African fintech startup Chipper Cash raises $30M backed by Jeff Bezos

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has raised a $30 million Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital with participation of Bezos Expeditions — the personal VC fund of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Chipper Cash was founded in San Francisco in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The company offers mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout — a merchant-focused, fee-based payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business. The company has scaled to 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily. In June 2020, Chipper Cash reached a monthly payments value of $100 million, according to CEO Ham Serunjogi .

As part of the Series B raise, the startup plans to expand its products and geographic scope. On the product side, that entails offering more business payment solutions, crypto-currency trading options, and investment services.

“We’ll always be a P2P financial transfer platform at our core. But we’ve had demand from our users to offer other value services…like purchasing cryptocurrency assets and making investments in stocks,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has added beta dropdowns on its website and app to buy and sell Bitcoin and invest in U.S. stocks from Africa — the latter through a partnership with U.S. financial services company DriveWealth.

“We’ll launch [the stock product] in Nigeria first so Nigerians have the option to buy fractional stocks — Tesla shares, Apple shares or Amazon shares and others — through our app. We’ll expand into other countries thereafter,” said Serunjogi.

On the business financial services side, the startup plans to offer more API payments solutions. “We’ve been getting a lot of requests from people on our P2P platform, who also have business enterprises, to be able to collect payments for sale of goods,” explained Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash also plans to use its Series B financing for additional country expansion, which the company will announce by the end of 2021.

Jeff Bezos’s backing of Chipper Cash follows a recent string of events that has elevated the visibility of Africa’s startup scene. Over the past decade, the continent’s tech ecosystem has been one of the fastest growing in the world by year year-over-year expansion in venture capital and startup formation, concentrated in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Africa Top VC Markets 2019

Image Credits: TechCrunch/Bryce Durbin

Bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online has factored prominently. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

As such, fintech has become Africa’s highest-funded tech sector, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019. Even with the rapid venture funding growth over the last decade, Africa’s tech scene had been performance light, with only one known unicorn (e-commerce venture Jumia) a handful of exits, and no major public share offerings. That changed last year.

In April 2019, Jumia — backed by investors including Goldman Sachs and Mastercard — went public in an NYSE IPO. Later in the year, Nigerian fintech company Interswitch achieved unicorn status after a $200 million investment by Visa.

This year, Network International purchased East African payments startup DPO for $288 million and in August WorldRemit acquired Africa focused remittance company Sendwave for $500 million.

One of the more significant liquidity events in African tech occurred last month, when Stripe acquired Nigerian payment gateway startup Paystack for a reported $200 million.

In an email to TechCrunch, a spokesperson for Bezos Expeditions confirmed the fund’s investment in Chipper Cash, but declined to comment on further plans to back African startups. Per Crunchbase data, the investment would be the first in Africa for the fund. It’s worth noting Bezos Expeditions is not connected to Jeff Bezo’s hallmark business venture, Amazon.

For Chipper Cash, the $30 million Series B raise caps an event-filled two years for the San Francisco-based payments company and founders Ham Serunjogi and 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.

Chipper Cash founders Ham Serunjogi (R) and Maijid Moujaled; Image Credits: Chipper Cash

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds. The startup expanded into Nigeria and Southern Africa in 2019, entered a payments partnership with Visa in April and raised a $13.8 million Series A in June.

Chipper Cash founder Ham Serunjogi believes the backing of his company by a notable tech figure, such as Jeff Bezos (the world’s richest person), has benefits beyond his venture.

“It’s a big deal when a world class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said. “Ultimately, the winner of those things happening is the African tech ecosystem overall, as it will bring more investment from firms of that caliber to African startups.”

The DOJ has approved Mastercard’s acquisition of Finicity

Federal regulators have approved Mastercard’s acquisition of Salt Lake City-based startup Finicity, which provides open-banking APIs. The deal is expected to go for $825 million.

“We were notified that the Department of Justice completed its review of our planned acquisition of Finicity and has cleared it to move forward,” Mastercard wrote in a statement. “We are pleased to have reached this milestone.”

Finicity allows users to be able to decide how their financial information is shared and who can make money decisions on their behalf through open APIs. The buy will allow Mastercard to offer consumers and businesses more choice in these transactions, without requiring them to do heavy lifting themselves.

Finicity, according to Crunchbase, has raised nearly $80 million in known venture capital as a private company. When closed, it will be one of the largest fintech acquisitions at nearly $1 billion in 2020.

The DOJ approval comes just two weeks after the body filed an antitrust lawsuit challenging Visa’s proposed $5.3 billion buy of Plaid. Plaid, which empowers a large chunk of financial services through its data network, including Venmo and Acorns, is being accused of making Visa a monopoly in online debt services.

Plaid has denied these claims, saying that “Visa intends to defend the transaction vigorously.” The feds are also looking into Intuit’s $7 billion proposed buy of Credit Karma, which was first announced in February 2020.

The approval of the Mastercard-Finicity transaction could be a shot in the arm for fintech startup valuations. After both the Plaid and Credit Karma deals came under increasing regulatory scrutiny, it was an open questions whether big-dollar M&A was going to be an option for fintech unicorns.

If the path was closed due to regulatory concerns, fintech startups would have to either pursue earlier, smaller sales themselves, or wait for an eventual IPO. If that was the case, venture capitalists might shun putting as much capital to work in the sector. However, the Finicity approval makes it clear that not all fintech M&A worth $500 million or more is going to encounter oversight headaches. That should be welcome news for late-stage fintech valuations.

Daily Crunch: DOJ files suit to stop Plaid acquisition

The DOJ challenges Visa’s acquisition of a fintech startup, Apple releases the latest version of iOS and goPuff acquires an iconic alcohol retailer. This is your Daily Crunch for November 5, 2020.

The big story: DOJ files suit to stop Plaid acquisition

The Department of Justice is challenging Visa’s $5.3 billion acquisition of financial services startup Plaid. There were reports last month that the DOJ was investigating the acquisition, but now the department has actually filed suit.

“By acquiring Plaid, Visa would eliminate a nascent competitive threat that would likely result in substantial savings and more innovative online debit services for merchants and consumers,” DOJ argued.

Visa responded in a statement arguing that the suit shows “a lack of understanding of Plaid’s business and the highly competitive payments landscape in which Visa operates.”

The tech giants

Facebook takes down ‘Stop the Steal 2020’ group organizing around false claims of election chicanery — Facebook has taken down a group that had amassed more than 300,000 members while sharing misinformation and organizing around false allegations of impropriety during the 2020 elections.

Apple releases iOS 14.2 with new emojis and an accessibility feature that locates people with lidar — Among other things, this release introduces more than 100 new emojis.

Review: Microsoft’s Xbox Series X is ahead of its time — This thing has a lot of specs behind it.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Delivery startup goPuff acquires BevMo for $350M — This comes less than a month after goPuff announced a $380 million round that valued the startup at $3.9 billion.

Proctorio used DMCA to take down a student’s critical tweets — A series of tweets by one Miami University student that were critical of a proctoring software company have been hidden by Twitter after the company filed a copyright takedown notice.

Vivid Money raises $17.6M for its European challenger bank — Vivid Money is a challenger bank with a few nifty features.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Three tips for SaaS founders hoping to join the $1 million ARR club — Building a SaaS company is much, much more difficult if you approach it without a tried and true process.

Implementing a data-driven approach to guarantee fair, equitable and transparent employee pay — The lack of clarity can lead to confusion and negative feelings that affect our productivity and relationships with our employers.

Inside fintech startup Upstart’s IPO filing — The fintech startup facilitates loans between consumers and partner banks, an operation that attracted around $144 million in capital prior to its IPO.

(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

DOJ says it seized over $1 billion in bitcoin from the Silk Road drugs marketplace — In a statement today, the Justice Department confirmed it seized the 70,000 bitcoins generated in revenue from drug sales on the Silk Web marketplace.

NASA wants new and innovative storytelling tech to document its Artemis moon missions — NASA has issued a new request for proposals from partners that would be able to help it supplement its own storytelling in new and innovative ways.

Mixtape podcast: Wellness in the time of the struggle — Shine co-founder and co-CEO Marah Lidey discusses mental health, venture capital, portfolio diversity and connecting with other founders.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Interswitch to revive its Africa venture fund, CEO confirms

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

The Nigerian founder didn’t offer much new on the Lagos-based firm’s expected IPO, but he did reveal Interswitch will revive investments in African startups.

Founded by Elegbe in 2002, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly cash-based economy. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million people. Interswitch has expanded to offer personal and business payment products in 23 Africa countries.

The fintech firm achieved unicorn status in 2019 after a $200 million equity investment by Visa gave it a $1 billion valuation.

Reviving venture investing

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

But Interswitch will soon be back in the business of making startup bets and acquisitions, according to Elegbe. “We’ve just certified a team and the plan is to begin to make those kinds of investments again.”

He offered a glimpse into the new fund’s focus. “This time around we want to make financial investments and also leverage the network that Interswitch has and put that at the disposal of these companies,” Elegbe told TechCrunch.

“We’ll be very selective in the companies we invest in. They should be companies that Interswitch clearly as an entity can add value to. They should be companies that help accelerate growth by the virtue of what we do and the customers that we have,” he said.

Recent venture events in African tech have likely pressed Interswitch to get back in the investing arena. As an ecosystem, VC on the continent has increased (roughly) by a factor of four over last five years, to around $2 billion in 2019. But most of that has come from single-entity investment funds, while corporate venture funding (and tech M&A activity) has remained light. That’s shifted over the last several months and the entire uptick has occurred in African fintech around entities that could be viewed as Interswitch competitors.

In July, Dubai’s Network International acquired Kenya -based payment mobile payment processing company DPO for $288 million. Shortly after the acquisition, DPO’s CEO Eran Feinstein said the company would pursue more African acquisitions on its own. In June, another mobile-money payment processor, MFS Africa, acquired digital finance company Beyonic. And in August, South Africa’s Standard Bank—Africa’s largest by assets and lending—acquired a stake in fintech security firm TradeSafe.

Since the rise of Safaricom’s dominant M-Pesa mobile money product in Kenya, fintech in Africa has become infinitely larger and more competitive. The sector has hundreds of startups and now receives nearly 50% of all VC investment on the continent.

The opportunity investors and founders are chasing is bringing Africa’s large unbanked population and underbanked consumers and SMEs online. Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data, and mobile-based finance platforms have presented the best use-cases to shift that across the region.

Interswitch has established itself as a leader in the Africa’s digital finance race. But it’s hard to envision how it can maintain or extend that role without an active venture arm that invests in and acquires innovative, young fintech startups.

No news on IPO

Elegbe had less to offer on Interswitch’s long-anticipated IPO. Asked if the company still planned to list publicly, he offered up a non-answer answer. “At this point in time we’re focused on growing the business and creating value for our customers and that is the our primary focus.”

When pressed “yes or no” on whether an IPO was still a possibility Elegbe confirmed it was. “We have private equity investors and at some point in the life of the business they want exits.” he said. “When it is time for them to exit there are various options on the table and an IPO is an option.”

There’s been talk of an Interswitch IPO for years. In 2016, Elegbe told TechCrunch a dual-listing on the Lagos and London Stock Exchanges was possible. Then word came through other Interswitch channels that it was delayed due to recession and currency volatility in Nigeria in 2017. In November 2019, a source with knowledge of the situation told TechCrunch on background, “an IPO is still very much in the cards; likely sometime in the first half of 2020.” Then came the Covid-19 crisis and the accompanying global economic slump, which may have delayed Interswitch’s IPO plans yet again.

If and when the company goes public, it would be a major event for Nigerian and African fintech. No VC backed fintech firm on the continent has listed globally. Exits for Interswitch’s investors would likely attract to Nigeria and broader Africa more VC from major funds—many of whom remain on the fence about startup opportunities on the continent.

Focus on Africa

On global product expansion, Interswitch plans to maintain an African focus for now, Elegbe explained. “There are enough opportunities for Interswitch on the continent. We’d like to be in as many African countries as possible…and position Interswitch as the (financial) gateway to the continent,” he said.

Elegbe explained the company would continue to work through alliances with major financial services firms to open up global financial access for its African client base. In August 2019, Interswitch launched a partnership that allows its Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

CEO Mitchell Elegbe concluded his Disrupt session with some perspective on balancing the stigmas and possibilities of doing business in Nigeria. Over recent years the country has shifted to become an unofficial hub for big tech expansion, VC investment, and startup formation in Africa. But Nigeria continues to have a difficult operating environment with regard to infrastructure and is often associated with political corruption and instability in its Northeast region due to the Boko Haram insurgency.

“Nigeria has a very large population and a very large market. We have lots of challenges that need to be solved, but it makes sense to me that lots of money is finding its way to Nigeria because the opportunity is there,” he said.

Elegbe’s advice to tech investors considering the country, “Don’t take a short-termist view. There are good people on the ground doing fantastic work—honest people who want to make impact. You need to  seek those people out.”

Dear Sophie: How can I get my 2-year foreign residency requirement for my J-1 waived?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m entering my second year in the U.S. under a five-year J-1 research visa from Italy. When we came we thought it would be temporary, but our plans have changed and now we want to try to stay in the U.S. My husband started his own company here on his J-2 visa work permit, and our daughter was born here. However, we’re supposed to return to Italy for two years. How can we get a 212(e) waiver?

—Positive in Palo Alto

Dear Positive:

Congrats on your accomplishments — the birth of your daughter, your research position and your husband’s startup. Happy to share about the J-1 visa, the two-year home residency requirement (a section of the law called “212(e)”) and obtaining a waiver so you can seek a green card or another type of visa. For more background, check out my podcast on the two-year foreign residency requirement and filing a waiver and last weeks’ Dear Sophie column with an overview of the types of J-1 visas. The earlier you begin preparing your waiver application, the better.

The J-1 Educational and Cultural Exchange Visa is intended for people from around the globe to work or study in the U.S. and then take their newly acquired knowledge and skills back to their home country. Given that, it is not a direct path if you decide after your arrival to remain longer term in the U.S. I recommend working with an experienced immigration lawyer to devise a strategy for reaching your goals beyond getting a waiver. I also recommend talking with your employer to assess whether they can later sponsor you for a green card.

PayPal, Visa expand Instant Transfers for fast payouts globally on all PayPal’s networks

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to put huge stress on people’s and businesses’ finances, and in an effort to meet some of the crunch, today PayPal and Visa announced an expansion of a service to get cash into people’s hands faster. Instant Transfer — a service where PayPal lets people and businesses quickly access transferred funds by moving them to bank accounts (cutting down waiting time from days to seconds) — is expanding globally to both domestic and cross-border payments in international markets.

This will mean that consumers and businesses globally that send or receive money by PayPal, Venmo or Xoom, or via Braintree, Hyperwallet and iZettle product solutions (all of which are part of PayPal), will now be able to opt for the Instant Transfer option to get electronic funds faster. PayPal’s services use Visa Direct for making the payouts.

The service is a progression and expansion of Instant Transfers, which PayPal launched in March 2019, initially in the US.

The likes of Stripe and Square, as well as payments providers in other regions like Europe, have also launched products over the years to cut down the waiting time it typically takes for transferred funds to become usable by recipients over their platforms.

But in recent months that kind of feature has taken on an increased urgency. Businesses and individuals are living in leaner times, with many out of work and commerce gripped in general with a slowdown in buying and selling (despite the fact that some businesses, especially larger ones, have in fact seen a boost). All of that means that the turnaround time of needing to use the money that you receive from a contact has shortened, and more simply become significantly more necessary.

PayPal said that a recent survey it conducted found that 76% of small businesses in the US have reported that they are struggling with cash flow shortages, and 91% said the having real-time settlement could help with some of that.

There is another reason why PayPal is rolling this out globally and that is for more competitive edge in what is now a very crowded payments market. E-commerce, as we have pointed out before, is a very localised affair, with consumers and businesses in each country converging around their own preferred methods for making and receiving payments, which may or may not be the same as those in other markets (and that’s before you consider the the places where money gets spent also vary massively country by country).

That is something that PayPal has tried to address both through the launch of its own services, as well as via investments in other interesting startups. By offering Instant Transfers within its own products, it’s one way of bringing more people to using and transacting on its own platforms — which gives PayPal better returns even as it works on making PayPal a more flexible service that can be integrated and used with a number of other services, even those that seemingly compete with it.

“Sending money to loved ones or giving small businesses real-time access to earnings is critical during these challenging times,” said Jack Forestell, CPO, Visa, in a statement. “By partnering with PayPal on a global scale, we are bringing together two trusted brands to provide hundreds of millions of consumers and small businesses globally with quick and secure payment options that can help them maintain financial stability.”

Visa Direct has had a big boost in business already this year, Visa said, growing by some 80% in Q3 — underscoring the need for faster access to funds that are being sent virtually. Speeding up settlement is an important thing to get right for e-commerce businesses that are hoping to present themselves as a viable replacement or proxy for doing transactions the old fashioned way, in person, regardless of how the pandemic or social distancing measures play out in the longer term.

“Digital is quickly becoming the preferred way for people and businesses to move money,” said Jim Magats, SVP Omni Payments, PayPal, in a statement.  “While the global pandemic has dramatically accelerated the shift to digital, we see this move to digital as a long-term change that will outlast the pandemic. We’re excited to expand our partnership with Visa to help more customers around the world get faster access to their funds, which is all the more critical during these challenging times.”

With Robinhood’s UK launch delayed, eToro to bring out UK debit card following acquisition

Investment app eToro is to launch a debit card, following its acquisition of Marq Millions Ltd, the UK based e-money business. Marq Millions will now trade as eToro Money and will be the issuer for eToro’s card. The acquisition was for an undisclosed amount, and the Marq Millions management team stays on.

The card will initially be available to eToro Club members in the UK, then Europe, and will later be extended to non-eToro users. eToro has over 14 million registered users and expects take-up of the card to be strong.

A spokesperson said the card could now provide instant ‘cash-out and cash-in’ functionality to customers, a feature which their user-base has been requesting for a while.

The debit cards won’t launch immediately but will launch first in the UK, followed by other markets. eToro Money has a Principal Membership with VISA and an EMI License permission from the Financial Conduct Authority . This means they are likely to hit the ground running, subject to approval from the FCA.

Commenting on the acquisition, co-founder and CEO of eToro, Yoni Assia, said in a statement: “The launch of a debit card is a natural next step for eToro as we broaden the range of services that we provide to our users… The debit card will provide instant cash-out and cash-in functionality, greatly improving the user experience. We expect to see a strong take-up of the card – initially from our client base.”

eToro allows customers to invest in stocks and commodities, as well as crypto assets like Bitcoin. It claims to have 14 million registered users, all of whom share their investment strategies, similar to a social network. It’s regulated in Europe by the Cyprus Securities and Exchange Commission, by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK and by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Mahmood Kamran, former COO of Marq Millions and now Managing Director of eToro Money, commented: “We are incredibly excited to become part of the eToro Group. The backing of this leading global fintech, will allow us to issue a debit card which we are confident will become a market leader globally.”

The context to this is that eToro is racing to build up it’s UK user-base ahead of a potential launch by competitor Robinhood . The US-based investment platform , which has made waves in the US, has had to delay its UK launch “indefinitely” after one of its customers killed himself in the US, with the consequent regulatory interest in its activities.

Robinhood previously said it had a waiting list of more than 250,000 people in the UK ahead of a launch planned for this year, showing that there will likely be strong demand for eToro’s services, given it now has a ‘head start’.

eToro has had over 256,000 new registrations in the UK since it launched zero commission stocks in May last year, (over 3 million globally), and says it can afford to offer zero commission as it is multi-asset and global.

Uber Africa launches Uber Cash with Flutterwave and explores EVs

Uber is launching its Uber Cash digital wallet feature in Sub-Saharan Africa through a partnership with San Francisco based — Nigerian founded — fintech firm Flutterwave.

The arrangement will allow riders to top up Uber wallets using the dozens of remittance partners active on Flutterwave’s Pan-African network.

Flutterwave operates as a B2B payments gateway network that allows clients to tap its APIs and customize payments applications.

Uber Cash will go live this week and next for Uber’s ride-hail operations in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tanzania, according to Alon Lits — Uber’s General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Depending on the country, you’ve got different top up methods available. For example in Nigeria you can use your Verve Card or mobile money. In Kenya, you can use M-Pesa and EFT and in South Africa you can top up with EFT,” said Lits.

Uber Cash in Africa will also accept transfers from Flutterwave’s Barter payment app, launched with Visa in 2019.

The move could increase Uber’s ride traffic in Africa by boosting the volume of funds sent to digital wallets and reducing friction in the payment process.

Uber still accepts cash on the continent — which has one of the world’s largest unbanked populations — but has made strides on financial inclusion through mobile money.

Update on Uber Africa

Uber has been in Africa since 2015 and continued to adapt to local market dynamics, including global and local competition and more recently, COVID-19. The company’s GM Alon Lits spoke to TechCrunch on updates — including EV possibilities — and weathering the coronavirus outbreak in Africa.

Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa continued to run through the pandemic, with a couple exceptions. “The only places we ceased operations was where there were government directives,” Lits said. That included Uganda and Lagos, Nigeria.

Though he couldn’t share data, Lits acknowledged there had been a significant reduction in Uber’s Africa business through the pandemic, in line with the 70% drop in global ride volume Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed in March.

“You can imagine in markets where we were not allowed to operate revenues obviously go to zero,” said Lits.

Like Africa’s broader tech ecosystem, Uber has adapted its business to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Africa, which hit hardest in March and April and led to lockdowns in key economies, such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa

On how to make people feel safe about ride-hailing in a coronavirus world, Lits highlighted some specific practices. In line with Uber’s global policy, it’s mandatory in Africa for riders and drivers to wear masks.

“We’re actually leveraging facial recognition technology to check that drivers are wearing masks before they go,” said Lits. Uber Africa is also experimenting with impact safe, plastic dividers for its cars in Kenya and Nigeria.

Uber Africa Nairobi

Image Credits: Uber

In Africa, Uber has continued to expand its services and experiment with things the company doesn’t do in in any major markets. The first was allowing cash payments in 2016 — something Uber hopes the introduction of Uber Cash will help reduce.

Along with rival Bolt, Uber connected ride-hail products to Africa’s motorcycle and three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxi markets in 2018.

Uber moved into delivery in Africa, with Uber Eats, and recently started transporting medical supplies in South Africa through a partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Mobility Africa

In addition to global competitors, such as Bolt, Uber faces local competition as Africa’s mobility sector becomes a hotspot for VC and startups.

A couple trends worth tracking will be Uber’s potential expansion to Ethiopia and moves toward EV development in Africa.

On Ethiopia, the country has a nascent tech scene with the strongest demographic and economic thesis — Africa’s second largest population and seventh biggest economy — to become the continent’s next digital hotspot.

Ethiopia also has a burgeoning ride-hail industry, with local mobility ventures Ride and Zayride. Uber hasn’t mentioned (that we know of) any intent to move into the East African country. But if it does, that would serve as a strong indicator of the company’s commitment to remaining a mobility player in Africa.

Ampersand Africa e motorcycle

Ampersand in Rwanda, Image Credits: Ampersand

With regards to electric, there’s been movement on the continent over the last year toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use.

In 2019, Nigerian mobility startup MAX.ng raised a $7 million Series A round backed by Yamaha, a portion of which was dedicated to pilot e-motorcycles powered by renewable energy.

Last year the government of Rwanda established a national plan to phase out gas motorcycle taxis for e-motos, working in partnership with EV startup Ampersand.

And in May, Vaya Africa — a ride-hail mobility venture founded by mogul Strive Masiyiwa — launched an electric taxi service and solar charging network in Zimbabwe. Vaya plans to expand the program across the continent and is exploring e-moto passenger and delivery products.

On Uber’s moves toward electric in Africa, it could begin with two or three wheeled transit.

“That’s something we’ve been looking at in South Africa…nothing that we’ve launched yet, but it is a conversation that’s ongoing,” said Uber’s Sub-Saharan Africa GM Alon Lits.

He noted one of the challenges of such an electric model on the continent is lack of a robust charging infrastructure.

Even so, if Uber enters that space — with Vaya and others — emissions free ride-hail and delivery EVs buzzing around African cities could soon be a reality.

Belvo scores $10M from Founders Fund and Kaszek to scale its API for financial services

Belvo, a Latin American fintech startup which launched just 12 months ago, has already snagged funding from two of the biggest names in North and South American venture capital.

The company is aiming to expand the reach of its service that connects mobile applications in Mexico and Colombia to a customer’s banking information and now has some deep-pocketed investors to support its efforts. 

If the business model sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Belvo is borrowing a page from the Plaid playbook. It’s a strategy that ultimately netted the U.S. startup and its investors $5.3 billion when it was acquired by Visa in January of this year.

Belvo and its backers, who funneled $10 million into the year-old company, want to replicate Plaid’s success and open up an entire new range of financial services companies in Latin America.  

The round was co-led by Silicon Valley’s Founders Fund and Argentina’s Kaszek. With the new arsenal of capital complimented by the Founders Fund’s network and Kaszek’s deep knowledge of the Latin American market, Belvo hopes to triple its current team of 25 that is spread across operations in Mexico City and Barcelona. 

Since its initial establishment in May 2019, the company has raised a total of $13 million from Y Combinator (W20) along with some of the biggest players in Latin America’s startup scene. Those investors include David Velez, the co-founder of Brazil’s multi-billion dollar lending startup, Nubank; MAYA Capital and Venture Friends. 

The company’s co-founders, Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are no stranger to startups themselves. Viguera served as COO at European payments app Verse, and is a former general manager of one of the big European neo-banks, Revolut. Tintoré is a former NASA aerospace engineer, and while working for his Stanford MBA, founded Capella Space, an information collection startup that went on to raise over $50 million. 

The company said it aims to work with leading fintechs in Latin America, spanning across verticals like the neobanks, credit providers and personal finance products Latin Americans use every day.

Belvo has built a developer-first API platform that can be used to access and interpret end-user financial data to build better, more efficient and more inclusive financial products in Latin America. Developers of popular neobank apps, credit providers and personal finance tools use Belvo’s API to connect bank accounts to their apps to unlock the power of open banking.

Viguera says the capital will be used to open a new office in Sao Paulo, and invest in new product and business development hires. Notably, Belvo is only one year old, having launched in January 2020 and operative in Mexico and Colombia. 

Co-founders Pablo Viguera and Oriol Tintoré are a former Revolut GM and former NASA aerospace engineer.

 

Belvo’s latest funding also marks another instance of a U.S.-Latin America investment teamup for a Latin American company.

Nuvocargo, a logistics startup that wants to bolster the Mexico – U.S. trade lane with its freight transportation technology, also recently raised a round co-led by Mexico’s ALLVP and Silicon Valley-based NFX. American investors may be starting to take note of the co-investment opportunity of putting capital into startups serving the Latin American market in partnership with successful new wave domestic funds like Mexico’s ALLVP and Argentina’s Kaszek.  

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.