How the Site of a Bronx Fire Became a Haven for Gambians

Abdoulie Touray is believed to have been the first Gambian to move into 333 E. 181st Street. He drew scores of compatriots to the building where 17 died in a fire.

#africa, #bronx-nyc, #bronx-fire, #deaths-fatalities, #fires-and-firefighters, #gambia, #heat-and-heat-waves, #heating, #immigration-and-emigration, #muslims-and-islam, #new-york-city, #touray-tower, #west-africa

Ivorian fintech Julaya raises $2M to digitize business payments in Francophone Africa

There are over 1 billion mobile money accounts globally. Africa leads the way in transaction value and volume thanks to M-Pesa, largely used in East Africa. Other regions across the continent are also growing fast.

In 2019, West Africa reported the most live mobile money services in any region, with 56 million active accounts. In Ivory Coast, one of Francophone Africa’s largest mobile money markets, 75% of the population own a mobile money account, compared to 20% who own bank accounts. The difference is staggering and clearly shows the region’s huge appetite for the service.

While telecom operators have largely dominated mobile money services across most of sub-Saharan Africa, a few startups are trying to change the mobile money experience for customers. Ivory Coast-based fintech startup Julaya is one such company, and today, it announced a $2 million pre-Series A funding to expand its products across West Africa.

Julaya was founded in 2018 by Mathias Léopoldie and Charles Talbot. Before launching Julaya, they worked at French payment fintech LemonWay on their service in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Léopoldie told TechCrunch that the experience introduced them to how mobile money worked across Francophone Africa. LemonWay acts as a payment solution for marketplaces. So, while working on expanding the fintech’s service in both countries, the pair noticed the massive potential businesses had to reach the unbanked via the large consumer penetration of telecom operators.

Julaya was launched to digitize trade payments but started in the Ivory Coast instead of Mali and Burkina Faso. The platform enables companies to streamline their accounting and improve their operational efficiency by digitizing payments to workers and suppliers instead of relying on cash.

The company helps African businesses and institutions disburse payments to mobile money and mobile banking wallets. It achieves this by working with telecom operators and other fintech startups in the region.

“Mobile money is coming to a mature stage where business and public institution use-cases provide new growth opportunities for the sector. The pandemic has opened up minds about the urge to digitize payments. Fintech competition in West Africa is making digital finance more affordable for consumers, and technical integrations with telecom operators are becoming more reliable,” Talbot said in a statement. 

Yet, these partnerships haven’t come without their own share of challenges. For one, payments technology in Francophone Africa remains quite fragmented, and APIs from telecoms are still burgeoning and somewhat unreliable.

Léopoldie added that challenges come from distribution channels, making it difficult for the company to sell en masse at a cheap cost, as well as from the untrustworthiness of businesses toward digitized payments.  

“In Ivory Coast, a wire transfer takes between one to three days, and you always have to check with your bank branch as a customer. … Businesses do not trust digital experiences as they often have shortcomings, and educating the market bears a high cost on acquisition. Then, talents that have a startup mindset are still difficult to find,” Léopoldie said of some of the challenges facing the three-year-old startup.

Despite this, the startup, which has an R&D and technical team in France, has bagged customers from SMBs and large corporates to government institutions. The company says it’s currently processing over $1.5 million monthly for 50 of these customers, including Jumia, SODECI, Ministry of Education, Ivory Coast and the World Bank.

Julaya closed a pre-seed investment of $250,000 in 2018 and a seed investment of $550,000 a year later, all from angel investors. But the company has introduced VC firms in its pre-Series A round. They include corporate venture capital firms Orange Ventures and MFS Africa Frontiers; VC firms Saviu Ventures, Launch Africa and 50 Partners Capital; and some angel investors in Africa and Europe. Julaya will use the investment to broaden its market share in Ivory Coast and launch digital payment products and expand across West Africa.  

More than 20 million people use Orange as a mobile money service across 15 African countries. The telecom operator also recently launched a mobile banking platform in Ivory Coast and has surpassed 500,000 users. Thus, what’s the rationale behind this strategic investment, which marks its third check in an African fintech startup after South Africa’s Yoco and Senegal’s SudPay?

“Fintech’s environment in Africa is distinguished by its competitiveness and strong dynamism. Orange Group, through its technology investment fund, intends to participate in this boom by supporting fintechs such as Julaya. The goal is to target local technology champions at the service of the transition to a more digital and responsible world,” said Habib Bamba, the director of Transformation, digital and media at Orange Ivory Coast.

Orange, other telecom operators, fintechs and banks remain big competitors to Julaya. So how does it plan to stay on top of people’s minds across the region? Léopoldie thinks that focusing on the best user experience might do the trick.

“This sounds like an overheard statement, but we understand that what the customer values most is reliable customer support and a predictable and smooth online experience, for instance, a reliable platform with very little downtime,” he said. “Even if you only have a 90% success rate on your transactions, as long as you give this information in a transparent communication to the customer, they will trust you.”

#africa, #east-africa, #finance, #financial-technology, #mobile-banking, #mobile-money, #mobile-payments, #orange-ventures, #south-africa, #tc, #west-africa

Microsoft secures court order to take down malicious ‘homoglyph’ domains

Microsoft has secured a court order to take down several malicious “homoglyph” domains that were used to impersonate Office 365 customers and commit fraud. 

The technology giant filed a case earlier this month after it uncovered cybercriminal activity targeting its customers. After receiving a customer complaint about a business email compromise attack, a Microsoft investigation found that the unnamed criminal group responsible created 17 additional malicious domains, which were then used together with stolen customer credentials to unlawfully access and monitor Office 365 accounts in an attempt to defraud the customers’ contacts.

Microsoft confirmed in a blog post published Monday that a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a court order requiring domain registrars to disable service on the malicious domains, which include “thegiaint.com” and “nationalsafetyconsuiting.com,” which were used to impersonate its customers.

These so-called “homoglyph” domains exploit the similarities of some letters to create deceptive domains that appear legitimate. For example, using an uppercase “I” and a lowercase “l” (e.g. MICROSOFT.COM vs. MlCROSOFT.COM). 

“These were together with stolen customer credentials to unlawfully access customer accounts, monitor customer email traffic, gather intelligence on pending financial transactions, and criminally impersonate [Office 365] customers, all in an attempt to deceive their victims into transferring funds to the cybercriminals,” Microsoft said in its complaint, adding that the cybercriminals “have caused and continue to cause irreparable injury to Microsoft, its customers, and the public.”

In one instance, for example, the criminals identified a legitimate email from the compromised account of an Office 365 customer referencing payment issues. Capitalizing on this information, the criminals sent an email from a homoglyph domain using the same sender name and nearly identical domain. They also used the same subject line and format of an email from the earlier, legitimate conversation, but falsely claimed a hold had been placed on the account by the chief financial officer and that payment needed to be received as soon as possible.

The cybercriminals then attempted to solicit a fraudulent wire transfer by sending new wire transfer information appearing to be legitimate, including using the logo of the company they were impersonating.

Microsoft notes that while these criminals will typically move their malicious infrastructure outside the Microsoft ecosystem once detected, the order — granted on Friday — eliminates defendants’ ability to move these domains to other providers. 

“The action will further allow us to diminish the criminals’ capabilities and, more importantly, obtain additional evidence to undertake further disruptions inside and outside court,” said Amy Hogan-Burney, general manager of Microsoft’s Digital Crime Unit.

The tech giant hasn’t yet disclosed the identities of the cybercriminals responsible for the BEC attacks, but said that “based on the techniques deployed, the criminals appear to be financially motivated, and we believe they are part of an extensive network that appears to be based out of West Africa.” The targets of the operation were predominantly small businesses operating in North America across several industries, according to Microsoft.

This isn’t the first time Microsoft secured a court order to step up its fight against cybercriminals and similar attacks, which research shows affected 71% of businesses in 2021. Last year, a court granted the tech giant’s request to seize and take control of malicious web domains used in a large-scale cyberattack targeting victims in 62 countries with spoofed COVID-19 emails. 

#chief-financial-officer, #judge, #north-america, #security, #virginia, #west-africa

Ex-SafeBoda executive Babajide Duroshola joins M-KOPA to lead expansion into Nigeria

On June 18, Babajide Duroshola, ex-Country Head, SafeBoda Nigeria, stepped down from his role two years after taking the job post-Andela.

Less than a month later, the executive has found a new role as General Manager in another Kenyan company, M-KOPA. His appointment coincides with M-KOPA’s broader expansion strategy, which includes a move to Nigeria.

In 2019 when SafeBoda hired Duroshola, the Kenyan ride-hailing company was in the news for its imminent expansion to Nigeria. To the company and most of the public, Lagos was the obvious option. But Duroshola and his team chose to stay away from the most viable tech ecosystem in West Africa and launch in neighbouring city Ibadan.

Although it was considered a huge risk, the gamble looks to have paid off. While major ride-hailing platforms in Lagos like ORide, MAX.ng, and Gokada completely halted their operations in the state after a ride-hailing ban, SafeBoda thrived in Ibadan. By the time Duroshola left the company, it had onboarded 5,000 drivers and completed more than 1.5 million rides in a full year of operation.

SafeBoda runs an asset-financing model when offering smartphones to its riders. M-KOPA has used this concept since its inception and it played a major role in Duroshola’s decision to join the company.

“Part of the things that excite me asides from ride-hailing is the credit space. I like asking questions on how to extend credits to people and help them build their digital footprints. That was why M-KOPA seemed attractive,” Duroshola said to TechCrunch. 

M-KOPA launched in Kenya ten years ago. The company is known to have kickstarted the wider pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar market in the country. Over the years, M-KOPA has expanded its offerings to include televisions, fridges, other electronic appliances, and financial services to customers in Kenya and Uganda. Through its pay-as-you-go financing model, customers can build ownership over time by paying an initial deposit followed by flexible and affordable micro-payments.

So far, M-KOPA has sold over 1 million PAYG solar systems and provided $400 million in financing to millions of customers while raising over $180 million in equity and debt. Last year, the company added smartphone financing to its offerings in Kenya by partnering with Safaricom and Samsung.

Per a GSMA report, mobile technologies and services generated 9% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP in 2019, representing about $155 billion in economic value. And when you think about it, smartphones are used in people’s everyday lives more than solar systems, so it isn’t surprising that M-KOPA has already sold 500,000 smartphones, half the units solar systems have managed in a ten-year period.

Early this year, M-KOPA ran a pilot test in the Nigerian market by providing customers with its solar systems and smartphone financing options. Smartphone financing had a higher uptake as M-KOPA sold over 20,000 devices in Lagos, its first market. The company considered this a success, and the appointment of Duroshola is seen as a prerequisite for scaling the offering rapidly in Nigeria.

“We’ve been deliberate about finding the right person with a strong track record and in-depth knowledge of the Nigerian tech community to lead our team as we scale up our country operations. And the milestone coincided with Babajide’s appointment as we look to grow and expand into new regions,” Mayur Patel, M-KOPA’s CCO, said to TechCrunch in an email.

M-KOPA is now present in both Lagos and Oyo after expanding to the latter last month. Just as in Kenya, M-KOPA partnered with Samsung, but a different mobile network operator in Airtel, to make its smartphone financing accessible to Nigerian customers. 

According to Patel, both Nokia and Samsung provide entry- and mid-tier handsets at different prices to their customers. He argues that a top priority for MNOs on the continent is converting 2G/3G network users to 4G. To him, M-KOPA has a shot at tackling the challenge of 4G device affordability in Nigeria because 75% of its total customers are first time 4G smartphone owners.

“Our partnership with both these OEMs has allowed M-KOPA to offer affordable ownership of quality 4G smartphones for underbanked customers, who are otherwise excluded because they lack credit histories or salaried incomes,” he said.

In Nigeria, M-KOPA deals with various products in the Samsung A series (A02, A12, A22, A32) ranging from $80-$250 (~₦40,000 to ₦125,000). The company plans to include more devices and handset manufacturers, but the COO doesn’t say when. In Kenya and Uganda, however, M-KOPA sells Nokia phones in addition to the aforementioned Samsung products.

Although M-KOPA is focused on smartphone financing in the West African country, Duroshola wants to mirror what Kenyan M-KOPA’s customers enjoy (where other products asides from smartphones are sold) in Nigeria. He reckons it will help build their credit history and worthiness over time.  

The Kenyan company is currently recruiting for engineering roles in Nigeria and globally as part of its expansion plans. Duroshola will lead the charge in Nigeria in what can be described as his third stint of scaling African startups in the country. He seems to have a knack for it. Judging from our conversation, there’s an optimistic feel about the general manager in his ability to take on a market where PAYG models outside solar systems have had relatively low success.

“My vision as a person and what really typically drives me on a normal day is to help African startups scale and being that person that would help build, set up, get to the point where they’re able to think about their business strategy and how they can plug into the Nigerian space. What I’m looking to build with M-KOPA is a full credit machine. I want it to become a household name within the Nigerian market space where when people are thinking about pay-as-you-go financing for everyday use cases, M-KOPA is what comes to their mind.” 

#africa, #babajide-duroshola, #finance, #kenya, #m-kopa, #nigeria, #safeboda, #smartphones, #tc, #west-africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jetstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guinea Declares Ebola Outbreak With at Least 3 Deaths

Health officials promised rapid delivery of vaccines and other epidemic-fighting measures after confirming seven cases in the country’s southeast.

#africa, #congo-democratic-republic-of-congo-kinshasa, #ebola-virus, #guinea, #politics-and-government, #vaccination-and-immunization, #west-africa, #world-health-organization

When the Soldiers Meant to Protect You Instead Come to Kill

Extremists and vigilantes are killing civilians in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, but so are soldiers, sowing fear and suspicion in a country that had once prided itself on its strong social fabric. We traveled to the country’s volatile far north to investigate the abuses.

#burkina-faso, #compaore-blaise, #defense-and-military-forces, #human-rights-and-human-rights-violations, #mali, #refugees-and-displaced-persons, #sahel-africa, #west-africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

African payment startup Chipper Cash raises $13.8M Series A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electrifying West Africa with a renewable grid

Image of a dam and generating building.

Enlarge / A new hydroelectric power station in the Ivory Coast. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

There’s been a lot of discussion about how areas that are seeing explosive renewable growth can manage the large amount of intermittent electricity sources. But these mostly focus on regions with mature electric grids and a relatively static growth in demand. What would happen if you tried to grow renewables at the same time you’re trying to grow a grid?

A EU-US team of researchers decided to find out what a good renewable policy might look like in West Africa, an area similar in size to the 48 contiguous US states but comprised of 16 different countries. Some of these nations already get a sizable chunk of their power from renewables in the form of hydropower, but they are expected to see demand roughly double in the next decade. Although renewables like solar and wind are likely to play a role purely based on their price, the researchers’ analysis suggests that a smart, international grid can balance hydro, wind, and solar to produce a far greener grid.

Hydro as a giant battery

The new work has a mix of focuses. It’s run against the backdrop of the expectation that West Africa’s demand for electricity will explode over the next decade. Right now, the region has nearly 400 million inhabitants who consume a bit over 100 terawatt-hours a year (compared to the United States’ 4,000TW-hr). By 2030, that demand is expected to be more than 200TW-hr—a fourfold increase from where demand was in 2015.

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#energy, #green, #hydroelectric, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar, #west-africa, #wind

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.

#africa, #articles, #co-founder, #companies, #east-africa, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #goldman-sachs, #investment, #kenya, #lagos, #max-ng, #nairobi, #nigeria, #novastar-ventures, #partech, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #tlcom-capital, #uganda, #visa, #west-africa

Goldman backed ventures Jumia and Twiga partner on produce in Kenya

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia and B2B agtech startup Twiga Foods are partnering to deliver produce in Kenya using adaptive measures during COVID-19.

In 2019, Jumia became the first VC funded tech company in Africa to list on a major exchange, the NYSE. Based in Nairobi, Twiga raised a $30 million Series B round in October and announced plans to expand its food supply-chain business to West Africa.

Both companies are backed by venture capital from U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs .

Per the partnership, Jumia will sell bundles of Twiga’s fresh produce on its e-commerce website. Jumia’s delivery fleet will pick up orders from Twiga’s sorting and distribution centers and then complete last mile, contact free delivery. The transactions will be cash only using Jumia’s JumiaPay app, according to Jumia Kenya CEO Sam Chappatte.

Image Credits: Jumia Kenya’s website

The arrangement is meant to leverage the strengths of both companies, while providing a safer and more affordable way for households to obtain foodstuffs through the coronavirus crisis, which started to hit East Africa last month.

Co-founded in Nairobi in 2014 by Peter Njonjo and Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods is focused primarily on connecting the produce of Kenya’s farmers more efficiently to pricing and marketplaces. The company serves around 3,000 outlets a day with produce through a network of 17,000 farmers and 8,000 vendors.

Twiga will benefit from Jumia’s B2C e-commerce platform and Twiga from Jumia’s B2B produce network, according to Jumia’s Kenya CEO.

On the product offerings, “We pulled together the core basics that a family would need for a week or two weeks,” Chappatte told TechCrunch on a call from Nairobi.

“It’s 28 kilograms of fruit and vegetables. It’s delivered in an hour and a half and they save 50% versus supermarkets.”

Image Credits: Jumia

The partnership comes as the coronavirus has hit Africa and actors across the continent’s tech ecosystem have begun to develop practices to maintain operations and stem the spread.

By WHO stats Tuesday there were 21,388 COVID-19 cases in Africa and 877 confirmed virus related deaths, up from 345 cases and 7 deaths on March 18. Kenya ranks 13th in coronavirus cases on the continent.

Countries such as South Africa, Kenya  and Nigeria — which happen to be Africa’s top tech hubs — have imposed social distancing and lockdown practices.

Chappatte believes the virus in Kenya is likely under-counted. Jumia is approaching what could become a worsening COVID-19 scenario in Kenya from two angles.

“One of the ways in which we’re facing up to the crisis and trying be as useful as possible to our communities is to remain an everyday service,” he said.

“The second piece is around the right to operate…engaging the government on how home delivery can be cashless, contactless and safe and therefore a useful service over this period.”

Like many tech ventures in Africa, Jumia needs to adapt to the health and economic realities of the coronavirus to continue to generate revenues. Since going public in April 2019 —  and being required to report quarterly financial performance — the company has faced increased pressure to demonstrate profitability.

Continued losses, a short-sell assault and an employee fraud scandal in 2019 led Jumia’s share price to plummet more than 50% since its April IPO, from  $14.50 on listing to $4.43, as of Monday.

The company weathered these events and CEO Sacha Poignonnec highlighted a bright spot in the 2019 results. Jumia finally got into the black on one key indicator, reaching a gross profit of €1.0 million after deducting fulfillment expenses in Q4 of last year.

The online retailer’s next earnings call is scheduled for May 13. It could provide a unique window into the extent COVID-19 in Africa has impacted the performance of one of the continent’s most visible tech companies.

#africa, #ceo, #countries, #e-commerce, #east-africa, #food-supply-chain, #goldman-sachs, #grant-brooke, #jumia, #kenya, #nairobi, #nigeria, #online-retailer, #peter-njonjo, #rocket-internet, #sacha-poignonnec, #sam-chappatte, #south-africa, #tc, #techcrunch, #twiga-foods, #united-states, #west-africa, #world-health-organization

Crisis in The Sahel Becoming France’s Forever War

Riding along with French troops hunting Islamist militants in France’s unwinnable West African war.

#defense-and-military-forces, #france, #french-foreign-legion, #macron-emmanuel-1977, #mali, #terrorism, #west-africa

Visa partners with Paga on payments and fintech for Africa and abroad

Visa has entered a partnership with Nigeria based startup Paga on payments and technology.

Founded in Lagos, Paga scaled its fintech business in West Africa, before targeting expansion in Ethiopia and Mexico.

The startup has created a multi-channel network for over 14 million customers in Nigeria to transfer money, pay-bills and buy things digitally through its mobile-app or 24,840 agents.

The new arrangement allows Paga account holders to transact on Visa’s global network. It will also see both companies work together on tech.

The collaboration reflects a strategy of the American financial services giant to expand in Africa working with the continent’s top startups.

Visa’s partnership with Paga doesn’t include investment in the startup, but it is expected to drive larger payment volumes for both companies — and Visa’s priorities in Africa.

“We want to digitize cash, that’s a strategic priority for us. We want to expand merchant access to payment acceptance and we want to drive financial inclusion,” said Otto Williams, Visa’s Head of Strategic Partnerships, Fintech and Ventures for Africa.

The Paga-Visa arrangement will bring new merchant options to Paga’s network.

“Based on the partnership we’re going to launch QR codes and NFC [payments] into the market in Nigeria — alternative ways of receiving payments than bringing out a physical card,” said Oviosu.

Tayo Oviosu

Visa and Paga’s engineering teams have already started working together, according to Oviosu, and Paga expects to roll-out these new options in Nigeria sometime in second-quarter 2020.

The startup is pivoting toward becoming less of a Nigeria-centered company and more an emerging markets fintech platform. In January, Paga acquired Ethiopian software development company Apposit, on plans to launch in the East African country.  After Nigeria, Ethiopia has Africa’s second-largest population of 114 million.

Paga has also opened an office in Mexico and will launch its payments products there this year.

“There are several very large countries around the world in Africa, Latin America, Asia where these [financial inclusion] problems still exist. So our strategy is not an African strategy…We want to go where these problems exist in a large way and build a global payments business,” Oviosu told Techcrunch in January.

The Visa-Paga partnership comes as fintech has become Africa’s best funded startup sector — according to latest VC reporting — with thousands of ventures vying to scale digital-finance products to the continent’s unbanked and underbanked consumers and SMEs.

As a company, Visa maintains multiple partnerships with Africa’s largest banks, but collaborating with the continent’s VC backed fintech ventures has taken center-stage. This was confirmed in Visa’s recent 2020 Investor Day presentation, which dedicated several slides to its strategy of “partnering with leading African players” in the startup ecosystem.

The global financial services company has entered into collaborations with several African fintech ventures, such as B2B payments company Flutterwave and South African startup Yoco, which is focused on enterprise payments services and hardware for SMEs.

Visa has also jumped into the venture funding realm in African fintech. In 2019 Nigerian financial services company Interswitch reached a $1 billion valuation and unicorn status after Visa acquired a minority equity stake.

Visa’s Otto Williams, who has taken a lead on the company’s Africa strategy, noted non-equity collaborations will remain the primary focus — though those could lead to VC down the road.

“If we have a commercial partnership in place that creates the right…investment thesis…you know those strategic partnerships inform venture investments,” Williams said.

Of course, Visa’s isn’t the only American financial services firm backing African tech companies. In 2019, its rival Mastercard invested $50 million in Pan-African e-commerce venture Jumia. The two are working together on developing fintech services across Jumia’s customer network.

#africa, #african-tech, #asia, #credit-cards, #ethiopia, #finance, #financial-services, #flutterwave, #interswitch, #jumia, #lagos, #latin-america, #mexico, #money, #nigeria, #paga, #payment-cards, #south-africa, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #techcrunch, #visa, #west-africa, #yoco