Three African Startups Receive Grant From Microsoft’s Airband Initiative

Dineo Keebine August 6

Microsoft has developed a strategic approach; the Airband Grant Fund which is a part of the Microsoft’s Airband initiative. It provides grants to innovative entrepreneurs who are developing technologies or business models which enhances the internet access. Amongst the eight startups that were selected by the tech giant, these three mentioned African startups are to benefit from the funding to uplift the rural internet access.

 MeshPower

MeshPower is believed to be an innovative power business that is committed to delivering social and environmental impact to the communities.  Not only stands 20 percent world’s population with no electricity, but a far more significant share also have persistent power failures; Mesh power provides reliable and affordable electricity services to over 2,000 families, using its smart load system to manage the energy generated to ensure continuous functions, even on rainy days.

Since its inception in 2014, MeshPower has continuously used solar-powered nanogrids and smart metering systems to provide affordable electricity to communities without the access to energy. Other offers include Wireless, Skylark Wireless, Tribal Digital village and Numbers4Health (all from the US), and ME Solshshare from Bangladesh.

MeshPower claims to have created 20 full-time jobs in Rwanda since 2014 and is employing over 40 field based agents. Also, local vendors make money through selling MeshPower vouchers.

Agsol

Agsol’s innovations crisscrosses at the lines of agriculture and energy. They are touted as one of the top innovations of the LAUNCH food programme. The company delivers a dual solution by linking productive agricultural machines with scalable solar power. Their tools are designed in Australia but engineered for off-grid and weak grid environments of emerging markets.

Their first 1st generation machines were released in 2015. After more than 600 sales and lots of feedback and iterations, Agsol’s solar-powered agro-processing machines are used for commercial solutions for the world’s most impoverished farms. One of the resolutions of the built machines is to remove the burden of laborious efforts. Agsol brings power to poor farmers with its line of solar-powered agro-processing machines such as hammer mill (for flour production), maize sheller, rice huller and food mincer. The machines projects and generation of income, and food processing to keep money in the community. The Agsol powered machines are green for life. Powered by solar and built for longevity, they replace the use of other fossil fuels, disposable batteries, and cooking fuels.

ColdHubs

ColdHubs is powered cold storage for developing countries. Their innovation is a walk-in solution, “plug and plays” solar-powered cold station for 24/7 storage and preservation. The solar-powered walk-in cold room is made of 120mm insulating cold room panels to retain cold. Energy from solar panels mounted on the roof-top of the cold room is stored in high capacity batteries; these batteries fees an inverter which in turn feeds the refrigerating unit.

ColdHub is installed in major food production and consumption centre (in markets and farms), farmers place their harvest in clean plastic crates, these plastic crates are stacked inside the cold room.

It has a flexible pay-as you-store subscription model for farmers and they pay a flat fee for each crate of food they store. ColdHub mainly targets to hire women to manage operations send collection revenues and also tackles the issue of malnutrition in children at rural areas- more nutritious food is available to rural and urban residents.

Since many rural areas lack broadband access, it limits their ability to thrive in a digital economy. The Airband initiative brings affordable broadband access to everyone. It supports businesses working to enhance internet access and helps them to make the access more affordable. Airband partnerships include co-investment, and access to resources like technology, digital skills, and reseller programs. Microsoft Airband’s initiative is uplifting and arranges measure to boost these startups in helping and to provide affordable internet access to unconnected and underserved communities.

Feature Image courtesy: blog.microsoft.com

Kenya’s Twiga Foods Raises USD 10 Mn In Series A

Nayantara Jha November 16

Nairobi based AgriTech Startup Twiga Foods has secured USD 10 Mn in a Series A funding round led by World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Global Agriculture & Food security programme and TLcom Capital. The investment round was also joined by its previous investors DOB Equity, 1776, Adolph H.Lundin and Wamda Capital.

As per the announcement, the newly secured investment will help the startup in expansion and in introducing new products into the market. This round comes after a year of securing USD 10.3 Mn from Wamda Capital. The AgriTech startup which connects smallholder farmers to vendors, claims to have a network of 13000 farmers and 6000 vendors. A mobile application helps both the parties exchange money using M-pesa mobile money payment.

Interestingly, Twiga was also one of the top 10 funded startups in Africa in 2017.

Twiga Foods, in April, had announced partnership with IBM to add a blockchain based micro-financing feature to their platform for farmers in Kenya and across Africa.

As of 2016, agriculture was reported to have weighed in with as much as 32% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Africa’s food market was valued at about USD 313 Bn in 2013 and is estimated to hit USD 1 Tn mark by 2030.  Lately, Agritech startups in Africa are also becoming a top pick for investors, especially, for international investment funds.

Students In South Africa On Entrepreneurship & Startups: A WeeTracker Exclusive

November 16

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Egyptian Startup Fakahany Secures USD 700 K Seed Investment From Endure Capital And Angel Investors

Nzekwe Henry November 16

Cairo-based farm-to-door fresh produce eCommerce platform, Fakahany, has raised investment of USD 700 K in a seed funding round led by Endure Capital, who are also joined by angel investors.

Fakahany was established a year ago by the duo of Waleed Khalil and Ahmed Attia. The former also happens to be a partner at Endure Capital. The eCommerce platform makes it possible for users in Cairo and Giza to order fresh farm products like fruits and vegetables via its online platform and mobile applications for both Android and iOS. The startup is said to have its warehouses where it stores fresh produce sourced directly from partner farms.

According to Ahmed Attia, Co-Founder of Fakahany, the startup is focused on filling the void between farms and customers, as well as optimising the intermediate processes. This makes it possible for the startup to provide customers with some of the best quality produce at their doorsteps, thus, offering good value for money.

The startup appears to have witnessed significant growth since its launch, and this can be attributed to the impressive level of demand in the market for its services; a feat which the company claims has seen its revenues grow tenfold over the last one year.

Egyptian startup

Waleed Mohamed Khalil (CEO Fakahany) via LinkedIn

“We chose this vertical understanding the challenges of working with fresh produce and perishable goods. However, the great calibres that we have and the collective industry experience within our team has allowed us to build a powerful eCommerce platform and sturdy operations that enable fast growth and a seamless experience for our customers,” commented Waleed Khalil, Co-Founder and CEO of Fakahany, with regards to the development.

Tarek Fahim, General Partner at Endure Capital who lead the investment round, noted that continuous optimisation, automation, and vertical were required for sustenance in today’s business environment. He also suggested that the investment in Fakahany was borne out of confidence in the high and consistent growth which the startup has shown in such a short time while expressing belief in the ability of the startup to continue in its upward growth trajectory.

The investment is expected to be channelled into further developing the technology of the platform, as well as expanding its team, reach, and offerings. Details bordering on equity agreements are yet to be disclosed at this time.

From Selling Flip-Flops to Raking Millions in Revenues – Even War Couldn’t Break His Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Here’s the thing about humble beginnings; they are not some sort of wriggle room for the justification of mediocrity, or an excuse to settle for less. If anything, they are only a reflection of the starting point; they do not ultimately define the future of any individual.

Humble beginnings are just what they are; the beginning, the starting point — no more, no less. Not the end. And in between the beginning and the end, every individual has a choice to make between sitting on the fence and sulking over everything that is not right or taking that leap. The end is largely a function of that choice.

It’s easy to lament poor background and blame it all on the lack of opportunities for never really hitting the heights, and perhaps even justifiably so. But it does pay to view the scenario from a different perspective. Privations and hardship are undoubtedly tricky spots to get caught up in, and it’s easy to align with the popular view which attributes those to an impoverished life.

But doing a one-eighty can also reflect privations and hardship in a different light. They can also be viewed as an indication of the type of effort that would need to be put in to improve the situation, as well as a suggestion that life accomplishments have as much do with the ability to keep the prize within sight in spite of the fog as it does the decision to attempt any venture in the first place. And sometimes, it’s all about perspective. Some individuals epitomise, embody and personify this view more than others, and Fomba Trawally; one of the wealthiest men in Liberia is one of such individuals.

Having suffered untold tragedy with the demise of both his parents at an early stage in his life, the Liberian businessman had to do a number of odd jobs and petty trades to get by on a daily. At some point, he even resorted to walking considerable distances, wheelbarrow in front, selling bathroom slippers in different neighbourhoods in various parts of Monrovia.

And as if that was not difficult enough, he was also affected by the war that ravaged parts of Liberia in 1989. Rocked by the violent unrest, Fomba Trawally and family had to flee their home country and stay away for up to three years. When the violence died down, and the war came to an end, he made the return to his homeland. Upon his return, Fomba decided to start a small business even though all he could lay claim to by way of personal funds was a meagre USD 200. Fast-forward several years down the line, and the former wheelbarrow hawker now runs a company whose value is believed to run into millions of dollars.

But how could he have pulled off such a remarkable feat from such a disadvantaged position? Perhaps taking a trip down memory lane to how it all began, could reveal some answers.

Fomba Trawally, Source: BBC

Fomba Trawally was born in 1971 to poor parents in Liberia. He completed his elementary education at Voinjama Public School where he had first enrolled in 1975. He also joined Kataka Training School for his secondary education in 1981.

Kumba Beindu, Fomba’s mother, is said to have toiled day and night to fend for her children in the absence of her late husband. Getting them fed was hard work enough, let alone putting them through school. But somehow, she managed both, even though it required back-breaking work more often than not. She sold pepper and other farm produce, and it was from this small business that Fomba’s mother met the needs of her children.

Now, young Fomba was going through life one day at a time despite the privations with the future offering the only glimmer of hope, and then things took a turn for the worse. Kumba Beindu, the single surviving parent and the sole beacon of hope for Fomba and his siblings, passed on sometime in the 1980s and everything pretty much went downhill from there.

It was a very difficult time for Fomba, and his siblings as the demise of the sole breadwinner of the family left behind a huge void to fill. Before the tragedy, Fomba had had high hopes of going all the way to college, but those hopes were dashed with the death of his mother. Being the eldest in the family, Fomba had to step up to the plate and handle the baton that had been shoved into his unprepared hands at a tender age. To fend for siblings who now looked up to him, Fomba quit school and took to selling bathroom flip-flops in a wheelbarrow. He trekked several miles through various neighbourhoods in Monrovia, marketing and selling his wares. Daily income was small, but it was enough to take care of his siblings.

But that was not all he had to deal with.  Just when it looked like things were beginning to attain some semblance of stability, Fomba and his siblings soon found themselves fleeing their home country for The Gambia when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. They lived as refugees for three years before returning to Liberia when some semblance of peace resurfaced in 1992. During his time as a refugee in The Gambia, Fomba still busied himself doing odd jobs and petty trading.

Having returned to Liberia with around USD 25 in personal savings, Fomba opted to make a foray into business. And his choice of business can be said to have been a clever one. It appears Fomba’s brief spells in business both home and abroad had worked him into some kind of aptitude. Back in Liberia, Fomba Trawally identified a market opportunity which turned out a diamond in the rough.

It was the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, and the country was in a rebuilding process. The war had left a lot of ruins in its wake, and many people had had virtually nothing by way of personal belongings. There was an urgent need for footwear in the capital city, Monrovia, as a good number of people were trudging the streets barefoot. Fomba decided to start importing cheap slippers and shoes which he would sell to the many people that were beset by the situation. But with USD 25.00 in his pocket, that was never going to happen.

He began to source for funds, but in a country that was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war, it was going to be anything but easy. He did get some luck when a friend of his lent him the sum of USD 120.00 in addition to his savings, but that was still a long way off from what was required. But he decided to get started regardless.

Now armed with around USD 145.00, he established his business which he named Kumba Beindu and Sons as a tribute to his late mother in 1992. Within one year, the company had grown significantly to amass a value of around USD 3 K, which was quite a staggering sum at the time. The business expanded to include cosmetics, toiletries, and plastics as part of its products.

Gradually, the business gathered steam, and by 2005, it had become a very popular name in Liberia. An astute businessman, it wasn’t long before he diversified his trade and established three retail stores selling imported items like paper and cosmetics in Liberia. This was made possible by the networks he built in countries like China, U.S., Turkey, and Cote d’Ivoire, from where he imported those items. But he wasn’t going to rest on his oars as his next move proved he was anything but done.

In 2010, Fomba Trawally launched his next project which essentially saw him switch from importer to manufacturer. Fomba established National Toiletries Incorporated, which is considered Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory. The company became fully operational in 2013, and it produces four different kinds of products: baby diapers, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper.

In a conversation with CNN, Fomba revealed that National Toiletries Incorporated supplies products to over 1,500 businesses in Liberia. It is also known to have spread its tentacles abroad with exports to neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Revenue in excess of USD 600 K is said to be grossed by the company on a yearly basis.

But it would be wrong to think all of it is coming easy. Running a manufacturing business in Liberia — a country yet recovering from a civil war that left an estimated 250,000 people dead and destroyed much of its infrastructure and economy — is not without its challenges. In the CNN interview, Fomba cited power as a major concern.
“Number one, we don’t have the power or energy in our country at this time — we’re running on a generator,” said Trawally. “You tell anyone that I’m running a factory as big as this only on a generator, they’ll tell you that you are crazy,” he added. Unreliable power and the shortage of infrastructure, coupled with high energy costs and a lack of skilled labour, are all major problems for entrepreneurs doing business in Liberia.
Fomba Trawally, who currently serves as CEO of National Toiletries Incorporated, was recently honoured with the 2018 top African International award at the 9th edition of the Africa Economy Builders, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Mr Trawally, widely considered one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of Liberia, was honoured in recognition of his immense contribution to Liberia’s economic growth.

Fambo Trawally (2nd from right) at the 9th Edition of Africa Economy Builders; Source: LiberianObserver

In another interview with BBC, Fomba Trawally reiterated that young entrepreneurs do not always need a lot of capital to start with. “It doesn’t cost you USD 1 Mn to start a business,” he said.

“My advice to my other friends around the world is that you should be encouraged and believe that you can do everything with the little you have. My mother started with five or 10 US cents which is nothing today.”

The remarkable feat pulled by Fomba Trawally is made all the more impressive by the fact that it is coming from a country whose population hovers around just 4 million people. Throw that in with the idea that all his accomplishments have been achieved in spite poor upbringing and the numerous rutabagas life hauled his way and it becomes evident how much of an impact can be made by just about anyone even in the face of militating challenges.

 

Features Image Courtesy: CNN

CoinAfrique Welcomes New Stakeholder – France’s Media Group Trace

Andrew Christian November 15

According to a publication that broke yesterday, Senegalese mobile classified platform CoinAfrique has given an undisclosed stake to Paris-based media group Trace, making it the third deal to be reported from the Senegalese startup.

CoinAfrique is reported to have developed what is held to be one of the first mobile marketplaces for Francophone Africans, having operations in no less than 15 countries across French-speaking Africa. The startup was founded and launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, by duo Matthias Papet and Eric Genetre.

The comments from the CoinAfrique arm of the development, according to the founders, informs that the deal is a confirmation of the strength of the startup’s growth model, also highlighting the avenue to bring about a pan-African francophone leader in the classifieds industry.

While the amount of the investment remains undisclosed, reports have it that the Senegalese startup will latch on to the audience of Trace TV to publicize CoinAfrique’s services to a wider Francophone market in Africa. This African service company currently has 400,000 active monthly users, and concerning this investment, it aims to level up the number to 10 million by 2022.

The narrative from Trace points that the undisclosed investment into the Dakar-based classifieds startup is in a bid to help the enterprise shoot up in terms of development. Oliver Laouchez, who is co-founder and CEO of Trace noted that CoinAfrique has already proven its worth, and with the potential displayed, the Paris-based media company is excited to concert efforts to the Senegalese startups’ development.

According to Oliver, Trace’s stake conforms to its investment strategy in mobile and digital service. It also is in line with the organization’s intention to bolster entrepreneurial initiatives that have significant positive effects on the African continent.

This is not the first of CoinAfrique’s feats, as it has raised € 2.5 Mn in April and sold a 15 percent stake to Investisseurs and Partenaires just last month. The startup was also among the 20 startups selected to join World Bank’s XL Africa program.

This information was first covered on Ventureburn.

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