International growth, primarily in China, fuels the VC market today

The venture capital business model has gone global. VC is still an exclusive club of financiers, but now with worldwide scope and scale.

According to Crunchbase projections Crunchbase News reported in Q3 2018, worldwide VC deal and dollar volume each set new all-time records. In the U.S. and Canada, deal volume declined slightly from Q2 highs but growing deal sizes pushed total dollar volume to new heights.

Much of this global growth comes from markets outside the U.S. and Canada. A recent collaborative study between Startup Revolution and the Center for American Entrepreneurship indicates that Beijing, China was the city that contributed most to global growth in venture capital investment growth.

Here’s the geographic breakdown of projected deal volume over time. Note a somewhat choppy growth pattern in U.S. and Canadian deal volume, and compare that to a more consistent growth pattern in international deal volume. (For more about how and why Crunchbase makes these projections, check out the Methodology section at the end of the global report.)

In rapidly growing startup markets like China, venture deal volume is also at all-time highs, though venture dollar volume is down slightly.1 For the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, venture deal volume is up roughly 85 percent from the same time last year. Reported deal volume in China is up more than fourfold during the same period of time.

The rise of China’s venture market may be best seen from a city-level perspective. Below is a chart displaying the 10 most active startup cities in Q3, ranked by count of venture deals for each city as reported at the end of Q3. (The Methodology section of the global report also explains what “reported” data is and how it’s used.)

Of the top 10 cities displayed above, only three countries are represented. If it weren’t for the rest of Silicon Valley bolstering the Bay Area’s numbers, Beijing would beat out San Francisco in raw deal counts. (But, then again, Beijing is home to three times as many people as the entire Bay Area.)

Using deal and dollar volume as rough metrics for vivacity (if not necessarily health), this spread in VC activity could be seen as a good thing for the market as a whole. A rising tide of global VC activity lifts all startup markets, worldwide. However, much of that growth is still concentrated in just a few big markets.

The worldwide expansion and local reinterpretation of the Silicon Valley venture capital investment model is a phenomenon with which market participants (founders and funders alike) must reckon. Founders are responding by raising lots of money in ever-larger rounds, hoping that big investor checks are enough to buy large chunks of growing markets. Investors, in turn, are raising ever-larger funds to satiate these companies’ seemingly bottomless appetites for capital.

As in most mega-trends, participants who fail to adapt to changing market conditions will end up on the losing end of the market cycle.

  1. It should be noted that dollar volume declined mostly because Q2 numbers were skewed north by a $14 billion Series C round raised by Ant Financial. To this date, it’s the largest VC round ever closed.

With $50M in fresh funding, Allbirds will open new stores in the US, UK and Asia

The quintessential venture capitalist’s uniform consists of a pair of designer jeans, a Patagonia fleece vest and $95 wool sneakers.

The company behind the shoes, Allbirds, entered the unicorn club this morning with the announcement of a $50 million Series C from late-stage players T. Rowe Price, which led the round, Tiger Global and Fidelity Investments. The 3-year-old startup founded by Joey Zwillinger and Tim Brown has raised $75 million to date, including a $17.5 million Series B last year. Its backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Scooter Braun, Maveron, Lerer Hippeau and Elephant, the venture capital firm led by Warby Parker founder Andrew Hunt.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting the round values Allbirds at $1.4 billion. The company would not confirm that figure to TechCrunch.

Like Warby Parker, San Francisco-based Allbirds began as a direct-to-consumer online retailer but has since expanded to brick-and-mortar, opening stores in San Francisco and New York. It currently ships to locations across the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Next week, the company plans to open its first storefront in the U.K. in London’s Covent Garden neighborhood. It will begin shipping throughout the U.K. In 2019.

Using its latest investment, Allbirds will double down on its brick-and-mortar business. In addition to the U.K., the company says it will open even more locations in the U.S., as well as open doors in Asia in the coming months. Tiger Global, which has backed Allbirds since its Series B, may be of help. The firm has offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as partners across Asia.

Allbirds makes eco-friendly wool shoes for men, women and kids via its kid’s line, aptly named Smallbirds. The shoes are made out of sustainable materials, including merino wool, a fabric made from eucalyptus fiber that the company has dubbed “Tree” and “SweetFoam,” a shoe sole made from sugarcane-based, carbon-negative foam rubber.

“Climate change is the problem of our generation and the private sector has a responsibility to combat it,” Zwillinger, Allbirds’ chief executive officer, said in a statement. “This injection of capital will help us bring our sustainable products to more people around the globe, demonstrating that comfort, design and sustainability don’t have to live exclusive of each other.”

It’s been quite the year for venture investment in … shoes. Rothy’s, which makes sustainable ballet flats for women, has raised $7 million and launched a sneaker. Atoms, a maker of minimalist shoes, brought in $560,000 in seed funding from LinkedIn’s ex-head of growth Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital. And GOAT, the operator of an online sneaker marketplace, nabbed a $60 million Series C in February.

Gogoprint raises $7.7M to expand its online printing business in Asia Pacific

Gogoprint, a startup that is aiming to disrupt the traditional printing industry in Southeast Asia, has pulled in a $7.7 million investment as it prepares to expand its business in Asia Pacific.

We first profiled Gogoprint in 2016 soon after its launch the previous year, and since then the Bangkok-based company has expanded beyond Thailand and into Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Now, the company is looking to go beyond Southeast Asia and enter Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and other markets over the coming 12 months.

Those moves will be funded by this Series A round, which is led by existing Gogoprint backer OPG (Online Printing Group), an investment firm from Kai Hagenbuch who was an early backer of Brazil-based Printi. Printi previously sold a chunk of its business to printing giant VistaPrint through a 2014 investment and it is generally heralded as a startup success within its space.

Gogoprint claims to have worked with 45,000 companies to date. Its core services include printed business cards, flyers, booklets, posters and more, in addition to marketing collateral such as promotional pens, other stationary and flash drives.

Printing isn’t a particularly sexy space from the outside, but Gogoprint is aiming to upend the industry in Southeast Asia using something known as “batching.” That involves bundling a range of customer orders together for each print run to ensure that each sheet that’s sent to the printer is filled to capacity, or near capacity.

That sounds obvious, but traditional printing batches were almost always below capacity because each customer ordered individually with little option for batching. Gogoprint uses the internet to reach a wider number of customers which, using technology to batch jobs, means that it can handle more orders with fewer printer runs. That translates to cost savings for its business and lower prices for its customers. There are also benefits for the printers themselves, as they are guaranteed volume, which is no sure thing in today’s increasingly digital world.

Gogoprint joint managing director David Berghaeuser — who founded the company with fellow co-founder Alexander Suess — told TechCrunch that the company’s main pivot has been away from the idea it needed to own its printing facility in-house.

“When we started, we had this impression that as an online printer eventually we needed to own and operate our own machinery. But over one or two years we had a mindset shift when we realized there’s this option to operate this model as a pure marketplace — we’re definitely a marketplace and do not plan to own any printing machinery,” he explained.

A large part of that is because in Southeast Asia it simply isn’t practical to ship products overseas, both in terms of time and also the cost and hassle of importing. So Gogoprint has local partners in each market that it works with. Rather than “disrupting” the system, Berghaeuser argued that his company is making the process more efficient.

Gogoprint staff at the company’s office in Bangkok, Thailand

Gogoprint currently has around 125 staff, and there are plans to grow that number by an additional 30. In particular, Berghaeuser said the company is building out an internal structure that will enable it to scale — that includes the recent hiring of a CTO.

Berghaeuser explained that the company focuses on larger clients — such as Honda, Lazada and Lion Air — because of their higher average basket size and a higher chance of repeat customers, which he revealed is 60 percent on average. That’s achieved with a few tricks, which includes no design software on the website. Instead, Gogoprint customers upload their completed designs in any format. While he conceded the formats can be a pain, Berghaeuser clarified that the approach minimizes more hobbyist-type business, although he did say that the company is happy to work with customers of all sizes.

Gogoprint claims it grew its customer numbers by 200 percent over the past year but it declined to provide revenue details. Berghaeuser did say the company has a path to profitability that’s helped by “healthy” profit margins of 30-80 percent depending on the product.

Hagenbuch, the early backer of Printi in Brazil, is convinced that Gogoprint is on to a good thing in Asia.

“There are a handful of big-name online printers operating in the region. However, each of them has localized operations as they have been unable to truly expand regionally into Southeast Asia due to operational and market form factors,” he said in a statement

“Gogoprint has found the right formula to win more and more customers by creating true value: providing something that’s better at a cheaper price point, and with enhanced speed to market,” Hagenbuch added.

Freight trucking startup Shipwell gets a $10 million boost

Shipwell, a startup pitching a marketplace for domestic ground shipping and fleet and cargo management services for freight trucking companies, has raised $10 million in a new round of funding.

A booming American economy coupled with failing infrastructure and a low-margin business reluctant to adopt new technologies have put stress on domestic logistics companies in the $900 billion market for U.S. trucking services.

Shipwell combines a marketplace for shippers to connect with freight companies and online tools to manage those shipments. In effect, the company is pitching a version of the proprietary logistics management toolkit that has made Amazon so successful, to any retailer or outlet. 

We coordinate the freight, we pay the truckers, we help optimize the fleets,” says Shipwell president and co-founder, Jason Traff. 

Those services — and the company’s growing business among small and medium-sized suppliers to the construction industry — brought the Austin-based company to the attention of Fifth Wall Ventures, the Los Angeles based investment firm whose limited partners are among the biggest construction companies in the world.

For Fifth Wall the opportunity was clear. “Shipwell’s full-service, digitized brokerage platform can streamline the way many of our Anchor LPs and portfolio companies approach large-scale freight shipping,” the firm’s principal — and newest Shipwell board member — Vik Chawla wrote in a blog post announcing its most recent deal.

Fifth Wall led the company’s Series A round, which also included the new investor Global Founders Capital and previous investors First Round Capital, Base 10 Ventures, Capital Theory and Village Global .

The company’s business isn’t for big shippers that deal with thousands of shipments per-day, but rather the small and medium sized businesses that spend $100 million or less per-year on freight. And the small-fleet shipping companies that make up the bulk of the industry.

“In addition to the obvious use case for Shipwell customers who own warehousing, landlords can use Shipwell to become effective facilitators for their tenants,” according to Chawla. “Some Anchor LPs [the limited partners that provide capital for Fifth Wall to invest] are already engaged in this shipping ecosystem on behalf of their tenants, while others act as transport hubs. Beyond these, however, there are easy tie-ins within a number of key categories of Fifth Wall Anchors [sic] that regularly ship or receive freight—developers, of course, but also retail, office, homebuilding anchors.”

“We focus on the longer tail. If you are doing $50 million in freight per-year then you’re doing dozens of shipments per week,” said Traff. “Most of our freight is less than a truckload or a full truckload freight and it’s more long-haul.”

It hasn’t been a straight road for Traff and his co-founder Gregory Price. Traff originally got the startup bug in Asia, where he launched a company that would sell low-cost copies of old masters paintings. When he sold that business he moved back to the U.S. and pitched an idea to Y Combinator that eventually became Leaky, a car insurance company.

When Leaky shut down and its business was acquired by Navion in 2013, Traff moved to Austin to figure out his next move.I t was there that he ran into a fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus named Greg Price and the two began hatching schemes for the company that would become Shipwell.

The two men began planning the business in 2016 and only launched the service in the beginning of this year. “Supply chains were very complex and there was a lot of building to do,” Traff said. 

Shipwell makes money by charging a commission on freight services and fees for its freight management software platform.

Ultimately this could create a new model to unify a fragmented industry. “This connective approach makes all of the difference in an industry with so many small companies at play,” Chawla wrote. “A surprising 89% of freight trucks in the U.S. are owned by carriers with fewer than five total trucks, and 99% of freight carriers possess fewer than 10 total trucks in their fleet. Despite the big business of freight shipping in the U.S., it’s actually a fragmented market of small businesses.”

 

Study says the US is quickly losing its entrepreneurial edge

Photographer: Daro Sulakauri/Bloomberg

According to a new study conducted by the Center for American Entrepreneurship and NYU’s Shack Institute of Real Estate, the US may be losing its competitive advantage as the dominant nucleus of the startup and venture capital universe. 

The analysis, led by senior Brookings Institution fellow Ian Hathaway and “Rise of the Creative Class” author Richard Florida, examines the flow of venture capital over 100,000 deals from 2005 to 2017 and details how the historically US-centric practice of venture capital has become a global phenomenon.

While the US still appears to produce the largest amount of venture activity in the world, America’s share of the global pie is falling dramatically and doing so quickly.

In the mid-90s, the US accounted for more than 95% of global venture capital investment.  By 2012, this number had fallen to 70%. At the end of 2017, the US share of total venture investment had fallen to just 50%.   

Over the last decade, non-US countries have propelled growth in the global startup and venture economy, which has swelled from $50 billion to over $170 billion in size.  In particular, China, India and the UK now account for a third of global venture deal count and dollars – 2-3x the share held ten years ago.  And with VC dollars increasingly circulating into modernizing Asia-Pac and European cities, the researchers found that the erosion in the US share of venture capital is trending in the wrong direction.

Growth of global startup cities and the myth of the American “rise of the rest”

We’ve spent the summer discussing the notion of Silicon Valley reaching its parabolic peak – Observing the “rise of the rest” across smaller American tech hubs.  In reality, the data reveals a “rise in the rest of the world”, with startup ecosystems outside the US growing at a faster pace than most US hubs.

The Bay Area remains the world’s preeminent beneficiary of VC investment, and New York, Los Angeles, and Boston all find themselves in the top ten cities contributing to global venture growth.  However, only six of the top 20 cities are located in the US, while 14 are in Asia or Europe.  At the individual level, only two American cities crack the top 20 fastest growing startup hubs.  

Still, the authors found the bulk of VC activity remains highly concentrated in a small number of incumbent startup cities. More than 50% of all global venture capital deployed can be attributed to only six cities and half of the growth in VC activity over the last five years can be attributed to just four cities.  Despite the growing number of ecosystems playing a role in venture decisions, the dominant incumbent startup hubs hold a firm grip on the majority of capital deployed.

China and the surge of mega deals

Unsurprisingly, the largest contributor to the globalization of venture capital and the slimming share of the US is the rapid escalation of China’s startup ecosystem.

In the last three years, China has captured nearly a fourth of total VC investment.  Since 2010, Beijing contributed more to VC deployment growth than any other city, while three other Chinese cities (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen) fell in the top 15. 

A major part of China’s ascension can be tied to the idiosyncratic rise of late-stage “mega deals”, which the study defines as $500 million or more in size.  Once an extremely rare occurrence, mega deals now make up a significant portion of all venture dollars deployed.  From 2005-2007, only two mega deals took place.  From 2010-2012, eight of such deals took place.  From 2015-2017, there were 80 global mega deals, representing a fifth of the total venture capital activity.  Chinese cities accounted for half of all mega deal investment over the same period.

The good, the bad, and the uncertain

It’s not all bad for the US, with the study highlighting continued ecosystem growth in established US hubs and leading roles for non-valley markets in NY, LA, and Boston.

And the globalization of the startup and venture economy is by no means a “bad thing”.  In fact, access to capital, the spread of entrepreneurial spirit, and stronger global economic development and prosperity is almost unquestionably a “good thing.”

However, the US’ share of venture-backed startups is falling, and the US losing its competitive advantage in the startup and venture capital market could have major implications for its future as a global economic leader.  Five of the six largest US companies were previously venture-backed startups and now provide a combined value of around $4 trillion. 

The intense competition for talent marks another major challenge for the US who has historically been a huge beneficiary of foreign-born entrepreneurs.  With the rise of local ecosystems across the globe, entrepreneurs no longer have to flock to the US to build their companies or have access to venture capital.  The problem attracting entrepreneurs is compounded by notoriously unfriendly US visa policies – not to mention recent harsh rhetoric and tension over immigration that make the US a less attractive destination for skilled immigrants.  

At a recent speaking event, Florida stated he believed the US’ fading competitive advantage was a greater threat to American economic power than previous collapses seen in the steel and auto industries.  A sentiment echoed by Techstars co-founder Brad Feld, who in the report’s forward states, “government leaders should read this report with alarm.”

It remains to be seen whether the train has left the station or if the US can hold on to its position as the world’s venture leader.  What is clear is that Silicon Valley is no longer the center of the universe and the geography of the startup and venture capital world is changing.

The Rise of the Global Startup City: The New Map of Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital tries to illustrate these tectonic shifts and identifies tiers of global startup cities based on size, growth and balance of VC deals and investments.

Samsung forecasts record $15.5B profit thanks to chips not smartphones

Samsung’s last quarter of business saw its slowest growth of profits in a year thanks to weak sales of its flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone. But the company is about much more than just phones, and that’s why it is forecasting a record operating profit of nearly $15.5 billion for its upcoming Q3 results.

The Korean firm said in a filing that it expects to revenue jump five percent year-on-year to hit 65 trillion KRW ($57.5 billion) with an operating profit of 17.5 trillion KRW ($15.5 billion), which represents a 20 percent annual jump and an 18 percent increase on the previous quarter.

Samsung’s pre-earnings filings are brief and don’t contain detailed information about the performance of its business units, thus we can’t assess demand for its high-end phones — which include the Note 9 — in the quarter that Apple unveiled its newest iPhones. But the clues suggest that it is actually the more boring (but reliable) divisions that are, once again, responsible for Samsung’s strong forecast.

Chips account for some 80 percent of Samsung’s revenue and demand for DRAM, which is important in areas such as cloud, pushed prices up during Q3 but analysts suspect that the growth won’t last.

“Its earnings appeared to have peaked,” Mirae Asset Daewoo Securities analyst William Park told Reuters. “DRAM prices are going to fall, although not dramatically, and that will negatively impact its margins.”

We’ll know more when Samsung releases its full earnings this month.

China reportedly infiltrated Apple and other US companies using ‘spy’ chips on servers

Ready for information about what may be one of the largest corporate espionage programs from a nation-state? The Chinese government managed to gain access to the servers of more than 30 U.S. companies, including Apple, according to an explosive report from Bloomberg published today.

Bloomberg reports that U.S-based server motherboard specialist Supermicro was compromised in China where government-affiliated groups are alleged to have infiltrated its supply chain to attach tiny chips, some merely the size of a pencil tip, to motherboards which ended up in servers deployed in the U.S.

The goal, Bloomberg said, was to gain an entry point within company systems to potentially grab IP or confidential information. While the micro-servers themselves were limited in terms of direct capabilities, they represented a “stealth doorway” that could allow China-based operatives to remotely alter how a device functioned to potentially access information.

Once aware of the program, the U.S. government spied on the spies behind the chips but, according to Bloomberg, no consumer data is known to have been stolen through the attacks. Even still, this episode represents one of the most striking espionage programs from the Chinese government to date.

The story reports that the chips were discovered and reported to the FBI by Amazon, which found them during due diligence ahead of its 2015 acquisition of Elemental Systems, a company that held a range of U.S. government contracts, and Apple, which is said to have deployed up to 7,000 Supermicro servers at peak. Bloomberg reported that Amazon removed them all within a one-month period. Apple did indeed cut ties with Supermicro back in 2016, but it denied a claim from The Information which reported at the time that it was based on a security issue.

Amazon, meanwhile, completed the deal for Elemental Systems — reportedly worth $500 million — after it switched its motherboard provider away from Supermicro.

Supermicro, meanwhile, was suspended from trading on the Nasdaq in August after failing to submit quarterly reports on time. The company is likely to be delisted.

Amazon, Apple, Supermicro and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs all denied Bloomberg’s findings with strong and lengthy statements — a full list of rebuttals is here. The publication claims that it sourced its information using no fewer than 17 individuals with knowledge of developments, including six U.S. officials and four Apple “insiders.”

You can (and should) read the full story on Bloomberg here.

ZTE hit with 2-year ‘monitoring’ extension after breaking probation terms

Embattled Chinese tech firm ZTE narrowly survived after the U.S. Department of Commerce hit it with a $1 billion fine and forced changes to its business earlier this year, and. Now it is back in the news for negative reasons after it was judged to have broken the probation around a fine that it copped in 2017.

The company agreed to pay $892 million last March after pleading guilty to charges of violating U.S.-Iran sanctions — the same issue that triggered the initial ban from the Department of Commerce. A condition of that 2017 deal was that the company would be ‘monitored’ until 2020 to ensure against repeat offenses. That term has been extended by a further two years by a U.S. court — as Reuters reports — it had “falsely disciplined” employees who were part of the Iran trading activities.

ZTE had been required to terminate the senior members of staff and discipline the others involved.

ZTE disclosed the extension in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange. It added that the court-appointed monitor will also be given access to the same information as the monitor tied to the Department of Commerce. That means copmpany documents, information, facilities and personnel.

The company is the second largest provider of telecoms equipment in the world, it has over 75,000 employees and is suspected of close ties with the government. However, it is dependent on U.S-based companies for certain components which is why it is caught up in U.S. politics and regulators.

Before the fine earlier this year, it looked like the company was finished. The Trump administration banned U.S. companies from selling components to ZTE for seven years but the President himself spearheaded an unexpected reprieve that saw ZTE pay the fine and make operational changes. Trump’s move was part of a wider and ongoing trade war that the U.S. and China have fought out using trade tariffs.

Africa Roundup: Paga goes global and 4 startups raise $99M in VC

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for international expansion with a $10 million round led by the Global Innovation Fund.

The company is exploring the release of its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he said of Kenya’s MPesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Launched in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay bills, and buy things digitally 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu. He joined Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge and Helios Investment Partners’ Fope Adelowo at Disrupt San Francisco to discuss fintech and Africa’s tech ecosystem.

South African fintech startup Jumo raised a $52 million round (led by Goldman Sachs) to bring its fintech services to Asia. The company—that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa—has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way.

The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors and also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments.

Launched in 2014, Jumo specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses.

To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year. Jumo is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing.

Lagos based Paystack raised an $8 million Series A round led by Stripe.

In Nigeria the company’s payment API integrates with tens of thousands of businesses, and in two years it has grown to process 15 percent of all online payments.

In 2016, Paystack became the first startup from Nigeria to enter Y Combinator, and the incubator is doing some follow-on investing in this round.

Other strategic investors in this Series A include Visa and the Chinese online giant Tencent, parent of WeChat and a plethora of other services. Tencent also invested in Paystack’s previous round: the startup has raised $10 million to date.

Paystack integrates a wide range of payment options (wire transfers, cards, and mobile) that Nigerians (and soon, those in other countries in Africa) use both to accept and make payments. There’s more about the company’s platform and strategy in this TechCrunch feature.

South African startup Yoco raised $16 million in a new round of funding to expand its payment management and audit services for small and medium-sized businesses as it angles to become one of Africa’s billion-dollar businesses.

To get there the company that “builds tools and services to help SMEs get paid and manage their business” plans to tap $20 billion in commercial activity that the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Katlego Maphai estimates is waiting to move from cash payments to digital offerings.

Yoco offers a point of sale card reader that links to its proprietary payment and performance software at an entry cost of just over $100.

With this kit, cash-based businesses can start accepting cards and tracking metrics such as top-selling products, peak sales periods, and inventory flows.

Yoco has positioned itself as a missing link to “solving an access problem” for SMEs. Though South Africa has POS and business enterprise providers — and relatively high card (75 percent) and mobile penetration (68 percent) — the company estimates only 7 percent of South African businesses accept cards.

Yoco says it is already processing $280 million in annualized payment volume for just under 30,000 businesses.

The startup generates revenue through margins on hardware and software sales and fees of 2.95 percent per transaction on its POS devices.

Yoco will use the $16 million round on product and platform development, growing its distribution channels, and acquiring new talent.

Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, and looks to expand in South America and Asia.

Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.

“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white-label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.

With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.

Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.

Nwokah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”

As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.

 

Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom is betting big on African startups by rolling out multiple sponsorships and free internet across key access points to the continent’s tech entrepreneurs.

The Econet Wireless subsidiary is also partnering with local and global players like Afrilabs and Microsoft­­ to create a cross-border commercial network for the continent’s startup community.

“We believe startups will be key employers in Africa’s future economy. They’re also our future customers,” Liquid Telecom’s Head of Innovation Partnerships Oswald Jumira told TechCrunch.

With 13 offices on the continent, Liquid Telecom’s core business is building the infrastructure for all things digital in Africa.

The company provides voice, high-speed internet, and IP services at the carrier, enterprise, and retail level across Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. It operates data centers in Nairobi and Johannesburg with 6,800 square meters of rack space.

Liquid Telecom has built a 50,000 kilometer fiber network, from Cape Town to Nairobi and this year switched on the Cape to Cairo initiative—a land-based fiber link from South Africa to Egypt.

Though startups don’t provide an immediate revenue windfall, the company is betting they will as future enterprise clients.

“Step one…in supporting startups has been….supporting co-working spaces and events with sponsorships and free internet,” Liquid Telecom CTO Ben Roberts told TechCrunch. “Step two is helping startups to adopt…business services.”

Liquid Telecom provides free internet to 30 hubs in seven countries and is active sponsoring startup related events.

On the infrastructure side, it’s developing commercial services for startups to plug into.

“At the early stage and middle stage, we’re offering startups connectivity, skills development, and access to capital through the hubs,” said Liquid Telecom’s Oswald Jumira.

“When they reach the more mature level, we’re focused on how we can scale them up…and be a go to market partner for them. To do that they’ll need to leverage…cloud services.”

Microsoft and Liquid Telecom announced a partnership in 2017 to offer cloud services such as Microsoft’s Azure, Dynamics 365, and Office 365 to select startups through free credits—and connected to comp packages of Liquid Telecom product offerings.

On the venture side, Liquid Telecom doesn’t have a fund but that could be in the cards.

“We haven’t yet started investing in startups, but I’d like to see that we do,” said chief technology officer Ben Roberts. “That can be the next move onwards… from having successful business partnerships.”

And finally, tickets are now available here for Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos this December. The first two speakers were also announced, TLcom Capital senior partner and former minister of communication technology for Nigeria Omobola Johnson and Singularity Investment’s Lexi Novitske will discuss keys to investing across Africa’s startup landscape.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around the Net

SoftBank and Toyota team up to develop services powered by self-driving vehicles

SoftBank is getting into self-driving car services after the Japanese tech giant announced a joint-venture with Toyota in its native Japan.

SoftBank is invested in Uber and a range of other ride-hailing startups like Didi in China and Grab in Southeast Asia, but this initiative with Toyota is not related to those deals. Instead, it is designed to combine SoftBank’s focus on internet-of-things technology and Toyota’s connected vehicle services platform to enable new types of services that run on autonomous vehicle tech.

Called MONET — after ‘mobility network’ — the joint venture will essentially assign autonomous vehicles to various different “just in time” services. That just in time caveat essentially means more than on-demand. SoftBank suggests it’ll mean that services are performed in transit. That could be food prepared as it is delivered, hospital shuttles that host medical examinations, or mobile offices, according to examples given by SoftBank.

The plan is to use Toyota’s battery-based e-Palette electric vehicles and begin a roll “by the second half of the 2020s.” SoftBank said that the business will be focused on the Japanese market with “an eye to future expansion on the global market.”

Toyota has made strong progress on self-driving vehicles, having debuted its 3.0 self-driving research car earlier this year and then, in March, created a new $2.8 billion business that’s focused on developing requisite software systems. That latter program is designed to work alongside the Toyota Research Institute which, fueled by a $1 billion grant, is pushing the firm’s autonomous tech strategy.

Toyota is also aligned with Uber on ride-hailing. The firm invested $500 million in Uber and $1 billion in Grab via deals this year.

Back in January at CES, Toyota said that it is working with Amazon, Uber, Didi, Mazda and Pizza Hut to develop an electric autonomous shuttle that can be used to deliver people or packages. The business alliances were created to focus on the development of the e-Palette.

SoftBank’s autonomous vehicle projects including a bus that it is developing in partnership with China’s Baidu.