This 17-Year-Old Ghanaian Has Helped Startups Raise USD 40 Mn

Andrew Christian August 20

Africa is on its way to be mentioned amongst the largest of all-time cryptocurrency markets. The surging popularity of digital currencies was the harbinger of the opening of no less than 15 trading venues, all of which hit the continent’s ecosystem in the past year alone. Recording what the techies would call a spike in the trading volumes, peer-to-peer marketplaces snatched for Bitcoin a skyrocketing price in the crypto market in 2017. Prominent among these changes in digital coin exchange is the trading volume upheaval in Kenya’s Local Bitcoins, as a USD 1.8 Mn acceleration was recorded in December 2017. Luno reported that 200 BTC worth of such digital transaction was recorded in November 2017, when the price of crypto was hovering in the USD 10 K threshold. 37 percent of those transactions were initiated from the South African end of the continent – home to Africa’s top city of opportunity (Cape Town).

Cryptocurrency in Africa as a means of exchange can be regarded as a work in progress, but a massive one. With the continent’s oldest exchange displaying what comes off and proves to be a lofty ambition, blockchain is becoming a household phrase on the lips of nearly every fintech emerging in the Sub-Saharan and the continent at large. South Africa-based Luno alone, kicking off operations in 2013, boasting of 1.5 million users spread across 40 countries, plans to reach 1 billion customers by 2025.

Enough said, there are still a lot of reasons why Africa might be the next big market for the brainchild of what was Satoshi Nakamoto’s genius of an idea. From what I have heard, it demands time, effort and a heckload of experience to be able to operate in an industry as complex, fluctuating and needlessly volatile as cryptocurrency – and the stakes just keep getting higher. But, somewhere in Ghana, a 17-year-old techie is already cashing in big on what Africa’s Bitcoin market has to offer. While most people twice Elisha’s age are still trying to get to grips with the basics of blockchain with the help of experts in perhaps innovation hubs spread throughout Ghana and the rest of Africa, this Senior High School teenager already has a tech-enabled company with which he remains in the affairs in the continent’s crypto market.

Elisha Owusu Akyaw, while his mates were raking brains at math and struggling to crack algebraic expressions, founded BlockXAfrica, which was rebranded from the 2017-established small business known as Tokens Media. While studying General Arts at Legon Presbyterian Boys Secondary School, Elisha is unnervingly rocking boats in waters much older people would have a hard time sounding. He set up his cryptocurrency marketing firm in a bid to lend a hand in blockchain projects, to help them reach out to their target audience. Elisha, considered to be the face of young entrepreneurship in Ghana, has worked with local financial firms in project development, and his startup, according to Bitcoinafrica.io, has helped in raising more than USD 40 Mn in token sales via its marketing services.

Elisha shared the highlights of his entrepreneurial journey with Weetracker; how he has come to be the crypto-dealing guru who is one of the drivers of Ghana’s crypto market to rank among its counterparts in the comity of nations.

Humble Beginnings

Elisha Owusu Akyaw has been learning, unlearning and relearning the ropes that come with crypto for three years, with his first encounter being a digital money-related news item on Aljazeera in the late phases of 2014. From that telecast piece of development, he quickly tapped into the idea of a financially liberal economy, one that would be entirely based on the internet. In a move to satisfy his curiosity regarding what the emergence really held in store, he began investigating the intricacies of digital currencies and blockchain as a whole. With the internet-enabled device he got at age 12, he began exploring the ins and outs of operating systems and websites. “I learned how to create a website on my own by watching videos on YouTube,” he disclosed. As at 2013, Elisha had already ventured into the tech space, in which he garnered knowledge and became the renowned sophisticated fever causing ripples in the digital industry.

The journey through web design fundamentals and advanced- level tactics exposed the Ghanaian teen to open resources such as Firefox by Mozilla, which gave him the urge to volunteer in his local community. On his mission to impact those in close proximity and rain tech on all to whom he could gain access, Elisha started to speak in occasions on the sidelines of the internet, innovation, cryptocurrency and a couple more. Prominent among such platforms on which he shared knowledge on such topics was at the Software Freedom Day in Accra in 2015, a platform on which Elisha started sounding the bells of crypto and drawing to himself real-time recognition as one of the well-versed in tech matters around his local communities.

Elisha has also acted as a facilitator in many programs, with one of the highlights being his eye-opening presentation at an open resources workshop organized by Open Foundation West Africa (OFWA), also in Accra. At this event, the tech fever exposed participants to the emerging world of cryptocurrencies, during which all who listened were stunned by his rather too-good-to-be-true expertise, effortless delivery and in-depth knowledge on digital coins – all in less than five minutes into his session. According to Pamela Ofori-Boateng, one of the attendees, listening to upcoming Elisha discuss such a complex topic with ease and professionalism would make one think a much older person was leading the session, but his teenage looks subtly gave him away.

Elisha built one of the foremost commercial blogs for Firefox Operating System called Firefox Central but sought to explore other areas as the project was abruptly ended, landing him into crypto. From childhood, he had always wanted to not just keep to tabs with things, but dig deep into whatever topic or concept he comes across – hence setting himself apart from the norm and unveiling different layers of seeming otherworldly crypto. “I love to know how and why things are made and what they would look like in the future.”

One of Elisha’s accomplishments is a commercial dash blog he named The Dash Times, which was renamed to PIVX (Private Instant Verified Transactions) Times in the wee stages of 2015. PIVX was a digital currency which when adopted would prove useful for Africans. The private natures of these transactions allow people achieve true financial freedom, according to the founder. He is of the opinion that his home country has a future with cryptocurrencies because until recently, Ghana was on the leading list of countries with the most interest in Bitcoin in accordance with numbers from a Google search. This, he says, depicts a continually increasing interest for an alternative to what he regards as weak financial systems backed by fiat currencies. Elisha lives with the die-hard belief that cryptocurrencies are the answers to the watered-down policies that consistently put the people’s resources at the brink of financial catastrophe.     

Motivated by the opinion that only time matters in the adoption of crypto by Ghana, Elisha went on to found the solutions firm called BlockXAfrica, a company that provides cryptocurrency and blockchain marketing research services to companies that accept crypto as the only form of payment.

From painstakingly perusing the contents of videos related with the idea upon which his company is to be built, and finding interest in a publication which posited that other business could be brought from other industries to fit into the blockchain saga, Elisha sought to build a PR solutions company. “After the boom of the ICOs and the popularity of digital currencies, the need for good marketing services in the space became very important, culminating in the birth of BlockXAfrica. We provide unique solutions because we blend affordability and quality”.

Topsy-Turvys 

BlockXAfric is currently a small team comprising of seasoned crypto sensations like Elisha, who have found various ways to provide services with their existing skills in the industry. This company has helped cryptocurrency startups raise over USD 40 Mn in Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). According to Elisha, the major problems faced by BlockXAfrica stems from the common regulation of cryptocurrencies by most African governments. “Regulators in the continent seemingly are yet to understand the rudiments of blockchain and as such perhaps take hasty decisions that will impede the growth of the African blockchain industry.” As a budding entrepreneur in the field, such outcomes make it hard for Elisha to plan, as he does most times with a particular dose of uncertainty just hovering above his projects.

Turning Points

Elisha encounters milestones in his entrepreneurial journey as he comes across people in the same industry who express profound appreciation and drop commendations for the efforts he puts into his work- I mean, for someone his age, he is definitely breaking boundaries and setting records. The accolades and thumb-ups afford him satisfaction in his venture, coming from perhaps more experienced practitioners in the blockchain industry. “The appraisals let me know I am doing something great, and those conversations birth new ideas, just as more problems are discovered.”

Years From Now

The CEO of BlockXAfrica disclosed that years from now the company would be more than just a marketing solutions firm. “We have in-the-pipeline projects that include an Initial Coin Offering startup platform, content creation, and distribution on the blockchain, as well as a blockchain platform that will integrate all media formats. We will also enter the research market and employ education campaigns to help create awareness regarding cryptocurrencies across Africa”.

Word Out

“There is a lot to be done in Africa’s blockchain space and on the huge demand for services and solutions in the continent. Africa especially is still in the early stages of the cryptocurrency revolution, so we all need to synergize in bridging the gap, educate the masses and grow the African economy”.

The Bitcoin pluviosity is taking its full sweep across Africa, and young people are making investments in the opportunity, especially males. A report by Citibank, a financial service company, ranked Kenya as the fifth highest Bitcoin holder per capita in the world while placing Nigeria and South Africa as third and sixth respectively. Observers are casting most of the blame on African unemployment rate for the soaring interest in digital currencies. While others opine it’s all about fighting the feeling of not being relegated as young people, this Ghanaian kid is giving Catch Them Young a whole new twist.

The headline of this article was updated on 22nd August 2018.

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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