Category : Science & Tech

Other News / Science & Tech - 5 days ago

Kenya’s Apollo Agriculture raises $6M Series A led by Anthemis

Apollo Agriculture believes it can attain profits by helping Kenya’s smallholder farmers maximize theirs. That’s the mission of the Nairobi-based startup that raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Anthemis. Founded in 2016, Apollo Agriculture offers a mobile-based product suit for farmers that includes working capital, data analysis for higher crop yields and options to purchase key inputs and equipment. “It’s everything a farmer needs to succeed. It’s the seeds and fertilizer they need to plant, the advice they need to manage that product over the course of the season. The insurance they need to protect themselves in case of a bad year…and then, ultimately, the financing,” Apollo Agriculture CEO Eli Pollak told TechCrunch on a call. Apollo’s addressable market includes the many smallholder farmers across Kenya’s population of 53 million. The problem it’s helping them solve is a lack of access to the tech and resources to achieve better results on their plots. The startup has engineered its own app, platform and outreach program to connect with Kenya’s farmers. Apollo uses M-Pesa mobile money, machine learning and satellite data to guide the credit and products it offers them. The company — which was a Tec...

Other News / Science & Tech - 6 days ago

African countries need ‘startup acts’ more than ever to support innovation

Adedana Ashebir Contributor Share on Twitter Adedana Ashebir is regional manager for Africa for Village Capital, which has supported more than 100 entrepreneurs and 15 entrepreneur support organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2012. As the fallout from COVID-19 continues to grip Africa’s major economies, the tech ventures in those countries need state support. National legislation that creates clear frameworks and operational support for startups are one of the best ways to help Africa’s digital companies survive and thrive through the coronavirus crisis — and improve their environment over the long term. Africa has dozens of thriving startup ecosystems that are persevering through this crisis, but now more than ever, they need a boost. The gains made by founders thus far are in danger due to the ongoing economic slowdown. The World Bank estimates that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa alone will decline from 2.4% last year to -2.1 to -5.1% this year. If correct, the region will experience its first recession in a quarter of a century. Now is the time for something that was already long-overdue in many African countries: political leaders should support startups through national startup acts. Village Capi...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 week ago

Opera’s OPay still plans Africa expansion on Nigerian super app

Opera’s Africa fintech startup OPay remains committed to building a multi-service super app in Nigeria as the foundation to expand on the continent. OPay also continues to operate ORide for limited passenger service — though the company is shifting the motorcycle ride-hail operation toward logistics businesses. These were some of the updates offered by Opera’s Derrick Nueman, a VP of Investor Relations and advisor to OPay. He spoke to TechCrunch amid a flurry of recent reporting questioning OPay’s Nigeria strategy and speculating on its departure from certain verticals. This is playing out in the context of fierce competition among fintech and mobility companies in the West African country. Nigeria is home to the continent’s largest economy, biggest population and is the top destination for VC to African startups, as of 2019. Opera launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos in 2018 on the popularity of its internet search engine in Africa. A year later, the Norway-based, Chinese-owned company sent jitters through Nigeria’s startup world when it rallied investors to back OPay with $170 million in VC. The financing haul amounted to nearly one-fifth of all venture funding raised for African startups the previous year. Image Credits: Opera Opera...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 week ago

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 le...

Other News / Science & Tech - 2 weeks ago

Nigeria’s Helium Health raises $10M Series A for Africa expansion

Nigerian startup Helium Health sits in a good position during a difficult period, according to its co-founder. The Lagos based healthtech venture is in the black, has batted away acquisition offers, and just raised a $10 million Series A round, CEO Adegoke Olubusi told TechCrunch. The startup offers a product suit that digitizes data, formalizes monetization and enables telemedicine for health care systems in Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana. Helium plans to use the latest funding round to hire and expand to North and East Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Morocco, Olubusi confirmed on a call. He co-founded the startup in 2016 — with Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia — to bring better delivery of medical services in Nigeria and broader Africa. “It’s really about tackling three core problems that we see in the healthcare sector in Africa: inefficiency, fragmentation and a lack of data,” said Olubusi. When he and co-founders Sofowora and Oviato set out doing research for Helium, they noted a data desert on medical info across the continent’s healthcare infrastructure. “We figured out very quickly that that is a long term problem to solve. And the best way to get the data and access to it is to give simple technology to the providers and let them use...

Other News / Science & Tech - 2 weeks ago

Andela CEO confirms staff cuts as layoffs hit African tech

Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela has let go 135 employees, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch. Senior staff at the company — with offices in New York and four African countries — will also take salary cuts of 10% to 30%. The compensation and staff reductions are a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis and bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs. Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects. There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to its CEO. “The vast majority of our customers have stayed with us. But new business has slowed down dramatically,” Johnson told TechCrunch on a call. “Like any venture-backed startup, we’re built for growth. And so if growth is gonna slow dramatically, your [cost] burden has to come down.” Andela’s Nigeria office (Image Credits: Andela) The company is also preparing for the possibility of hard economic times moving forward. “We already know this is going to have a material im...

Other News / Science & Tech - 2 weeks ago

Why COVID-19 could delay Interswitch, Africa’s next big IPO

The economic effects of COVID-19 could delay Africa’s next big IPO — that of Nigerian fintech unicorn Interswitch. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time the Lagos-based payments company’s plans for going public were postponed; the tech world has been anticipating Interswitch’s stock market debut since 2016. For the continent’s innovation ecosystem, there’s a lot riding on the digital finance company’s IPO. After e-commerce venture Jumia, it would become only the second listing of a VC-backed African tech company on a major exchange. And Interswitch’s stock market debut — when it occurs — could bring more investor attention and less controversy to the region’s startup scene. What is Interswitch? TechCrunch reached out to Interswitch on the window for listing, but the company declined to comment. The tech firm’s path from startup to IPO aspirant traces back to the vision of founder Mitchell Elegbe, a Nigerian electrical engineering graduate whose entire career has pretty much been Interswitch. Africa’s tech scene is still fairly young, but it does have a timeline with several definitive points. An early one would be the success of mobile money in East Africa, with the launch of Safaricom’s M-Pesa in 2007. Anothe...

Other News / Science & Tech - 3 weeks ago

Africa Roundup: Visa connects to M-Pesa, Flutterwave enters e-commerce

It seems the demand for Safaricom’s M-Pesa payment product never eases. Since its 2007 launch in Kenya, the fintech app has commanded over 70% of the mobile money market in that country. When COVID-19 hit the East African nation of 53 million in March, the Kenyan Central Bank turned to M-Pesa as a public health tool to reduce use of cash. And last month, one of the world’s financial services giants — Visa — connected M-Pesa to its global network. Visa and Safaricom — which is Kenya’s largest telecom and operator of M-Pesa — announced a partnership on payments and tech. The arrangement opens up M-Pesa’s own extensive financial services network in East Africa to Visa’s global merchant and card network across 200 countries. The companies will also collaborate “on development of products that will support digital payments for M-Pesa customers.” The partnership is still subject to regulatory approval. The details remain vague, but the payment providers also said they will use the collaboration to facilitate e-commerce. Images Credits: Getty Images On a continent that is still home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population, Kenya has one of the highest mobile-money penetration rates in the world. This is largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa...

Other News / Science & Tech - 3 weeks ago

African fintech firm Flutterwave launches SME e-commerce portal

San Francisco and Lagos-based fintech startup Flutterwave has launched Flutterwave Store, a portal for African merchants to create digital shops to sell online. The product is less Amazon and more eBay — with no inventory or warehouse requirements. Flutterwave insists the move doesn’t represent any shift away from its core payments business. The company accelerated the development of Flutterwave Store in response to COVID-19, which has brought restrictive measures to SMEs and traders operating in Africa’s largest economies. After creating a profile, users can showcase inventory and link up to a payment option. For pickup and delivery, Flutterwave Store operates through existing third party logistics providers, such as Sendy in Kenya and Sendbox in Nigeria. The service will start in 15 African countries and the only fees Flutterwave will charge (for now) are on payments. Otherwise, it’s free for SMEs to create an online storefront and for buyers and sellers to transact goods. While the initiative is born out of the spread of coronavirus cases in Africa, it will continue beyond the pandemic. And Flutterwave’s CEO Olugbenga Agboola — aka GB — is adamant Flutterwave Store is not a pivot for the fintech company, which is an alum of Silicon Valley accelerator...

Other News / Science & Tech - 3 weeks ago

Goldman-backed ventures Jumia and Twiga partner on produce in Kenya

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia and B2B agtech startup Twiga Foods are partnering to deliver produce in Kenya using adaptive measures during COVID-19. Jumia offers online goods and services verticals in 11 countries and became the first VC funded tech company in Africa to list on a major exchange, the NYSE. Based in Nairobi, Twiga raised a $30 million Series B round in October and announced plans to expand its food supply-chain business to West Africa. Both companies are backed by venture capital from U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs . Per the partnership, Jumia will sell bundles of Twiga’s fresh produce on its e-commerce website. Jumia’s delivery fleet will pick up orders from Twiga’s sorting and distribution centers and then complete last mile, contactless delivery. The transactions will be cashless only using Jumia’s JumiaPay app, according to Jumia Kenya CEO Sam Chappatte. Image Credits: Jumia Kenya’s website The arrangement is meant to leverage the strengths of both companies, while providing a safer and more affordable way for households to obtain foodstuffs through the coronavirus crisis, which started to hit East Africa last month. Co-founded in Nairobi in 2014 by Peter Njonjo and Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods is focused primarily on c...

Other News / Science & Tech - 4 weeks ago

Nigeria’s Okra raises $1M from TLcom connecting bank accounts to apps

A new Nigerian fintech venture, Okra, has racked up a unique mix of accomplishments in less than a year. The Lagos based API developer created a product that generates revenues from both payment startups and established financial institutions. Okra has raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from TLcom Capital — a $71 million Africa focused VC firm that rarely invests in early-stage companies or fintech. The startup is also poised to enter new markets and it’s hiring. Founded in June 2019 by Nigerians Fara Ashiru Jituboh and David Peterside, Okra casts itself as a motherboard for the continent’s 21st century financial system. “We’re building a super-connector API that…allows individuals to connect their bank accounts directly to third party applications. And that’s their African bank accounts starting in the largest market in Africa, Nigeria,” said Ashiru Jituboh. As a sector, fintech has become the continent’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to African startups in 2019. Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion. By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the contine...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 month ago

In Nigeria, PalmPay waives fees and creates ₦100M COVID-19 payout fund

Africa-focused payment startup PalmPay will waive transfer fees in Nigeria and offer direct payouts to customers who have contracted COVID-19 in the West African country. The venture — that launched in 2019 backed by China’s Transsion —  has created the PalmPay Support Fund. The initiative will start with 100 million Naira (≈ $300K) and offer individual payments of 100,000 Naira (≈ $250) to PalmPay customers who have contracted the coronavirus. The startup will expand the fund’s value by providing a matching gift per customer transaction for at least on month. PalmPay will also extend the fund to offer grants to organizations working on coronavirus mitigation and assistance efforts in Nigeria. On the structure of the initiative — and adding a matching function — PalmPay aims to create interactivity with its clients on coronavirus relief efforts. “We want to provide relief…and get our customers feeling that they’re adding something to it as well,” PalmPay CEO Greg Reeve told TechCrunch on a call. The company has created a page on its app for applications and funds dispersal. PalmPay is working with Nigeria’s Center for Disease Control on a verification process to confirm those who apply have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Reev...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 month ago

African genomics startup 54gene raises $15M led by Adjuvant Capital

Greater availability of African genomic data could lead to medical breakthroughs for the continent’s 1.2 billion people. That’s the driving proposition of 54gene — a U.S. and Nigeria-based startup — that collects African genetic code for use in health research and drug development. The company has closed a $15 million Series A round, in part, to address a deficiency in these processes. “As of the time we launched, less then 3% of all genome wide association studies globally had been conducted in Africa. There was a lack of data coming from Africans… and the diaspora,” 54gene founder and CEO Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong said. “We are trying to address the gap that currently exists in precision medicine for people of the African continent,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos. New York-based Adjuvant Capital led the round 54gene will now deploy toward that goal. Founded in 2019 by Ene-Obong, the company is headquartered in Washington, DC with a biobank facility in Lagos that holds capacity for 60,000 samples. The startup has an engineering team and a proprietary platform to catalog and analyze the genetic data. Image Credits: 54gene 54gene also has over 300 researchers, clinicians and geneticists across the continent and a research lab in Nig...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 month ago

Visa’s Africa strategy banks on startup partnerships

Visa has prioritized growth in Africa, and partnering with startups is central to its strategy. This became obvious in 2019 after the global financial services giant entered a series of collaborations on the continent, but Visa confirmed it in their 2020 Investor Day presentation. On the company’s annual call, participants mentioned Africa 28 times and featured African startups prominently in the accompanying deck. Visa’s president for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA), Andrew Torre, detailed the region’s payments potential and his company’s plans to tap it. “We’re partnering with non-conventional players to realize this potential — fintechs, neobanks and digital wallets — to reach the one billion consumer opportunity,” he said. Africa strategy and team TechCrunch has covered a number of Visa’s Africa collaborations and spoke to two execs driving the company’s engagement with startups from Nigeria to South Africa. Visa’s head of Strategic Partnerships, Fintech and Ventures for Africa, Otto Williams, has been out front, traveling the continent and engaging fintech founders. Located in Cape Town, Visa’s group general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Aida Diarra, oversees the company’s operati...

Other News / Science & Tech - 1 month ago

Africa Roundup: Africa’s tech ecosystem responds to COVID-19

In March, the virus gripping the world — COVID-19 — started to spread in Africa. In short order, actors across the continent’s tech ecosystem began to step up to stem the spread. Early in March, Africa’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits, but by mid-month those numbers had spiked leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm. “About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference on March 19. “It has been an extremely rapid…evolution.”  By the World Health Organization’s stats Tuesday there were 3,671 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 87 confirmed deaths related to the virus, up from 463 cases and 8 deaths on March 18. As COVID-19 began to grow in major economies, governments and startups in Africa started measures to shift a greater volume of transactions toward digital payments and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus. Kenya, Africa’s leader in digital payment adoption, turned to mobile money as a public-health tool. At the urging of the Central Bank and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the country’s largest telecom, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-mon...

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