Facebook’s latest account purge exposes Africa’s misinformation problem

Facebook last week purged a network of hundreds of pages, groups and Instagram accounts it labeled as producing “coordinated inauthentic behavior” toward Africa.

The activity originated in Israel and was largely targeted toward Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, and Tunisia.

It was mostly political in nature and primarily paid for by Archemedes Group, a global political consulting firm, Facebook said.

This isn’t the first case of social media platforms used as vehicles for political manipulation in Africa. Cambridge Analytica, the controversial big-data actor employed in Brexit and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, was active on the continent before and after both events.

On its recent Africa related deletions, Facebook said:

The people behind this network used fake accounts to run Pages, disseminate their content and artificially increase engagement. They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians. The Page administrators and account owners frequently posted about political news, including topics like elections in various countries, candidate views and criticism of political opponents.

The activity took place over 65 Facebook accounts, 161 Pages, 23 Groups, 12 events and four Instagram accounts.  There were 2.8 million accounts that followed one or more of these pages and 5,500 accounts joined at least one of these Groups.

Facebook said more than $800,000 was spent on ads associated with these accounts starting in December 2012 and running as recently as April this year.

Facebook declined to offer TechCrunch additional information on the account deletions beyond their release. But the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRL) has been digging deeper and released some initial findings in a Medium Post. In addition to connecting the accounts to activity in Ghana — a country not named in FB’s release — DFRL shed some light on fake news targeted at Nigeria’s February 2019 elections.

Examples included a “Make Nigeria Worse Again” trolling campaign aimed at the campaign of Atiku Abubakar, who was challenger to Nigeria’s incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari — who won a second-term.

DFRL also shared examples connected to the deleted Facebook accounts aimed at elections in Mali, Tunisia, Niger, Togo, Algeria, and Angola. It noted the ads related to this nexus of activity was paid for in U.S. dollars, Israeli Shekels, and Brazilian reals. “The spending in different currencies suggests how vast the operation was, encompassing multiple regions around the world,” said DFRL’s reporting.

Fake news on social media platforms has reared its head in Africa several times. Cambridge Analytica, backed by U.S. big-data billionaire Robert Mercer, was found to have been involved in elections in Kenya and Nigeria before its controversial role directing pro-Brexit and pro-Trump online activity in 2016. Facebook later banned Cambridge Analytica from its platform.

Social media driven fake news — primarily on Facebook and WhatsApp — became such an issue in Kenya’s 2017 elections the country’s parliament passed a bill in 2018, with specific punitive measures, to combat it. An investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 later revealed that Cambridge Analytica had advised the 2017 presidential campaign of Kenyan incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, who won in a disputed run-off vote.

Facebook has prioritized growth in Africa, particularly since Mark Zuckerberg visited the continent’s tech scene in 2016.

The U.S. social media company has grown Africa users to over 200 million and Facebook owned chat-tool, WhatsApp, is the most downloaded messenger app on the continent.

But Facebook’s recent Africa account purge shows when Facebook travels, so too does its list of pros and cons, including the ability of global actors to use it for nefarious uses in local settings.

Chipper Cash convinces Joe Montana to invest in African fintech

The African no-fee, cross-border payment startup Chipper Cash has raised a $2.4 million seed round led by Deciens Capital.

The payments company also persuaded 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures—co-founded by Joe Montana—to join the round.

Chipper Cash’s Ugandan chief executive, Ham Serunjogi, pitched the U.S. football legend directly. “He was quite excited about what we’re doing and his belief that the next wave of [tech] growth will come from…Africa,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch.

Chipper Cash went live in October 2018, joining a growing field of fintech startups aiming to scale digital finance applications across Africa’s billion plus population.

The venture Serunjogi co-founded with Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled offers no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments in Africa.

Based in San Francisco based startup—with offices in Ghana and Nairobi—Chipper Cash has processed 250,000 transactions for over 70,000 active users, according to Serunjogi.

In conjunction with the seed round, Chipper Cash is launching Chipper Checkout: a merchant focused, C2B, mobile payments product.

This side of the startup’s offerings isn’t free, and Chipper Cash will use revenues from Chipper Checkout—in addition to income generated from payment volume float—to support its no-fee mobile money business.

Sheel Mohnot, who led 500 Startups’ investment in Chipper Cash, likened company’s model to PayPal.

“When PayPal started it was just a consumer to consumer free app. It still is free for consumer to consumer, they but they monetized the merchant side. That model is tried and tested. It just doesn’t exist in Africa, so Chipper has the opportunity to do that,” he told TechCrunch.

In addition to Kenya’s M-Pesa—the global success story for digital payments—there are a number of mobile money products in Africa, from MTN’s Mobile Money in Ghana to Tigo Pesa in Tanzania.

The limiting factor, though, according to Chipper Cash’s CEO is interoperability, or that mobile-money transfers across product platforms, currencies, and borders generally don’t work.

“Our tech settles cross-border currency transactions in real-time, and that’s part of the value proposition of the platform,” he said.

The startup will expand beyond its current four country operations in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda within the next 12 months. Chipper Cash also plans to tap the global remittance market for Sub-Saharan Africa, a large pool of roughly $38 billion, in the near future.

Remittances won’t be the firms’ top focus, however. Serunjogi believes there’s more volume to be found within Africa. “Demographics, migration, and regional economic-integration within the continent means there’ll be an infinitely growing amount of cross-border commercial activity within Africa,” he said. “When it comes to payments, the pie is growing and…the percentage of that pie that is digital payments will also grow.”

The journey for Chipper Cash’s founders from Africa to founding a startup and pitching to Joe Montana passes through Iowa. Serunjogi and Moujaled met when doing their undergraduate degrees at Grinnell College.  Stints at Silicon Valley companies followed: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr, Yahoo!, and Imgur for Moujaled.

Chipper Cash was accepted in 500 Startups’ Batch 24 in 2018 and their demo day for the accelerator program gained the attention of Liquid 2 Ventures.

The VC fund’s Rocio Wu invited them to pitch to Joe Montana and the team in March 2019.

“Africa is extremely fragmented with different languages, cultures and currencies, Chipper Cash is uniquely positioned to tackle cross-border mobile payments with interoperability,” Wu told TechCrunch on the investment.

Wu will join Chipper Cash as a board observer. The startup is the second Africa investment for the fund. Liquid 2 Ventures is also an investor in logistics startup Lori Systems, the 2017 Startup Battlefield Africa winner.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population are gaining greater attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

By a number of estimates, the continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population. An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns this scenario into an opportunity for mobile based financial products.

As more startups enter African fintech, Chipper Cash believes it can compete on its cross-currency and no-fee offerings and the growing size of the market. “It’s so large that it is unlikely to be a zero-sum game in terms of who wins. There will be multiple successful players,” said Serunjogi

Chipper Cash also joins a list of African founded, Africa focused fintech firms that have chosen to set up HQs in San Francisco with offices and operations on the continent. Payments gateway company Flutterwave and lending venture Mines.io (both with Nigerian founders) maintain SF headquarters with operations in Lagos. Serunjogi touts the benefits of this two continent organizational structure for access to both VC and developer markets in the U.S. and Africa.

As for Chipper Cash’s continuing relationship with investor Joe Montana, “Having access to a someone with the leadership qualities of Joe to provide advice and guidance…that’s something that’s priceless,” said Serunjogi.

WorldCover raises $6M round for emerging markets climate insurance

WorldCover, a New York and Africa-based climate insurance provider to smallholder farmers, has raised a $6 million Series A round led by MS&AD Ventures.

Y-Combinator, Western Technology Investment, and EchoVC also participated in the round.

WorldCover’s platform uses satellite imagery, on-ground sensors, mobile phones, and data analytics to create insurance options for farmers whose crops yields are affected adversely by weather events—primarily lack of rain.

The startup currently operates in Ghana, Uganda, and Kenya . With the new funding WorldCover aims to expand its insurance offerings to more emerging market countries.

“We’re looking at India, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia. India could be first on an 18 month timeline for a launch,” WorldCover co-founder and chief executive Chris Sheehan said in an interview.

The company has served over 30,000 farmers across its Africa operations. Smallholder farmers as those earning all or nearly all of their income from agriculture, farming on 10 to 20 acres of land, and earning around $500 to $5000, according to Sheehan.

Farmer’s connect to WorldCover by creating an account on its USSD mobile app. From there they can input their region, crop type, determine how much insurance they would like to buy and use mobile money to purchase a plan. WorldCover works with payments providers such as M-Pesa in Kenya and MTN Mobile Money in Ghana.

The service works on a sliding scale, where a customer can receive anywhere from 5x to 15x the amount of premium they have paid.  If there is an adverse weather event, namely lack of rain, the farmer can file claim via mobile phone. WorldCover then uses its data-analytics metrics to assess it, and if approved, the farmer will receive an insurance payment via mobile-money.

Common crops farmed by WorldCover clients include maize, rice, and peanuts. It looks to add coffee, cocoa, and cashews to its coverage list.

For the moment, WorldCover only insures for events such as rainfall risk, but in the future it will look to include other weather events, such as tropical storms, in its insurance programs and platform data-analytics.

The startup’s founder clarified that WorldCover’s model does not assess or provide insurance payouts specifically for climate change, though it does directly connect to the company’s business.

“We insure for adverse weather events that we believe climate change factors are exacerbating,” Sheehan explained. WorldCover also resells the risk of its policy-holders to global reinsurers, such as Swiss Re and Nephila.

On the potential market size for WordCover’s business, he highlights a 2018 Lloyd’s study that identified $163 billion of assets at risk, including agriculture, in emerging markets from negative, climate change related events.

“That’s what WorldCover wants to go after…These are the kind of micro-systemic risks we think we can model and then create a micro product for a smallholder farmer that they can understand and will give them protection,” he said.

With the round, the startup will look to possibilities to update its platform to offer farming advice to smallholder farmers, in addition to insurance coverage.

WorldCover investor and EchoVC founder Eghosa Omoigui believes the startup’s insurance offerings can actually help farmers improve yield. “Weather-risk drives a lot of decisions with these farmers on what to plant, when to plant, and how much to plant,” he said. “With the crop insurance option, the farmer says, ‘Instead of one hector, I can now plant two or three, because I’m covered.”

Insurance technologyis another sector in Africa’s tech landscape filling up with venture-backed startups. Other insurance startups focusing on agriculture include Accion Venture Lab backed Pula and South Africa based Mobbisurance.

With its new round and plans for global expansion, WorldCover joins a growing list of startups that have developed business models in Africa before raising rounds toward entering new markets abroad.

In 2018, Nigerian payment startup Paga announced plans to move into Asia and Latin America after raising $10 million. In 2019, South African tech-transit startup FlexClub partnered with Uber Mexico after a seed-raise. And Lagos based fintech startup TeamAPT announced in Q1 it was looking to expand globally after a $5 million Series A round.

 

 

Africa Roundup: Jumia’s IPO, DHL launches Africa e-Shop, Cathay’s $168M VC fund, ConnectMed acquired

The biggest news in a month of weighty African headlines was Jumia listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

After filing SEC IPO docs in March, the Pan-African e-commerce company’s shares began trading on the NYSE April 12, opening at $14.50 under ticker symbol JMIA. Jumia stock rose north of 70 percent on its first day of trading and started this week at $46.

With the public listing, Jumia became the first startup from Africa to list on a major global exchange. The IPO raised nearly $200 million for the internet venture.

The listing created another milestone for Jumia.  In 2016 the company became the first African startup unicorn, achieving a $1 billion valuation after a funding round that included Goldman Sachs and MTN.

Founded in Lagos in 2012 with Rocket Internet backing, Jumia now operates multiple online verticals in 14 African countries—from consumer retail to travel bookings.

Jumia has also opened itself up to Africa’s traders with more than 80,000 active sellers on the platform.

Like Amazon, Jumia brings its own mix of supporters and critics. On the critical side, there are questions of whether it’s actually an African startup. The parent for Jumia Group is incorporated in Germany and current CEOs Jeremy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec are French.

On the flipside, original Jumia co-founders (Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor) are Nigerian. The company is headquartered in Africa (Lagos) and incorporated in each country in which it operates (under ECART Internet Services in Nigeria). Jumia pays taxes on the continent, employs 5,128 people in Africa (page 125 of K-1) and the CEO of its largest country operation Juliet Anammah is Nigerian.

The Jumia authenticity and diversity debates will no doubt continue. But the biggest question — the driver behind the VC, the IPO, and demand for Jumia’s shares — is whether the startup can produce profits. The company has generated years of losses, including negative EBITDA of €172 million in 2018 compared to revenues of €139 that same year.

DHL Africa e-Shop

Call it coincidence or competition, but the day before Jumia’s IPO, DHL partnered with another e-commerce startup—MallforAfrica.com—to launch its DHL Africa eShop app for global retailers to sell goods to Africa’s consumers markets.

The platform brings more than 200 U.S. and U.K. retailers — from Neiman Marcus to Carters — online in 11 African countries.

DHL Africa eShop operates using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label service, Link Commerce.

The new online platform takes advantage of the shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent to get goods to doorsteps near and far.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

On a B2C level, DHL Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e. the cost of delivery) given it is connected to one of the world’s logistics masters, DHL.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services through MallforAfrica’s white label Link Commerce service.

This could put the duo on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa and adds another layer of competition with Jumia, which offers its own fulfillment services vertical in Africa.

Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund

There’s a new $100 million plus African VC fund in the works. Tunisia-based private equity firm Africinvest teamed up with Cathay Innovation to announce the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund, with a target raise of $168 million.

Details are still forthcoming, but the fund will focus primarily on Series A to C-stage investments in startups across several countries in the areas of fintech, logistics, AI, agtech and edutech. Investments could begin as early as 2019, fund co-founder Denis Barrier told TechCrunch.

He expects to see strong local showing for startups from across Africinvest’s 10 country offices in North and Sub-Saharan African. The firm will open an office in Johannesburg in the near future, according to a company release.

Zipline expands in Ghana

Zipline, the San Francisco-based UAV manufacturer and logistics services provider, launched a program in Ghana for drone delivery of medical supplies.

Working with the Ghanaian government, Zipline will operate 30 drones out of four distribution centers to distribute vaccines, blood and life-saving medications to 2,000 health facilities across the West African nation daily. Speaking to TechCrunch, the company’s CEO Keller Rinaudo described the Ghana operation as “the largest drone delivery network on the planet,”

The Ghana program adds a second country to Zipline’s live operations. Zipline got off the ground in Rwanda and has leveraged its experience in East Africa to begin testing medical delivery services in the United States. Zipline plans to move from pilot-phase to live-delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. sometime this summer.

ConnectMed acquired by Merck

And finally, German pharmaceutical company Merck KGaa acquired the technology of Kenya based online healthtech company ConnectMed. A 2017 Startup Battlefield Africa competitor, ConnectMed paired up telehealth kiosks to local pharmacies—turning them into online clinics where patients use the startup’s tablet based app to connect live to doctors for evaluation and prescriptions. The startup had received grant and seed funds from UK based Entrepreneur First and Norway’s Katapult Accelerator.

Merck KGaa (not be confused with U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck) took over ConnectMed’s telehealth applications. “Following the handover of the company’s telehealth solutions to Merck…ConnectMed will cease operations,” said a company release on the deal. Merck will integrate ConnectMed’s platform into its own CURAFA clinic network in Kenya.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net

Nigerian startup Tizeti launches WifiCall.ng IP voice call service

Nigeria based startup Tizeti, an internet service provider, today launched WifiCall.ng—an internet voice-calling platform for individuals and businesses.

WifiCall is a VoIP—or Voice over Internet Protocol—subscription service that allows unlimited calls to any phone number, even if that number isn’t registered on WifiCall’s network.

Tizeti will offer the product in Nigeria for now, with plans to open it up to phone numbers outside Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy in 2020.

WifiCall was influenced by popularity of WiFi enabled voice services such WhatsApp, in Africa, and the continent’s improving digital and mobile profile.

With its new VoIP product, Tizeti looks to contend with the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, and major telcos.

“On the low end we’re competing with the mobile providers. WifiCall gives you a real number and it’s cheaper. But we’re also offering enterprise options you would not get with a mobile connection or even WhatsApp,” Tizeti co-founder and CEO Kendall Ananyi told TechCrunch.

In addition to individual users, businesses and startups can use WifiCall for internal communications or open it up to developers to customize APIs for white-label, customer applications.

WifiCall is available online or for download for free under the “Basic” package. The entry level commercial “Business Unlimited Pro” package—that offers up to 10 users, call recording, and call analytics—goes for ₦15,000, or around $35 a month. 

Nigerian trucking logistic startup Kobo360 is already is a client. Ananyi sees prospective market segments for WifiCall as startups, educational institutions, hotels, gated communities, and “regular users anywhere they have tower coverage,” he said.

That last group ties into Tizeti’s core business, which is building solar powered towers that offer WiFi service packages and hotspots in and around Lagos and Ogun State, Nigeria. Since its launch from Y Combinator’s  winter 2017 batch, the company has installed over 12,000 public WiFi hotspots in Nigeria with 500,000 users. The startup packages internet services drawing on partnerships with West African broadband provider MainOne and Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi

Tizeti raised a $3 million Series A round in 2018, led by 4DX Ventures, and has $5.1 million in investment from firms including Golden Palm Investments, YC, and Social Investments.

4DX Ventures co-founder Walter Baddoo sees Tizeti’s voice calling as a strategic extension of its connectivity business (noting WifiCall can be used with any IP).

“The core of the company’s mission is to bring down the cost of connectivity on the continent by leveraging mobile internet and data networks, WifiCall is a step in that direction” Baddoo told TechCrunch. “Africa is going to leapfrog a lot of the traditional call infrastructure…and WiFi calling…is giving individuals, small-businesses, and large businesses one-stop for much cheaper data-service alongside voice.”

Though Sub-Saharan Africa still stands last in most global rankings for smartphone adoption (33 percent) and internet penetration (35 percent), the continent continues to register among the fastest growth in the world for both.

Mobile providers in Nigeria—such as MTN and Glo—are shifting customers from buying anonymous data-bundles to registered sim cards and subscription services. WiFi voice services are also commonly used across the continent for calls. Per We Are Social’s 2018 Digital Report, WhatsApp is the most downloaded messenger app across Africa.

On its internet service business, Tizeti has already expanded to Ghana with a consumer facing brand, Wifi-Africa, and looks to offer WifiCall there as soon as it gains regulatory approval—something in process, according to CEO Kendall Ananyi.

The startup is building an LTE network, to compliment its IP network, and plans to expand further into Nigeria with 5G offerings in the near future, according to Ananyi.

Tizeti also plans to open up its WifiCall product to phone numbers outside of Nigeria starting in 2020.  “The way Africa skipped landlines and went straight to mobile, this is us saying the next level for our voice communications is to move toward voice IP networks,” Ananyi said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drone delivery startup Zipline launches UAV medical program in Ghana

Zipline, the San Francisco-based UAV manufacturer and logistics services provider, has launched a program in Ghana today for drone delivery of medical supplies.

Working with the Ghanaian government, Zipline will operate 30 drones out of four distribution centers to distribute vaccines, blood, and life-saving medications to 2000 health facilities across the West African nation daily.

“We’ll do 600 flights day…and serve 12 million people. This is going to be the largest drone delivery network on the planet,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch on a call from Accra.

“No one in Ghana should die because they can’t access the medicine they need in an emergency,” Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement. “That’s why Ghana is launching the world’s largest drone delivery service…a major step towards giving everyone in this country universal access to lifesaving medicine.”

The Ghana program adds a second country to Zipline’s live operations. Zipline got off the ground in Rwanda and has leveraged its experience in East Africa to begin testing medical delivery services in the United States.

Zipline has been making moves in Africa since at least 2016 — after it raised capital and solidified its mission to carve out a global revenue-generating business around UAV delivery of critical medical supplies.

To date, the startup has raised $41 million from investors including Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, and Subtraction Capital.

Founded in 2014, Zipline designs and manufactures its own UAVs, launch and landing systems, and logistics software. After a testing period in coordination with the government of Rwanda, Zipline went live in the East African country in 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

Through its non-profit foundation, the logistics giant UPS came in to partner with Zipline on the Rwanda program, and that support continues.

“They’re providing funding to build a lot of the infrastructure required, they are an adviser to us, and they provide some logistical support in moving equipment,” Rinaudo said of Zipline’s collaboration with the UPS Foundation. Zipline has also received grants and support from from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Pfizer .

Zipline then carried its experience in Africa to the U.S. In May 2018 the startup was accepted into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Out of 149 applicants, the Africa focused startup was one of 10 selected to participate in a drone pilot in the U.S.—and started testing beyond visual line of sight medical delivery services in North Carolina.

“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” says Rinaudo. “The economics of our business is pretty simple. We’re using small, electric, fully autonomous vehicles…these kinds of systems are much more efficient than the analog way of delivering things.”

Zipline is eyeing additional countries for delivery operations beyond Ghana, Rwanda, and its pilot operations in the U.S. “We’ll be launching in several additional countries, not all of which are in Africa,” said Rinaudo, though he declined to disclose specifics.

Zipline is well aware that its drone logistics systems have applications beyond medical supply chain services and Rinaudo confirmed moving cargo other than medical supplies is something Zipline has considered.

If the company moves toward other commercial applications, it could leverage its programs and relationships in Africa. The continent has become testbed for commercial drone delivery and regulatory structures.

Over the last two years South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots and Malawi opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and global partners. Over the same period, Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives. The government of Tanzania launched a medical drone delivery program in 2019, with DHL as one of the main partners.

In addition to its launch today in Ghana, Zipline plans to move from pilot-phase to live-delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. sometime this summer, a company spokesperson confirmed.

Acquisitions, more than IPOs, will create Africa’s early startup successes

Africa has made its global IPO debut. Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia—a $1 billion-valued company—began trading live on the NYSE last week.

The stock offering made Jumia the first upstart operating in Africa to list on a major global exchange.

This raises expectations for unicorns and IPOs to create the continent’s first wave of startup moguls. But unlike other markets, big public listings and nine-figure valuations could remain rare in Africa.

The rise of venture arms and startup acquisitions will factor more prominently than IPOs in creating Africa’s early startup successes.

I’ll break down why. First, a quick briefer.

Primer on African tech

Not everyone may be aware, but yes, Africa has a booming tech scene. When measured by monetary values, it’s minuscule by Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards.

DHL launches Africa eShop app for global retailers to sell into Africa

DHL is launching an e-commerce app called DHL Africa eShop for global retailers to sell goods to Africa’s consumers markets.

The platform goes live today and brings more than 200 U.S. and UK retailers—from Nieman Marcus to Carters—online in 11 African markets: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

DHL Africa eShop will operate using startup MallforAfrica.com’s white label service, Link Commerce. Payment methods will include local fintech options, such as Nigeria’s Paga and Kenya’s M-Pesa.

The announcement comes as e-commerce in Africa has seen some ups and downs—with online sales startup Jumia announcing an IPO, while several Africa digital retail ventures have recently faltered.

DHL Africa eShop takes advantage of shipping giant’s existing delivery structure on the continent, able to get goods to doorsteps near and far through its DHL Express shipping, tracking, and courier service.

DHL’s partner for the new app, MallforAfrica, has experience collaborating with DHL and a number of big name retailers, including Macy’s and Best Buy. Backed by Helios Investment Partners, MFA was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

MallforAfrica’s payment and delivery system serves as a digital broker and logistics manager for U.S. retailers that come online with the startup to sell their goods to African consumers.

DHL has been a MallforAfrica logistics partner since 2015 and in 2018, the two teamed up to launch MarketPlaceAfrica.com—an e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell their goods in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

For DHL Africa eShop, MallforAfrica’s Link Commerce service will facilitate local payments, procurement, and delivery, MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch.

“That’s what our service does. It takes care of that whole ecosystem to enable global e-commerce to exist, no matter what country you’re in,” he said.

In a statement, DHL Express CEO for Sub-Saharan Africa referred to the DHL Africa eShop app as something that “provides convenience, speed, and access to connect African consumers with exciting brands.” The DHL Africa app is also intended to fill a commercial void, according to DHL, as many U.S. and UK retailers do not ship to Africa.

E-commerce ventures, particularly in Nigeria, have captured the attention of VC investors looking to tap into Africa’s growing consumer markets. McKinsey & Company projects consumer spending on the continent to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025, with African e-commerce accounting for up to 10 percent of retail sales.

As mentioned, Africa’s e-commerce startup landscape has seen its own ups and downs. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia’s recent IPO filing on the NYSE is a first for any startup from Africa. MallforAfrica has also continued to expand into new countries, now operating in 17, with partners, such as DHL.

On the flip side, the distressed acquisition of Nigerian e-commerce hopeful Konga.com, backed by roughly $100 million in VC, created losses for investors. And in late 2018, Nigerian online sales platform DealDey shut down.

On a B2C level, DHL Africa eShop brings distinct advantages on a transaction cost basis (i.e., the cost of delivery) given it is connected to one of the world’s logistics masters, DHL.

Another component of DHL and MallforAfrica’s partnership is the market for offering e-commerce fulfillment services through MallforAfrica’s white label Link Commerce service.

This could put the duo on a footing to compete with (or work with) big e-commerce names entering Africa and adds another layer of competition with Jumia, which offers its own fulfillment services vertical in Africa.

As for the big global names, Alibaba has talked about Africa expansion, but for the moment has not entered in full.

Amazon offers limited e-commerce sales on the continent, but more notably, has started offering AWS services in Africa.

To watch is how DHL’s new Africa eShop business factors into the continent’s online-sales landscape. It could certainly serve as a new player in African e-commerce phase 2.0, now that the sector has shaken out some failures, produced an IPO, and drawn the attention of big global names.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cathay Capital and AfricInvest to raise $168M Africa VC fund

Tunisia based private equity firm Africinvest has teamed up with Cathay Capital — a global private equity firm based in Paris — to launch a new Africa tech fund with a target raise of $168 million.

Details are still forthcoming, but the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund will focus primarily on series A to C stage investments in African technology companies, says fund co-founder Denis Barrier.

“We’ll look at investments across several countries in Africa. We’ll focus on areas such as fintech, logistics, AI, agtech, and edutech,” Barrier says.

Barrier could not say when the fund would be closed, but did confirm investments could come as early as summer 2019.  He expects to see strong local showing for startups from across Africinvest’s 10 country offices in Abidjan, Algiers, Cairo, Casablanca, Dubai, Lagos, Nairobi, Paris and Port Louis, and Tunis. The firm will open an office in Johannesburg in the near future, according to a company release.

In the private equity space, both founding companies of the new Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund  carry considerable capital and scope. Co-founded by Denis Barrier and Mingpo Cai, Cathay Capital has $2.5 billion in assets under management and offices in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle-East.

Per Crunchbase, Africinvest’s 46 venture and debt investments span the brick and mortar side of many of the sectors the new tech fund looks to target, including education and banking.

With the line between banks and fintech also starting to blur in Africa, that could lead to an advantage for the Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund in sourcing deal flow.

The new investment group enters during a period when investment rounds and the number of funds focused on African startups continues to grow rapidly. By Shenzen or Silicon Valley standards, the value of VC to African startups—which surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2018 according to Partech—is minuscule. But by one estimate, that represents more than a one-hundred percent increase in VC to Africa over a four-year period.

The number of Africa focused VC firms globally has also grown, topping 51 in 2018 per TechCrunch and Crunchbase research.

The Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund takes the number of to 52.

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.