A look back at the year that the Sub-Saharan African startup scene found its stride


African tech in 2017 was about the normalization of market events mostly absent even a decade ago. There were acquisitions, multiple investment rounds, lots of expansion, big strategic partnerships, and some surprise failures.

Africa is fast becoming home to a dynamic tech sector. Here’s a snapshot of the news that shaped that transition over the last year.

Investment

Andela’s $40 million VC raise in October was one of the continent’s most notable. The technology training and job placement firm received Series C funding from CRE Venture Capital, DBL Partners, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Salesforce Ventures, among others.

Andela said it would use the funds for continued expansion. The coding accelerator marked three years in May by adding a Uganda office to locations in New York, Nigeria, and Kenya.

New investment also helped moved Africa’s startup boom into the used autos space. In May, Nigeria based Cars45.com raised a $5 million Series A round from the Frontier Cars Group to better connect used car sellers to digital price quotes, first time online service histories, and offers.

Twenty-seventeen fintech funding went to Nigerian startups Flutterwave ($10 million) and Lidya ($1.25 million).  In digital solar, Kenya’s PayGo Energy raised $1.4 million.

Agtech startup Farmcrowdy received $1 million from investors including Techstars Ventures and Cox Enterprises to bring Nigerian farmers online.

In April, South African media and technology giant Naspers made a $70 million (majority stake) investment in Cape Town based e-commerce company Takealot.

South African digital cleaning startup Sweep South concluded a Series-A Round backed by, among others, DJ Black Coffee.

Several new African tech funding initiatives emerged in 2017. GSMA’s Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund made 7 of its first 9 global investments in African startups.

Lagos, London, and Nairobi based TLcom Capital raised $40 million for its new growth stage Tide Africa Fund. In April, The World Bank launched its XL Africa accelerator to support Sub-Saharan African startups with business mentoring and up to $1.5 million in early stage capital.

In October, U.S. based private equity firm TPG Growth raised $2 billion for The Rise Fund, founded by TPG CEO Bill McGlashan with Bono’s support.

In perhaps a sign of things to come, Africa also registered some significant outward tech investment. In September, Naspers added $795 million to its holdings in Berlin based food delivery company Delivery Hero.

Products, Partnerships, Expansion

African tech saw a number new products and platforms launch in 2017. In January, Mastercard’s 2Kuze—an agtech app connecting small-plot farmers to markets, payments, and logistics services—went live in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Africa’s first unicorn, e-commerce venture Jumia, introduced an SME lending program. Safaricom―Kenya’s largest telecom and M-Pesa mobile money provider―went live with its Masoko e-commerce platform in November.

Earlier in March, Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK unveiled its SupaBRCK—a waterproof, solar-powered Wi-Fi box that operates as a 3G hotspot and off-grid server.

Africa also registered on the blockchain bandwagon. Earlier this month, 500 Startups backed SureRemit launched a crypto token product aimed at disrupting Africa’s multi-billion dollar remittance market.

On expansion and partnerships, Facebook was very active on the continent in 2017. FB announced its Africa Bots for Messenger Challenge in February, detailed plans to boost free Wi-Fi on the continent in April, and teamed up with MainOne and Tizeti Network to improve Nigeria’s net connectivity in November. The company partnered with TechCrunch in October for the debut Startup Battlefield Africa and with CcHub to launch Nigeria’s NG_Hub accelerator.

Other big Silicon Valley names also registered in Africa in 2017. Microsoft announced the opening of Cloud Form data centers in May and a partnership with Liquid Telecom in August to accelerate cloud adoption in Africa.

Off of CEO Sundar Pichai’s July Nigeria trip, Google announced plans to train 10 million Africans in digital skills, increase funding to African startups, provide $20 million in grants to digital non-profits, and modified versions of products (such as YouTube) in Africa. Google for Entrepreneurs also supported CcHub’s European PitchDrive tour in August.

The same month, eBay expanded its partnership with MallforAfrica.com to allow African vendors to sell wares directly to American online consumers.

On accelerators and capacity building, 500 Startups brought its frontier and emerging markets travel series ― Geeks on a Plane ― to Africa for the first time in March. Airbus held its inaugural BizLab pitch event in Nairobi targeting African startups using UAVs, 3D printing, smart sensors, and IoT. The MEST incubator got a new CEO, Aaron Fu, and scaled its presence to include programs in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Cote d’Ivoire.

And in October, Safaricom launched its Safaricom Alpha innovation center in Nairobi, with a goal of leveraging the company’s commercial social network (i.e., M-Pesa) to connect people to new product solutions.

Contraction and Closing up shop

Of course, no tech sector expands and grows all the time.  In September, Y-Combinator-backed French language VOD startup Afrostream shuttered, ending subscription services in 29 countries.

In November, Jumia e-commerce competitor Konga slashed 60 percent of its workforce and ended its pay on delivery service, reportedly to cut costs. It’s not clear if this is a sign of trouble or a realignment of business strategy, per Konga founder Sim Shagaya’s Medium post.

Acquisitions, IPOs

Exits and public offerings are still scant in Africa’s tech landscape. There was a notable acquisition in online real estate startup ToLet.com.ng’s purchase of Jumia House Nigeria from e-commerce unicorn Jumia in November. Africa’s much anticipated and much delayed IPO of fintech firm Interswitch is expected in 2019, according to Nigerian tech insiders—who offered TechCrunch perspective on other African ventures with listing potential.

Tech to Power

African tech and politics collided on several occasions in 2017. In September, Anti-government protests in Togo, and the use of social media to mobilize them, led to the president shutting down the internet for several days.

In a tech to power success story, Cameroon’s #BringBackOurInternet movement—developed by local IT activists—went global, forcing the country’s government to restore connectivity after switching it off in response to demonstrations that started in January.  \\

Revenues and Space

Big revenue news from African tech startups is still elusive, but Paga offered promising info in August. The Nigerian digital payments firm reported its first EBITDA positive quarter, after processing 31 million transactions worth some $1.3 billion since inception.

And in July, teams from Nigeria and Ghana launched satellites into space, with a little help from SpaceX and NASA—demonstrating the sky was not the limit for Africa’s scientists and techies in 2017.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around the Net     

·         How Africa’s Tech Generation Is Changing The Continent— @NationalGeographic

·         Africa’s Smartphone Market in Early Stages of Recovery—@BusinessTech

Featured Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Bill Ingalls

Africa’s SureRemit joins the tokenized race to win the global remittance market


Nigerian based SureRemit has launched a crypto token aimed at money sent home by global immigrants.

The startup — which is incorporated in Mauritius — offered pre-sales of its remittance focused tokens this week, before a January 2018 ICO. SureRemit will use blockchain partner Stellar’s platform.

The company is connecting its crypto product — which is not redeemable by consumers for cash — to a network of pre-approved merchants in Nigeria, Kenya, and Rwanda. SureRemit plans to launch in India and the Middle East in the second quarter of 2018.

Clients can use SureRemit’s app to present tokens as payment for things such as utility bills, student tuition, and online consumer goods. African e-commerce giant Jumia is among its merchant partners.

There’ll be no purchase or transfer fees for the tokens above face value. SureRemit will generate revenue from businesses, who pay a percentage on each token transaction, and then redeem the tokens (less fees) for cash from SureRemit. 

SureRemit’s merchant network — according to co-founder Samuel-Biyi — views the fees as the cost of accessing a new pool of customers. “We’re a big channel to connecting them to the multi-billion dollar market of remittance inflows,” he said “So our model is transferring costs of remittances to the merchant side away from the sender side.”    

Remittances — and the high fees charged by money transmitters such as Western Union and MoneyGram — represent an enormous pool of global capital. According to World Bank stats, roughly 250 million global migrants transferred $601 billion to their home countries in 2016. More than half, $441 billion, went to developing countries: $39 to Sub-Saharan Africa, $69 billion to India, and $20 billion to Nigeria.

On global remittance fees, Sub-Saharan Africa pays the highest fees — roughly 10 percent per $200 — of any other region.

One of SureRemit’s backers, 500 Startups, sees these high transfer costs as a disruptive opportunity for the venture. “The fees are horrible, and Western Union is ripping off people who can least afford it,” said 500 Startups Partner, Marvin Liao. “It’s a huge market…and a lot of these basic financial and commerce needs that people have are still not being addressed effectively,” Liao said of the potential for SureRemit’s crypto token product in Africa.

On the regulatory side, SureRemit’s Samuel-Biyi sees less risk of their crypto token product being used for money-laundering compared to other block-chain payments systems, such as Bitcoin. “Because it’s not cash redeemable and tied to particular merchants…one would not be able to transform tokens to cash that easily. This makes it an unattractive money laundering channel,” he said.

To the question of why consumers would use SureRemit’s crypto tokens versus other blockchain finance products, Biyi named “speed and cost” as competitive advantages. “Remit tokens ensure zero-cost, high-velocity cross-border transactions, which Bitcoin is not currently optimized for,” he said.

SureRemit has already proven market demand for cashless consumer payment and merchant programs through its predecessor, SureGifts product. SureGifts customers purchase digital shopping vouchers via e-mail or SMS, and use them for payment at 300 partner merchants in Rwanda, Nigeria, and Kenya. SureRemit plans to leverage this network for its new remittance focused crypto token.

Africa Roundup: ToLet Acquires JumiaHouse NG, Facebook announces NG_Hub, Interswitch IPO Update


Lagos based online real estate startup ToLet.com.ng acquired Jumia House Nigeria for an undisclosed amount. Jumia House is a subsidiary of the continent’s lone tech unicorn — Pan-African e-commerce giant Jumia.com.

ToLet and Jumia House Nigeria will merge platforms under the new name PropertyPro.ng.

The $1.2 million Series A startup was able to buy part of a $1 billion company with the help of its lead investor, Frontier Digital Ventures (FDV). While ToLet originally reported to TechCrunch that FDV served primarily as a facilitator of the deal, both now confirm FDV helped finance the deal. FDV went a little further, and acquired 100 percent interests in Jumia House Ghana, and Jumia House Angola, according to a company spokesperson.

The new PropertyPro entity will combine ToLet’s and Jumia House NG’s listings to create the largest online real estate listings platform in Nigeria with 65 percent of the market, according to ToLet Co-Founder Sulaiman Balogun. The platform will generate revenues primarily from agent subscription fees. PropertyPro will also expand agents and listings across Nigeria and be available on an Android app.

 

Facebook’s New Nigeria Hub

Facebook announced the 2018 opening of NG_Hub, a Lagos based tech space managed in partnership with CcHub Nigeria. TechCrunch checked in with CcHub CEO Bosun Tijani on the hub’s core details. “I think the core of it is for Facebook to place a bet on high tech startups…that may not get a chance in Africa―augmented reality, artificial intelligence…data driven ventures―and build a space that can support startups at that level,” he said.

The actual space will be based Yaba, Tijani told TechCrunch, referring to Lagos’s unofficial IT district.

“There will be a virtual reality lab, a creator lab, and a co-working space within it,” he said. “The program will not be limited to the space itself,” according to Tijani, who said NG_Hub will “run an acceleration program…so other technology hubs from across Nigeria can also support startups through the program.” An official opening will likely be sometime in Q1 of 2018.

Update on Africa’s IPO Landscape

Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch—which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking and payments infrastructure—will likely go public on the LSE in 2019, according to company statements and sources. As reported in TechCrunch in 2016, the Helios Investment Partners backed company (now beyond startup phase) was poised for a listing on the London stock exchanges at a $1 billion valuation. Nearly two years on it hasn’t happened, delaying what would have been Africa’s first big listing on a foreign exchange by a VC backed tech company.

In a September 2017 interview, Interswitch Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named “unfavorable equity markets” and reaffirmed an IPO, saying “It will happen before the end of 2019.”

TechCrunch checked in with a couple of Nigerian tech insiders on Interswitch’s prospects to become Africa’s first big IPO — and the possibility another venture could beat them to it.

Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu named Nigeria’s “macroeconomic situation” and “ volatility of the Naira” as culprits for the delay—noting the Nigerian economy and Naira improved in 2017. On timing for an Interswitch public listing, “They’re gearing themselves up to go back and do an IPO…probably not next year, more likely the year after,” Oviosu told TechCrunch.

Omobola Johnson — Nigeria’s former Minister of Communication Technology and Senior Partner at TLCom Capital — thinks Interswitch is still ripe to go public. “Interswitch as a company…still continues to do well…Interswitch is still growing, it’s still profitable, and it still has significant market share in Nigeria and other African markets…They are still very strong to be the [continent’s] first significant tech IPO,” Johnson said. She named Andela, Twiga Foods, and Flutterwave as other future Africa IPO contenders, for a 3-5 year window.                     

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around The Net    

·         MEST Launches Incubator Spaces in Lagos, Cape Town―@VentureBurn

·         African Fintech Company JUMO Raises US$24M for Expansion―@ITWebAfrica

·         Female-Focused Angel Investment Fund Launched in Africa―@DisruptAfrica

·         AFF Disrupt To Herald Nigeria’s First Fintech Accelerator―@TechCabal

·         China’s Transsion Dominates Africa Mobile Phone Market―@FT

·         Hiring Firm Shortlist Acquires East Africa’s Spire Education―@TechWeez

·         Africa Set to Top 1 Billion Mobile Internet Connections In Five Years@Reuters

·         Technology May Help Compensate for Africa’s Lack of Manufacturing―@TheEconomist

Will Interswitch still be the company that brings Sub-Saharan Africa its big tech windfall?


In 2016 it appeared Africa would produce its first big tech IPO on a major stock market.

As reported in TechCrunch, Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch — which provides much of Nigera’s digital banking and payments infrastructure — was poised for a dual listing on the Lagos and London stock exchanges at a $1 billion valuation. The company had selected investment bankers, had support of primary backer (Helios Investment Partners), and things seemed ready to go.

Nearly two years later, neither Interswitch nor any other VC backed African tech company that began in startup phase gone public.

What happened?

Why the delay and when?

An Interswitch spokesperson told TechCrunch it was “unable to comment regarding the pending IPO.”

The company’s given some clues in statements over the last year. In late 2016, Interswitch’s then CEO Mitchell Elegbe told Bloomberg, “The macroeconomic situation in Nigeria is the determining factor’’ in delaying the plans―referring to Nigeria’s recession and currency slump, both of which have now largely abated.

In a September 2017 interview, Interswitch Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named “unfavorable equity markets” and reaffirmed an IPO, saying “It will happen before the end of 2019.”

Will Interswitch be first to list abroad with a bang?

TechCrunch checked in with a couple of Nigerian tech insiders on Interswitch’s prospects to become Africa’s first big IPO — and the possibility another venture could beat them to it.

On reasons for the postponement, Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu thinks, “It’s the macroeconomic situation…the volatility of the Naira, and wanting that to stabilize. I don’t think there’s anything else that’s delayed it,” he said — noting the Nigerian economy and Naira improved in 2017.

Oviosu added that 2016’s slumping Naira would have adversely impacted any IPO valuation or opening share price, especially for a foreign listing.

“They would have been valued lower than where the investors would like to be,” he said.

On timing for an Interswitch public listing, “They’re gearing themselves up to go back and do an IPO. My sense is it’s probably not next year, more likely the year after,” Oviosu told TechCrunch.

Omobola Johnson — Nigeria’s former Minister of Communication Technology and Senior Partner at TLCom Capital — thinks Interswitch is still ripe to go public. “In 2016 the markets just weren’t right. But if you look at Interswitch as a company since, it still continues to do well,” she said.

“Interswitch is still growing, it’s still profitable, and it still has significant market share in Nigeria and other African markets. So in terms of the fundamentals as a company, they are still very strong to be the [continent’s] first significant tech IPO,” Johnson said.

With analysts and Interswitch timing an LSE listing for 2019, there’s the prospect of another VC backed African tech company going public with first.

While Omobola Johnson believes Interswitch still has the best chance, she named a couple other IPO candidates in the near 3-5 year future. “I’d look at a company like Andela, which is growing very quickly and has raised significant capital,” she said, referring to the Pan-African coding accelerator that recently sealed $40 million in Series C funding. Johnson also named Kenyan online grocer Twiga Foods and Nigerian fintech startup Flutterwave as future IPO contenders.

Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu still sees Interswitch as the best African prospect to go public on a major exchange, given their financial performance.

He played down―but did not completely rule out — the possibility of his company (one of Nigeria’s leading digital payments firms) going public. “I wouldn’t say never. I think for us our exit strategy would be to go public or a strategic sale, but none of those things are in the works now…we want to continue building our business,” Oviosu said.

He believes African tech companies will need to meet a higher revenue standard before satisfying investor criteria for IPOs.

“I think in Africa, it comes down to your EBITDA,” he said, referring to the financial metric measuring revenue performance before certain expenses.

“In this market, I would value a company that is EBITDA positive much more than someone just telling a good story.”

So it appears a high value African tech IPO on a major exchange is imminent and it’s still likely to be Interswitch. If it does list, it would likely become the continent’s second unicorn, behind e-commerce venture Jumia.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

Online real estate startup ToLet acquires Jumia House Nigeria to create PropertyPro.Ng


African tech can produce surprises. One this week is a $1.2 million Series A startup buying part of a $1 billion company.

That’s what Lagos based property startup ToLet.com.ng has done, purchasing Jumia House Nigeria for an undisclosed amount. Jumia House is a subsidiary of the continent’s lone tech unicorn — Pan-African e-commerce giant Jumia.com.

ToLet and Jumia House Nigeria will merge platforms under the new name of PropertyPro.ng.

The acquisition was a result of ToLet’s strength in market and help from their lead investor, Malaysia based Frontier Digital Ventures, according to CEO and Co-Founder Fikayo Ogundipe.

“This came about from FDV―which has a strong real-estate classified portfolio across Africa―looking at which markets they were strong and where Rocket [Jumia’s lead investor] was weaker,” he told TechCrunch. “In Nigeria Jumia House was number three or number four in online listings. It didn’t make sense for Rocket to burn more capital in that position, so [FDV] approached them on the acquisition.

So how did ToLet finance the purchase? Without additional financing from lead investor FDV, according to Co-Founder Sulaiman Balogun. “The $1.2 million in funding we announced last year is the only round we’ve disclosed. We’ve raised enough capital to run through this deal and really fund the business and grow,” he said.

With the acquisition, ToLet is acquiring the entire Jumia House platform — staff, assets, and their listings and agent network. The new PropertyPro entity will combine ToLet’s 60,000 listings to Jumia House’s 22,000 to create the largest online real estate listings platform in Nigeria with 65 percent of the market, according to Balogun.

ToLet would not divulge annual revenue stats, but execs explained it makes money from agent subscription fees. ToLet’s legacy platform had 10,000 agents, of which 20 percent were charged.

“We have a long-term plan to charge a higher percentage on our the premium plan,” said ToLet CEO Ogundipe―noting agents receive more options under that plan.

ToLet’s new PropertyPro platform will not charge fees or commissions on listing sales, something some of its competitors do, according to Balogun. “We did that on our previous model, but stopped. That increased the number of agents on our platform and generated more revenue overall,” he said. ToLet’s current online listings are about 70 percent rentals and 30 percent sales. 

Co-CEOs Balogun and Ogundipe said to expect updates on the integrated PorpertyPro platform. They have engineers developing new ease of search features for the site and plan to launch an android app in coming weeks.

A prime aim of the acquisition and new PropertyPro platform is to expand ToLet’s agent and listings reach across Nigeria and increase the number of sales listings, Balogun told TechCrunch.

As a market, Nigeria boasts the dual distinction of being Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, valued at roughly half a trillion dollars. A small real-estate sector (circa 8 percent of the overall economy) and a high urbanization rate  have created a housing deficit in the country. Furthermore, a nascent credit rating market in the Nigeria has fueled practices whereby landlords can require advance deposit of up to two years rent from tenants.

ToLet hopes its recent acquisition and upgraded PropertyPro platform can ease that.

“We believe creating more visibility of real estate listings and ease of connecting buyers and sellers online can solve some of these liquidity problems and bridge this gap between supply and demand,” said Co-Founder Sulaiman Balogun.