market. In the background is Webrock, a willing investment machine set up to scale the platform.

The new venture will focus on the uninsured, B2C segment through a freemium-type offering. The platform offers on-demand and scheduled consultations with nurses, general practitioners and mental health professionals. It also provides chronic care management and will be integrated with Healthforce’s broader primary care offering.

Saul Kornik, co-founder and CEO at Healthforce, will resume a new role at the newly formed company. According to him, the partnership gives Healthforce an additional product to add to its healthcare product stack. In addition, it gives the ability to generate license fee revenue from a new market, while Webrock has an opportunity to invest in yet another large developing market.

“Webrock and Healthforce partnered to bring funding and strategic/operational capacity to this new pan-African direct-to-patient play, respectively,” he said to TechCrunch. “All existing independent operations will continue. However, under the NewCo, Healthforce as a major shareholder will expand its primary care product stack and will generate revenue off license fees earned.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a healthcare market of about $90 billion. But health insurance coverage is in single-digit (percentage-wise) across countries in Sub-Saharan Africa except for South Africa with 16% coverage. Kornik says the three parties want to tackle a large portion of this challenge and are aligned about how the healthcare system in Africa could look if it were functioning optimally.

“This is a pure-play provider-of-healthcare venture. Through this pan-African venture, we will deliver high-quality healthcare at low cost to 75 million people through telemedicine, literally putting healthcare in the palm of their hands,” he said.

Partner at Webrock Ventures Joshin Raghubar and co-founder and CEO of Doktor, Martin Lindman, are enthusiastic about the opportunity Africa presents due to its large population and increasing smartphone penetration.

This new venture, which should hopefully have a name soon, is one of the few health tech platforms based in South Africa that have raised seven-figure sums in a fintech-dominated year. In February, hearX Group, a company that specializes in making hearing healthcare technologies, raised $8.3 million Series A to expand into the U.S. April saw Quro Medical close a $1.1 million seed round to scale its service that manages ill patients in the comfort of their homes. Judging by the spacing between each fundraise, we should see more from the country before the year runs out.

#africa, #doktor-se, #health, #healthcare, #healthforce-io, #quro-medical, #recent-funding, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #webrock-ventures


Apple’s new encrypted browsing feature won’t be available in China, Saudi Arabia and more: report

Apple announced a handful of privacy-focused updates at its annual software developer conference on Monday. One called Private Relay particularly piques the interest of Chinese users living under the country’s censorship system, for it encrypts all browsing history so nobody can track or intercept the data.

As my colleague Roman Dillet explains:

When Private Relay is turned on, nobody can track your browsing history — not your internet service provider, anyone standing in the middle of your request between your device and the server you’re requesting information from. We’ll have to wait a bit to learn more about how it works exactly.

The excitement didn’t last long. Apple told Reuters that Private Relay won’t be available in China alongside Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

Apple couldn’t be immediately reached by TechCrunch for comment.

Virtual private networks or VPNs are popular tools for users in China to bypass the “great firewall” censorship apparatus, accessing web services that are otherwise blocked or slowed down. But VPNs don’t necessarily protect users’ privacy because they simply funnel all the traffic through VPN providers’ servers instead of users’ internet providers, so users are essentially entrusting VPN firms with protecting their identities. Private Relay, on the other hand, doesn’t even allow Apple to see one’s browsing activity.

In an interview with Fast Company, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, explained why the new feature may be superior to VPNs:

“We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to–and that’s unlike VPNs. And so we wanted to provide many of the benefits that people are seeking when in the past they’ve decided to use a VPN, but not force that difficult and conceivably perilous privacy trade-off in terms of trusting it a single intermediary.”

It’s unclear whether Private Relay will simply be excluded from system upgrades for users in China and the other countries where it’s restricted, or it will be blocked by internet providers in those regions. It also remains to be seen whether the feature will be available to Apple users in Hong Kong, which has seen an increase in online censorship in the past year.

Like all Western tech firms operating in China, Apple is trapped between antagonizing Beijing and flouting the values it espouses at home. Apple has a history of caving in to Beijing’s censorship pressure, from migrating all user data in China to a state-run cloud center, cracking down on independent VPN apps in China, limiting free speech in Chinese podcasts, to removing RSS feed readers from the China App Store.

#apple, #asia, #beijing, #belarus, #china, #colombia, #craig-federighi, #egypt, #firewall, #government, #great-firewall, #internet-censorship, #internet-security, #internet-service, #isp, #kazakhstan, #philippines, #saudi-arabia, #security, #south-africa, #tc, #uganda, #vpn


Naspers co-leads $14.5M extension round in mobility startup WhereIsMyTransport

Many people in emerging markets depend on informal public transport to move across cities. But while there are ride-hailing and bus-hailing applications in some of these cities, there’s a dire need for journey-planning apps to improve mobility for users and reduce the time they spend commuting.

South African startup WhereIsMyTransport is one such company filling that gap for now. Today, it is announcing a $14.5 million Series A extension to continue its expansion across emerging markets; the company already has a presence in South Africa and Mexico.

Naspers, via its investment arm, Naspers Foundry, co-led the investment with Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. According to Naspers, the size of its check was $3 million. Japan’s SBI Investment also participated in the round.

The extension round is coming a year after WhereIsMyTransport received a $7.5 million Series A investment from VC firms and strategic investment from Google, Nedbank, and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC).

Devin de Vries, Chris King and Dave New started the company in 2015. As a mobility startup, WhereIsMyTransport maps formal and informal public transport networks. The company then uses data gotten to improve the public transport experience, making commute safe and accessible.

In addition to this, WhereIsMyTransport licenses some of this data to governments, DFIs, NGOs, operators, and third-party developers. It claims this is done for research, analytics, insights and consumer and enterprise solutions purposes.  

“WhereIsMyTransport started in South Africa, focused on becoming a central source of accurate and reliable public transport data for high-growth markets. We’re thrilled to welcome Naspers as an investor as our journey continues in megacities across the majority world,” said CEO Devin de Vries in a statement.

Last year when we covered the company, it had mapped 34 cities in Africa while actively mapping some in India, Southeast Asia and Latin  America. Since then, it has only expanded into Latin America by launching in Mexico City last November. It has launched its first consumer product Rumbo which provides network information from all modes of public transport in the region. WhereIsMyTransport currently has over 100,000 users delivering over 750,000 real-time network alerts with plans to launch Rumbo in Lima, Peru, later this year.

Devin de Vries CEO_WhereIsMyTransport

Devin de Vries (CEO WhereIsMyTransport)

For co-lead investor Naspers Foundry, this is the firm’s first investment in mobility. So far, it has funded four other South African startups — Aerobotics, SweepSouth, Aerobotics, and Studio Cap — with a focus on edtech, food and cleaning sectors.

“We couldn’t pass on the opportunity to back an extraordinary South African founder who has built his business here in Cape Town to a global market leader in mapping formal and informal transportation with a strong focus on emerging markets,” Head of Naspers Foundry Fabian Whate said to TechCrunch

He also adds that there is an overlap between mobility and the food and e-commerce businesses that seem to be Naspers main focus from a Naspers perspective. “The global food and e-commerce businesses, often operating in emerging markets, are quite reliant on mobility solutions. So there’s a great overlap between what the Naspers Group does and the vision for WhereIsMyTransport.”

In South Africa, WhereIsMyTransport’s clients include Johannesburg commuter rail system Gautrain and Transport for Cape Town. On the other hand, its international client base Google, the World Bank and WSP, and others.

South Africa CEO of Naspers, Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, said: “Mobility remains an obstacle for billions of people in high-growth markets across the world. Our investment in WhereIsMyTransport is a testimony of our belief that great innovation and tech talent is found in South Africa, and with the right backing and support, these businesses can provide solutions to local challenges that can improve the lives of ordinary people in South Africa and abroad.”

#africa, #enterprise, #funding, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #naspers, #naspers-foundry, #phuthi-mahanyele-dabengwa, #south-africa, #tc, #toyota-tsusho-corporation, #transportation, #whereismytransport


Chenin Blanc From Three Places

It’s an underrated white grape that flourishes in the Loire Valley and very few other places.

#california, #loire-valley-france, #south-africa, #wines


A Police Shooting in Hawaii Has South Africans Demanding Justice

A Black man from South Africa was shot and killed in an encounter with the police in his adopted home, Hawaii. His countrymen want answers.

#black-lives-matter-movement, #black-people, #honolulu-hawaii, #myeni-lindani-d-2021, #police-brutality-misconduct-and-shootings, #race-and-ethnicity, #south-africa


South African Filmmakers Move Beyond Apartheid Stories

Films about South Africa once focused on apartheid, but a new generation of directors and producers is making hits about modern life and love for global audiences.

#apartheid-policy, #black-people, #bongiwe-selane, #movies, #netflix-inc, #qamata-ama, #south-africa, #television


Baltimore Vaccine Plant’s Troubles Ripple Across 3 Continents

Millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine produced by Emergent BioSolutions have been held back in Europe, South Africa and Canada as a precaution.

#canada, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #emergent-biosolutions-inc, #europe, #factories-and-manufacturing, #government-contracts-and-procurement, #johnsonjohnson, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization


Paystack expands to South Africa seven months after Stripe acquisition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


South African President Appears Before Corruption Investigators

President Cyril Ramaphosa is testifying about graft during his predecessor’s tenure, in what analysts have characterized as a battle for the soul of the governing African National Congress.

#bribery-and-kickbacks, #constitution-us, #corruption-institutional, #johannesburg-south-africa, #mandela-nelson, #politics-and-government, #ramaphosa-cyril, #south-africa, #zuma-jacob-g


Rights Group Hits Israel With Explosive Charge: Apartheid

Human Rights Watch is the latest watchdog to accuse Israel of perpetuating a version of the racist legal system that once governed South Africa. Israel says the charge is baseless.

#anti-semitism, #apartheid-policy, #btselem, #boycott-divestment-and-sanctions-bds, #boycotts, #east-jerusalem, #human-rights-watch, #israel, #jerusalem-israel, #jews-and-judaism, #palestinian-authority, #palestinians, #politics-and-government, #roth-kenneth, #shakir-omar, #south-africa, #war-crimes-genocide-and-crimes-against-humanity, #west-bank


Tiny Love Stories: ‘Why Can’t You Find Someone?’

Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.

#dating-and-relationships, #love-emotion, #manhattan-nyc, #modern-love-times-column, #single-persons, #south-africa


Vaccines Are Effective Against the New York Variant, Studies Find

The research adds to a growing number of findings suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna shots are protective against the variants identified so far.

#antibodies, #astrazeneca-plc, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #great-britain, #immune-system, #moderna-inc, #new-york-city, #pfizer-inc, #regeneron-pharmaceuticals-inc, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization, #your-feed-science


Wildfire Deals Hard Blow to South Africa’s Archives

The fire, which began Sunday and is still being fought, ravaged a library that housed first-edition books, films, photographs and other primary sources documenting Southern African history.

#archives-and-records, #cape-town-south-africa, #colleges-and-universities, #fires-and-firefighters, #south-africa


Why South Africa-based car subscription company Planet42 is going carbon neutral

Since ride-hailing companies like Uber and Bolt disrupted the transportation industry, one of the thorns on their sides has been traffic congestion and pollution. Research has shown that trips from ride-hailing cars have more emissions than those from personal cars.

To reduce their carbon footprint and solve the latter problem, both companies have floated the idea of ridesharing and other transportation models, like bike and scooter-sharing services. They also have toyed with integrating public transportation scheduling and providing drivers with incentives to switch to electric cars. However, these models have found little or no success.

So in 2018, Lyft decided to go a step further by promising to attain carbon neutrality. According to The Atlantic, the company planned to execute this by purchasing carbon credits from 3Degrees, a sustainability company based in San Francisco.

In 2019, Lyft said it had eliminated the amount of carbon that would take 2.4 million acres of trees to remove in a single year. It achieved this by purchasing 2,062,500 metric tons of carbon offsets, but the company reverted to its old ways in 2020.

But while the program made Lyft rides carbon neutral, it was an expensive process. The company claimed that net emissions from its rides would still increase in the long run. So Lyft promised to offer rides only in electric vehicles by 2030. This is the same with most car companies worldwide, each promising to attain carbon neutrality via electric cars in the future.

However, Planet, a car company based in South Africa wants to achieve carbon neutrality now, not later. But Planet42 isn’t a ride-hailing company. It offers a car subscription product that buys second-hand cars from dealerships and rents to customers via a subscription model.

Founded by Marten Orgna and Eerik Oja, Planet42 targets individuals in emerging markets but has a presence only in Africa. The company has bought nearly 3,000 cars in South Africa and plans to increase this number to 100,000 in the next few years — and 1 million cars globally by 2025.

So despite not being a ride-hailing company and having a huge positive social impact because it gives cars to people who otherwise would not have them, there is a limited negative environmental impact Planet42 has due to the emissions produced by its cars.

While most car companies seem lethargic toward becoming carbon neutral, Planet42, studying how it indirectly contributes to emissions, decided to act last year.

“Few people would argue that becoming carbon neutral is not a worthwhile goal, but it seemed to us that the world is not moving towards carbon neutrality fast enough,” Oja told TechCrunch. “So instead of introducing a vacuous grand plan of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 or something like that, we decided to become carbon neutral now.”


Image Credits: Planet42

Because there are hardly any electric vehicles in Africa for mass consumption and planting trees can be costly, how has the company gone about it?

Before helping Lyft embark on its tree-planting project, 3Degrees engaged in a couple of wind farms and captured greenhouse gases from landfill projects. Planet42 chose to neutralize its carbon emission through the former; however, it works with local companies in South Africa to reach this.

Its first project is a wind farm in Northern Cape, South Africa; with the money from carbon offset credits, Planet42 has been able to finance the farm for months. The power produced from wind turbines offsets other, more harmful energy production methods like burning coal and supporting a low carbon global economy.

“We are offsetting this negative impact by investing into carbon offset projects in the markets we operate in. To put it another way, the investments we make into carbon neutrality represent a self-imposed tax. We are leading by example and hope that companies in Africa and beyond will follow us.”

When the company, which has raised $20 million in debt and equity, first launched, attaining carbon neutrality wasn’t even an afterthought. But now, not only is it certified as a carbon-neutral company by Natural Capital Partners, its investors feel enthused about the project.

Oja says what’s next for the company will be to achieve carbon neutrality via electric cars ultimately. However, that might be a reach. The adoption of electric vehicles in Africa faces additional problems different from what the U.S., Europe and even other emerging markets face. Top of mind is the dire power situation where unreliable power supply is provided at high electricity prices. Then there is a general lack of tax incentives, subsidies and policies, and the sole fact that they are too expensive for the average African car owner.

For instance, there are more than a million electric vehicles on U.S. roads and over 317,000 on U.K. roads. In South Africa — Planet42’s main market and Africa’s top electric car market, this number is just about 1,000. So, until electric cars become mainstream, wind farms will remain vital to the company’s carbon-neutral efforts.

Ideally, what we could be doing is for our cars to be electric, and that’s what we’re planning for the future. When we do that, there wouldn’t be any need for offsets on a day to day side but we’re not there right now. Everyone understands that ultimately electric cars will be ideal; however, that future is not now and we need to act right now,” the CEO said.

#africa, #car-subscriptions, #carbon-neutral, #planet42, #south-africa, #tc, #transportation


From a South African Slur to a Scathing Drama About Toxic Masculinity

The new film “Moffie” examines the brainwashing of a generation of white men in the twilight of the apartheid regime.

#apartheid-policy, #cape-town-south-africa, #content-type-personal-profile, #discrimination, #hermanus-oliver, #homosexuality-and-bisexuality, #men-and-boys, #moffie-movie, #movies, #south-africa


105,000 years ago in the Kalahari Desert, people invented complex culture

105,000 years ago in the Kalahari Desert, people invented complex culture


Between 125,000 and 70,000 years ago, people began to do some very modern things: collecting small objects for no practical reason, decorating things with pigments, and storing water and possibly even food in containers. The oldest known sites with evidence of those behaviors are along the coastline of southern Africa. Today, most of those important sites are right on the coast, but even during the Pleistocene, when sea levels were lower, they would have been close enough for the people who lived there to make use of marine resources.

And according to one idea in paleoanthropology, something about that way of life enabled those early people—or maybe pushed them—to innovate. Their distant neighbors who lived far from the sea supposedly lagged behind the cultural times. But Griffith University archaeologist Jayne Wilkins and her colleagues recently unearthed evidence that landlocked people were just as hip and modern as their counterparts on the coast.

Score one for flyover country

At Ga-Mohana Hill North Rockshelter, there’s a layer of sediment dating back to 105,000 years ago and scattered with stone tools. In it, Wilkins and her colleagues found a large chunk of red ocher, worn flat and striated on two sides, as if it had been used as pigment. The rock shelter also held a cache of translucent white calcite crystals, which hadn’t been worked or used as tools; it looked as if someone had gathered up the crystals simply for the sake of having them, or maybe as a ritual offering. Several broken, burned pieces of ostrich eggshell, buried in the same layer, may once have held stores of water.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ancient-africa, #ancient-people, #archaeology, #human-behavior, #human-evolution, #ostrich-eggshells, #paleoarchaeology, #pleistocene, #science, #shiny-rocks, #south-africa


What the History of Pandemics Can Teach Us About Resilience

Widespread disease outbreaks have the potential to shock societies into new ways of living.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #economic-conditions-and-trends, #england, #epidemics, #europe, #history-academic-subject, #income-inequality, #south-africa


Virus Variants Can Infect Mice, Scientists Report

Infected rodents pose no immediate danger to humans, but the research suggests that mutations are helping the coronavirus expand its range of potential hosts.

#animals, #bats, #brazil, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #europe, #institut-pasteur, #mice, #minks-animals, #rodents, #south-africa, #xavier-montagutelli, #your-feed-science


South Africa Court Set to Rule on Jacob Zuma, and an Era of Impunity

“He is now running out of legal runway,” one law expert says, as the country’s highest court will decide whether the former president can be jailed for contempt.

#african-national-congress, #apartheid-policy, #corruption-institutional, #ramaphosa-cyril, #south-africa, #zuma-jacob-g


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


Protecting Lions Helps the Whole Food Chain? Actually, We Don’t Know.

The assumption that adding apex predators to wildlife parks in South Africa benefits smaller animals is in need of more testing, scientists say.

#biodiversity, #conservation-of-resources, #lions, #mammals, #proceedings-of-the-royal-society-b-journal, #research, #south-africa, #travel-and-vacations, #wildlife-sanctuaries-and-nature-reserves, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science


Can the World Learn From South Africa’s Vaccine Trials?

Vaccine trials are often done in wealthier countries. Scientists say the South Africa experience proves the value of trials in the global south.

#astrazeneca-plc, #clinical-trials, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #gates-bill-and-melinda-foundation, #novavax-inc, #oxford-university, #south-africa, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #vaccination-and-immunization


Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, King of the Zulu Nation, Dies at 72

He led South Africa’s largest ethnic group through decades of change and political turmoil.

#apartheid-policy, #deaths-obituaries, #politics-and-government, #south-africa, #zulus, #zwelithini-goodwill


South Africa’s FlexClub adds $5M to seed round to scale its car subscription marketplace

The traditional process of buying, insuring and financing cars across emerging markets can be challenging, and it defeats the purpose of building an all-around car shopping experience. Today, FlexClub, a South African company, has been provided with $5 million to improve drivers’ experience in these markets.

FlexClub was founded in 2019 by Marlon Gallardo, Rudolf Vavruch and Tinashe Ruzane. The company is an online marketplace that connects customers looking for flexible access to long-term cars with its partners, offering car subscriptions.

That same year, the company closed a $1.2 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital. According to Ruzane, the company’s CEO, this $5 million (in equity and debt) is a seed extension round, bringing the total investment raised by FlexClub to over $6 million. The company says it will use the funding to improve its technology which protects and limit partners’ exposure to risk.

Across emerging markets in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, most ride-hailing drivers don’t have access to car financing. Typically, they rent their cars via social media, classified sites, or connect with a car owner willing to rent. That was the model FlexClub launched in South Africa, and after raising $1.2 million, it expanded to Mexico.

Partnering with Uber in both countries and helping their community of drivers subscribe for cars, FlexClub claims to have garnered traction but wouldn’t divulge numbers. These customers, including those who use the cars for deliveries, are called commercial members by FlexClub. In December last year, the company decided to open up its product to another set of customers who are called private members.

“When we first started, we were focused on phase one of our strategy, which came from our knowledge about ride-hailing drivers because of our careers at Uber,” Ruzane said to TechCrunch. “We wanted to help a community of ride-hailing drivers that had been excluded from accessing cars. But right now, we’ve built the product to work for anyone and not just ride-hailing drivers.”

In FlexClub’s marketplace, cars are subscribed for between a hybrid of short- and long-term lease. It means customers pay an all monthly inclusive fee, and at any time, they can cancel a subscription, switch cars or buy it.

But to buy a car from FlexClub, drivers are encouraged to drive safely and comply with FlexClub’s recommendations while using the car. Doing that earns them points that accumulate over time, making cars cheaper to buy if they choose to.

This, alongside the use of banking, credit bureau and identity data, lets FlexClub assess its members’ risk profile and reward them when need be

Image Credits: FlexClub

Ruzane says last year was challenging for the company because of what it meant for mobility. At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, ride-hailing members had financial difficulties. Still, the company partnered with delivery platforms to allow ride-hailing drivers to use their cars to transport goods and packages.

During that period, FlexClub was also able to partner with large brands like U.S. car rental company Avis to offer car subscriptions on its marketplace. Aside from Avis, Ruzane says the company’s partners range from small fleet owners to multinational fleet operators.

The pandemic made it possible for FlexClub to think outside the box and enlist these partners on its platform. However, it didn’t come easy as FlexClub has had to earn trust by building credibility.

“One of the challenges we have faced was that we had to build a reputation to be trusted in the industry. It took us two years to get a brand like Avis to see the value in putting their subscription offers on FlexClub. But with that established, it’s now a lot easier for us to continue investing in driving this new distribution model.”

Image Credits: FlexClub

He likens the distribution model of the automotive industry to how the music industry was decades ago. Then, CDs dominated music revenue but has now given way to streaming.

“If you look at what the music industry looked like 10 years ago, over 50% of music revenue was CDs. Now over 80% is streaming. The industry successfully transitioned from product-led distribution to service-led distribution. I think that’s what we can expect in the automotive industry over the next decade,” Ruzane remarked. “We can be an ally to the automotive industry in driving that evolution because we’ve tested our product in a marketplace with the segment of the population that people thought wasn’t a good profile of customers to serve.”

FlexClub’s expansion to Mexico instead of other African countries continues a series of global expansion that has become common for South African companies.

Two factors decided the move for FlexClub, according to the CEO. First, the founders are from both countries — Marlon Gallardo is Mexican while Rudolf Vavruch and Tinashe Ruzane are South Africans. Next, both markets have a lot of similarities in terms of how the automotive industry works.

South Africa and Mexico have large manufacturing bases and advanced secondary markets where brands can lease used cars. 

Kenya and Nigeria, on the other hand, have a different automotive value chain. Although there’s a growing manufacturing industry in both countries, it is still nascent as most vehicles are imported from countries like the U.S. and Japan.

That said, Tinashe says there’s an opportunity to take FlexClub to not only these regions but most emerging markets around the world. However, it is in no rush to do so.

FlexClub has been able to attract investors who are aligned with its mission of democratizing access to car financing and becoming a global mobility company.

Kindred Ventures, its lead investor, has backed mobility-first companies like Postmates, Uber and Virgin Hyperloop. Other VC investors include CRE Venture Capital and Endeavor. Angel investors like Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress; Federico Ranero, COO of KAVAK; Tariq Zaid, formerly of Shopify and Getaround; and Ron Pragides, formerly of Twitter and Salesforce, also took part in the round.

#africa, #automotive, #emerging-markets, #funding, #mexico, #mobility, #ride-hailing, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #transportation


Pfizer Vaccine Will Be Tested Against Variant from South Africa

Scientists want to inoculate every adult in one Austrian district, in a real-world test of how the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works against the variant first seen in South Africa.

#austria, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #europe, #european-union, #ischgl-austria, #kurz-sebastian-1986, #pfizer-inc, #politics-and-government, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization, #von-der-leyen-ursula


A New Coronavirus Variant Is Spreading in New York, Researchers Report

The variant contains a mutation thought to help the virus dodge the immune system, scientists said.

#antibodies, #brazil, #bronx-nyc, #brooklyn-nyc, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #eli-lilly-and-company, #new-york-city, #new-york-metropolitan-area, #regeneron-pharmaceuticals-inc, #research, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization, #your-feed-science


Pigeons: Nuisance Animals, or Expert Accomplices in Diamond Smuggling?

In “Flight of the Diamond Smugglers,” Matthew Gavin Frank details the surprising role pigeons play in South African diamond smuggling.

#books-and-literature, #diamonds, #flight-of-the-diamond-smugglers-a-tale-of-pigeons-obsession-and-greed-along-coastal-south-africa-book, #frank-matthew-gavin, #mines-and-mining, #pigeons, #smuggling, #south-africa


Zuma Risks Arrest After Defying South Africa Corruption Inquiry

The former South African president, tainted by endemic corruption scandals during his tenure, refused to appear before an inquiry panel. The panel’s leader said he would seek a high-court order to imprison Mr. Zuma for contempt.

#african-national-congress, #corruption-institutional, #ramaphosa-cyril, #south-africa, #zuma-jacob-g


South African VC firm Knife Capital gets first commitment for its $50M fund, to invest in 10-12 Series B rounds

Knife Capital, a South African venture capital firm, is raising a $50 million fund for startups looking to raise Series B financing. With Knife Fund III called the African Series B Expansion Fund, the firm seeks to directly invest in the aggressive expansion of South African breakout companies. It also plans to co-invest in companies across the rest of Africa.

The first fund, known as Knife Capital Fund I or HBD Venture Capital, was a closed private equity fund managed by Eben van Heerden and Keet van Zyl. The firm offered seed capital to startups. It also generated significant exits from its portfolio — VISA acquisition of fintech startup Fundamo, and orderTalk’s acquisition by UberEats come to mind.

In 2016, the VC firm launched its current 12J offering with Knife Capital Fund II. The fund (KNF Ventures) which invests primarily in Series A stage has eight startups in its portfolio. Last year the firm told TechCrunch of its intention to extend the Fund II and open to new investors. The plan was to give startups access to networks, money and expansion opportunities.

“We want to help South African and African companies internationalize,” said co-managing partner Andrea Bohmert at the time. A testament to its cause, one of its portfolio companies, DataProphet, raised $6 million Series A to expand into the U.S. and Europe.

Bohmert tells TechCrunch that the third fund aims to address the critical Series B funding gap that has characterised the venture capital asset class in South Africa, resulting in businesses not reaching full potential or exiting too early.

“Lately, we see an increase in companies able to raise $2 million to $5 million funding rounds. And while the companies are operating within their home country, in our case South Africa, such amounts take you far due to the local cost structure,” Bohmert says. “However, once these companies start gaining international traction and need to build an infrastructure outside of their home country, they need to raise significant amounts to afford so. There are currently hardly any South African VC funds, perhaps other than Naspers Foundry, that can write checks of $5 million or more and are willing to deploy them to finance the externalization of South African companies into larger markets.”

As a result, Bohmert argues that Africa has become an incubator for international VCs who can write these checks but cannot provide the local support most of these companies still need. Likewise, there are instances where international investors actively search for local co-investors in South Africa to invest in a round, and not finding one might blow the chances of them going further with the investment. This is the gap Knife Capital intends to fill by launching this fund, Bohmert says.

“We want to be the local lead investor of choice for South African technology companies looking to internationalise, co-investing with international investors who can lead the Series B discussion and further.”  

This week, Knife Capital secured $10 million out of the 50 from Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), a South Africa-based investment firm. The commitment positions MIC as an anchor investor to the fund alongside other local and international investors.

Nchaupe Khaole, the CIO at MIC, explained that the move to change the way local institutional investors approach venture capital investment has been in MIC’s pipeline for a while. And by partnering with Knife Capital, this idea can begin to materialize.

“Our commitment brings to the table the investment, along with many of our strengths as an experienced player. One of which is our ability to influence the companies within our portfolio to partner with us and effect real, tangible change to the South African economy. We are delighted to be a key catalyst in the success of this funding round,” he said.

As per other details, Knife Capital aims for a first close by May and a final close by the end of the year. Most of its participation will be co-investing, and the idea is to that in 10 to 12 companies.

#africa, #funding, #fundings-exits, #knife-capital, #private-equity, #south-africa, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital


How African startups raised investments in 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the numbers

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

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

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

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

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

The continued dominance of fintech and the Big Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regional and gender diversity check

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How South Africa’s Hope of Imminent Vaccine Relief Crumbled

A finding that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine had little effect on a fast-spreading coronavirus variant was baleful news for poorer countries counting on the shot.

#astrazeneca-plc, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #johnsonjohnson, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization


Scary 22% vaccine efficacy in South Africa comes with heaps of caveats

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Dismal preliminary data on AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa—where the B.1.351/ 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant is spreading widely—lead the government there to rethink its vaccination rollout and raised further international concern about the variant.

But the small study has so many limitations and caveats, experts caution that drawing any conclusions from it is difficult.

The study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed but presented in a press conference Sunday, began in June and enrolled only around 2,000 participants, about half of which received a placebo. Early in the study—before B.1.351 emerged—the vaccine appeared over 70 percent effective at preventing mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19. That is largely in line with the conclusion of an international Phase III trial released by AstraZeneca and vaccine co-developer Oxford University, which showed mixed results for the replication-deficient adenovirus-based vaccine but an overall efficacy of around 70 percent.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#astrazeneca, #clinical-trial, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #pandemic, #science, #south-africa, #vaccine, #variants, #who


Sibongile Khumalo, South Africa’s ‘First Lady of Song,’ Dies at 63

Proficient across a range of genres, she had the hall-filling power of an operatic mezzo-soprano and the directness of a pop singer.

#apartheid-policy, #deaths-obituaries, #jazz, #khumalo-sibongile-1957-2021, #opera, #pop-and-rock-music, #south-africa


As Virus Variants Spread, ‘No One Is Safe Until Everyone Is Safe’

Rich countries are cornering the market on coronavirus vaccines, leaving poorer regions as potential breeding grounds for variants, like one found in South Africa, that could make vaccines less effective.

#africa, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #south-africa, #third-world-and-developing-countries, #vaccination-and-immunization, #world-health-organization


Booksy raises $70M war chest to acquire salon appointment apps, expand internationally

Beauty and wellness appointment booking apps have proliferated of the last few years, but it appears the race is still on as today one of the leaders, Booksy, raises $70 million in a Series C round led by Cat Rock Capital, with participation from Sprints Capital. 

The round was also joined by OpenOcean, Piton Capital, VNV Global, Enern, Kai Hansen, Zach Coelius and Manta Ray Ventures, and takes the total raised by the firm to $119 million. The funding will be used for expansion plans across North America, expanding to new verticals, and acquiring complementary businesses.

The Booksy app is used by customers to book and pay for beauty appointments with local businesses. Salons, nail bars and barbershops can manage the bookings, payments, and customer base via the accompanying Booksy Biz app. The platform also allows salons to sell other products via Booksy E-Commerce, which acts as a marketplace allowing customers to discover and book other local stylists, nail technicians etc.

Booksy was founded by Polish entrepreneurs Stefan Batory (CEO) and Konrad Howard. Allowing customers to schedule their best appointment time means that 38% of customers end up booking after-hours and increasing their appointment frequency by 20%, says the company. The startup launched in 2014 but is now in the US (its largest market), UK, Poland, Spain, Brazil, and South Africa. It claims to be the number-one beauty booking app in each country, with “13 million” consumers on the app.

Batory said in a statement: “Like with many sectors negatively hit by the pandemic, it’s been a turbulent time for the beauty and wellness industry but we’re confident in its ability to come back from this, so it’s fantastic to see our latest group of investors share our optimism and vision. This latest round of funding enables us to reach even more salons and service providers across the US, and in all the regions we operate, which in turn helps them reach more customers.” 

Alex Captain, founder and managing partner at Cat Rock Capital, said: “We are incredibly excited to invest in Booksy as it builds the leading global software platform for digitizing the beauty and wellness industry around the world.”

Booksy certainly seems to have cracked the international expansion game ahead of most competitors, which tend to stay more local to their countries of origin such as Treatwell, Styleseat, Vagaro and Mindbody. The opportunity for Booksy is to now use its war cast to roll-up other local players.

It has already acquired rival Lavito in 2018 and, more recently, merged with Versum in December 2020 allowing it to enter Mexico.

#brazil, #ceo, #cloud-applications, #e-commerce, #europe, #managing-partner, #manta-ray-ventures, #mexico, #mindbody, #north-america, #piton-capital, #poland, #polis, #software-platform, #south-africa, #spain, #sprints-capital, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #zach-coelius


Dissidents First: A Foreign Policy Doctrine for the Biden Administration

A dissident is to a dictatorship what a bald fact is to an edifice of lies, the revelation of which causes the whole thing to crumble.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #blinken-antony-j, #china, #clinton-hillary-rodham, #cuba, #deripaska-oleg-v, #evin-prison, #ferrer-jose-daniel, #havel-vaclav, #hong-kong, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #iran, #lai-jimmy, #mandela-nelson, #navalny-aleksei-a, #political-prisoners, #putin-vladimir-v, #russia, #solzhenitsyn-aleksandr-i, #sotoudeh-nasrin, #south-africa, #tohti-ilham, #united-states-international-relations, #walesa-lech, #wong-joshua-1996


As Virus Grows Stealthier, Vaccine Makers Reconsider Battle Plans

Vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech effectively protect recipients. But in a worrying sign, they are slightly less effective against a variant found in South Africa.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #moderna-inc, #south-africa, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #your-feed-science


Moderna says it’s making variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines, but its existing vaccine should still work

Moderna has detailed some of the steps it’s taking to ensure that its vaccine remains effective in the face of emerging strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to COVID-19. These include testing how adding a second booster, for a total of three shots, works with its existing COVID-19 vaccine, and also developing a strain-specific variant designed to target spike proteins on the new variants of the virus that were first identified in the UK and in South Africa.

The company is pursuing these measures “out of an abundance of caution,” the biotech firm said in a press release, since early studies show that the existing vaccine continues to prove effective against these new strains, albeit with some loss of efficacy specifically with the B.1.351 variant which was first identified in patients in South Africa. Even so, it’s heartening to see the company moving quickly to address the virus’ mutation, since it’s likely that similar adaptations will be required longer term to keep COVID-19 in control even once the current pandemic is ended.

Further, Moderna says that in fact, it expects both its forthcoming candidate and its existing booster vaccine should be able to provide additional immunity posting capabilities when used in combination with “all of the leading vaccine candidates” on the market. That means the company believes it could be used in combination with the Oxford or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines to boost immunity, which could be helpful in cases where supplies of one or the other are low and there’s an urgent need to provide a booster in a timely manner.

The best news of all of this is, of course, that Moderna now has evidence that suggests the mRNA-based vaccine it’s already providing to people globally will still provide protection against SARS-CoV-2, and by extension, COVID-19. Specifically for the UK variant in particular, the study data shows no reduction in immune performance in patients who received the vaccine. As for the South African variant, that reduction in efficacy mostly translates to a potential of quicker waning of immunity provided by the jab – which hopefully just means people will need another jab sooner than expected, but shouldn’t lead to any dramatic changes in our combined global approach to providing inoculations, especially initially.

#biontech, #biotech, #clinical-trials, #health, #medical-research, #medicine, #oxford, #pfizer, #south-africa, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vaccine


Emerging Coronavirus Variants May Pose Challenges to Vaccines

Laboratory studies of mutations circulating in South Africa suggest they may dodge some of the body’s immune responses.

#antibodies, #brazil, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #disease-rates, #great-britain, #immune-system, #influenza, #moderna-inc, #pfizer-inc, #south-africa, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #your-feed-science


How 8 Countries Have Tried to Keep Artists Afloat During Panemic

Governments around the world have tried to support the arts during the pandemic, some more generously than others.

#austria, #brazil, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #culture-arts, #france, #germany, #great-britain, #new-zealand, #poland, #south-africa, #south-korea, #stimulus-economic, #unemployment


‘I Will Get Up’: A Hard New Year Greets a World in Waiting

Around the globe, people who held on in hopes that 2021 would banish a year of horror are struggling with the reality that the hardest challenges may lie ahead.

#australia, #china, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #france, #great-britain, #italy, #japan, #mexico-city-mexico, #new-year, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #south-africa, #south-korea, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization


For Covid-19 Vaccines, Some Are Too Rich — and Too Poor

Global inequality is shaping which countries get vaccines first. In South Africa, people’s best chance for vaccines anytime soon is to join an experimental trial.

#clinical-trials, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #medicine-and-health, #poverty, #south-africa, #vaccination-and-immunization


As Virus Resurges in Africa, Doctors Fear the Worst Is Yet to Come

The coronavirus killed far fewer people in Africa than in Europe and the Americas, leading to a widespread perception that it was a disease of the West. Now, a tide of new cases on the continent is raising alarms.

#africa, #africa-centers-for-disease-control-and-prevention, #african-union, #black-people, #cape-town-south-africa, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-risks-and-safety-concerns, #deaths-fatalities, #durban-south-africa, #egypt, #elderly, #ethiopia, #hargeisa-somaliland, #johannesburg-south-africa, #kenya, #morocco, #nairobi-kenya, #nigeria, #port-elizabeth-south-africa, #quarantines, #ramaphosa-cyril, #rationing-and-allocation-of-resources, #shabab, #somalia, #south-africa, #tedros-adhanom-ghebreyesus, #tunisia, #uganda, #vaccination-and-immunization, #ventilators-medical, #world-health-organization, #zimbabwe


Why Experts Think Travel Bans Won’t Stop Coronavirus Variant Spread

It isn’t clear how widely the variants are already circulating. So the latest moves by countries to bar international travelers may again be too little, too late.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #great-britain, #south-africa, #travel-warnings, #vaccination-and-immunization


Wines to Remember in a Year to Forget

Travel, restaurants and vineyards were all virtually off limits. But a lot of bottles were opened at home, creating a different sort of history.

#italy, #mahle-pax-wines, #ochota-taras, #quarantine-life-and-culture, #riesling-wine, #sebastopol-calif, #south-africa, #wines


The Risk of Suspending Coronavirus Vaccine Patents

The system that built a coronavirus vaccine in record time relies on robust intellectual property protections.

#coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #india, #south-africa, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization


Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights

Otherwise, there won’t be enough shots to go around, even in rich countries.

#astrazeneca-plc, #bayer-ag, #brazil, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #gilead-sciences-inc, #india, #intellectual-property, #inventions-and-patents, #moderna-inc, #pfizer-inc, #remdesivir-drug, #shortages, #south-africa, #united-states, #vaccination-and-immunization, #world-trade-organization


Priscilla Jana, Lawyer Who Battled Apartheid, Is Dead at 76

Representing Nelson and Winnie Mandela among many others, Ms. Jana fought for equality in South Africa both in and out of the courtroom.

#african-national-congress, #apartheid-policy, #deaths-obituaries, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #jana-priscilla-1943-2020, #legal-profession, #madikizela-mandela-winnie, #mandela-nelson, #robben-island-south-africa, #south-africa