Why The Next Bunch of Billionaires in Nigeria Will be Tech Startup Founders

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Imagine it’s 2030 and a Nigerian social media platform, or perhaps, a Nigeria-owned instant messaging platform, which boasts nearly a billion users, is threatening to blow everyone else out of the water, giving the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp a run for their money.

Also, imagine the said Nigerian tech-enabled platform is gathering momentum faster than any other on the continent because of a certain African appeal which puts it in a unique position. While all these may have come off as wishful thinking at best not so long ago, it is not exactly far-fetched at this point in time given the tech-inspired revolution that appears to be imminent, if not already upon us.

If sports were the topic of discussion, it could be said that young Nigerian techies are on a hot streak as they appear to have hit a purple patch. Tech-driven startups are springing up in various parts of the country and there has been a flurry of tech gadgets and concepts all put together by Nigerian innovators. These tech entrepreneurs appear to be breaking new grounds in a sector of the country’s economy that has hitherto been largely ignored, and it might not be long before gold is struck.

And the Nigerian government could, in fact, be said to be banking on just that! The country’s economy has been heavily reliant on oil for far too long. With the global oil market suffering a blow that it is yet to recover from which brought oil prices crashing down in recent times the clamour for the diversification of the Nigerian economy has only grown louder.

From various indications, the Nigerian government appears to have awakened to the potentials of tech and plying that route may well serve up that much-vaunted economic boost. Investing in tech at this point in time does seem like a good way to go as the country hopes to bolster its finances and improve the lives of the citizenry by not only developing home-grown tech-driven solutions that cater for some of the country’s immediate problems but also by exporting some of these Nigerian tech-inspired products to the world. And this could prove a gold mine.

If the tech revolution does come to fruition in Nigeria, the history books will be incomplete without any indication of who the players were, what informed the move to tech, and how it all came about. And even though other details seem bleak at best at this point, it could be said that some are doing more than others to give the country a future that is entrenched in or entwined with tech which seems like the way forward these days anyway.

Also Read: Meet The Nigerian Women Who Developed These 5 Amazing Apps We Use Today

Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, appears to be throwing considerable weight behind locally-developed technology and innovation in the country, as a way of breaking the oil monopoly, or perhaps, the oil-agriculture duopoly.

While crude oil prices have plunged downhill from over USD 100.00 per barrel to a price which currently hovers between USD 40.00 to USD 60.00 —  pushing the country back into the economic mire that it was just beginning to wriggle its way out of — Prof. Osinbajo can be said to have been busy charting a new course for the country as a way out of the slump. And what appears to be a campaign on tech and entrepreneurship might help to heal the country’s haemorrhaging economy.

It is on record that Nigeria’s Vice President has paid numerous visits to tech and innovation hubs across the country. On such visits, the VP is believed to have picked the brains of experts, as well as forged partnerships, with a view to establishing a number of government-owned tech hubs. And it didn’t take long before those efforts began to pay off as a number of government-backed hubs began to pop up in strategic locations across the country.

Prof. Osinbajo first unveiled the North-East Humanitarian Innovation Hub in Yola, Adamawa. During the launch, the VP remarked that the newly-opened hub will support innovative solutions to the humanitarian challenges bedevilling the country’s troubled North-Eastern region. According to him, the private sector and the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), were to collaborate with the hub on the project.

Next up, he hinted at the proposed establishment of the South-South Innovation Hub which will be launched with a view to developing scalable solutions in such areas as education, tourism, environment, as well as the oil and gas sector. The South-East and North-Central Innovation Hub were to follow suit and these will be dedicated to solving problems associated with finance, governance, commerce, and agriculture.

See More: Nigerian Economy Is Growing And You Will Start Feeling It Soon

With these in mind, it could be surmised that these hubs are intended as mediums through which problems peculiar to each of the six geopolitical zones in the country can be addressed. The partnership with the private sector appears to be intended as a move that will ensure the sustainability of those hubs.

Fast forward a few weeks down the line and Nigeria’s number two citizen touched down on the ancient city of Benin, the capital of Edo State. During his visit to the state, he commissioned the Edo Innovation Hub; an edifice that has the capacity to host over 25 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies, as well as the facilities to cater for the training of people and residents on various ICT-based skills.

Prof. Osinbajo is known to have also paid visits to a number of hubs located in both Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, and its undisputed commercial hub; Lagos. Perhaps the highlight of it all came on 23rd June 2018 when he headlined the inauguration of what could be considered Nigeria’s largest tech hub yet in Lagos.

In what came to be called Vibranium Valley, the VP unveiled a tech hub that could drive Nigeria’s technology growth and export of innovations. Vibranium Valley is home to as many as 30 tech companies while also boasting the capacity to accommodate 50 more. The innovation hub is owned by the Venture Garden Group (VGG) and it occupies the very grounds of the once famous Concord Printing Press of Nigeria, established by the Late M.K.O. Abiola; a national icon.

“It is about technology, it is about innovations, and tech innovation is all about highly-skilled people, entrepreneurship spirit, and a supporting ecosystem of government, investors, mentors, and global collaboration,” Prof. Osinbajo fondly remarked at the opening of Vibranium Valley.

“In the past, Nigerian billionaires were traders, oil and gas moguls; in the next few years, billionaires from Nigeria will be techies. This government is taking this phenomenon seriously, demonstrated by our innovation hub plans and ease of doing business initiative,” he explained.

Quite conscious of the fact that a considerable amount of the Nation’s youth is unable to act on brilliant ideas because of the dearth of capital, the VP appears to be steering the government in the path of supporting such enterprises both financially and otherwise. Thus, creating an environment that supports the proliferation of innovation. “We believe it is our role to provide the environment where innovation can thrive, so, we are including technology startups and businesses in our list of businesses eligible for pioneer status and that means tax holidays,” he stated further, at the unveiling of the mega tech hub.

As part of the VP’s efforts which have already resulted in the establishment of three state-of-the-art government-supported technology hubs in the country, plans which will see the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry work on intervention funds and loans for technology startups are also believed to have been set in motion.

The VP is known to have also hinted at the willingness of the administration to play a regulatory role as he intends to champion the creation of an Innovation and Technology Advisory Council to harness and foster the creativity and innovative ingenuity of young Nigerians, as well as accelerate the growth of the country’s tech sector.

Although the country’s Industrial and Competitive Council is already tasked with shouldering some of those responsibilities, a move of that nature could be interpreted to imply that the interest in fostering technology and innovation in the country has intensified in recent times and the VP appears to be not only a figurehead but also an ardent believer in the campaign.

It does make for an even more interesting narrative when some thought is given to the idea that the VP was also at the center of a recent announcement which suggested that Nigeria’s ongoing digital identification of all citizens and legal residents on a harmonized platform will be the largest database in Africa, and only second in the world to the Aadhaar of India.  

Prof. Osinbajo is known to have also hinted at the ability of the said project to unlock a lot of opportunities in different sectors when he delivered the keynote address in the “Technology As A Catalyst Conference,” which was held in Lagos recently.

In the latter parts of his keynote, the VP revealed that the “E-government Master Plan” had been approved by the Federal Executive Council. This project is expected to see the National Information Technology Development Agency collaborate with Galaxy Backbone to implement the interoperability framework that would provide a shared platform for the benefit of ministries, departments, and agencies. Throw that in with the rest of his posturing as of late and it might be concluded that the VP is on some kind of personal mission to spark a tech revolution in Nigeria.

There is undoubtedly a large amount of work left undone on this front as it is not entirely out of place to describe these recent moves as baby steps at this point in time, but they may yet prove the all-important springboard to the giant leaps that will need to be taken in shaping Nigeria’s tech future.

And it will be quite interesting to see how this pans out given that the country’s general elections are due in a few months. Will the current administration be returned to the office to continue the revolution, or will the tech scene be shunted out wide with the coming of a new dispensation? Well, that sounds like one for the voters to decide come 2019. In any case, we do know someone who is doing his bit to support technology and innovation in the country, and it remains to be seen whether that proves successful in the end, or just another effort in futility. Either way, the history books will surely be written.

 

Feature Image Courtesy: The Eagle Online

Egypt’s Nawah Scientific Gets USD 1 Mn Funding Boost From Endure Capital

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian research startup, Nawah Scientific, has secured an investment worth USD 1 Mn in a pre-Series A round led by Endure Capital, with 500 Startups, Averroes Ventures, Egypt Ventures, and angel investor, Dr. A. Abdelhamid, also joining the funding round. This is the first time the startup is raising external investment.

Nawah Scientific is a Cairo-based startup that appears to be carving a niche for itself in the area of scientific research. The startup which was founded in 2015 by Dr. Omar Sakr; a PhD holder in the field of Pharmaceutical Sciences, boasts a collection of advanced equipment that is suited to the research and development needs of both natural and medical sciences.

Nawah Scientific helps scientists and universities who do not have access to sophisticated equipment and facilities carry out critical research tests that would be otherwise improbable or too much to ask.

The startup goes about this by receiving experiment requests via its online platform. Through a courier, the test samples are moved under prime conditions from the address of the client that made the request to premises of the startup.

A team of competent in-house scientists then take the reins from that point onwards as the required tests are carried out and the test results are relayed to the client via the startup’s online platform. Through this simple but effective mode of operation, Nawah Scientific is able to cater for the needs of researchers as it affords scientists access to top-notch research facilities, whilst fostering scientific research in both Egypt and beyond.

Having been established barely three years prior, Nawah Scientific claims to have offered its services to clients within and outside Egypt. So far, the startup claims to have analyzed as many as 15,000 samples from 32 universities. But the services of the startup do not stop at scientists and academia as it also carries out complicated research projects and simple analysis for chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Omar Sakr, Founder and CEO of Nawah Scientific, tethered his motivation for establishing the startup to the need to make access to cutting-edge research and high-tech equipment more available.

He also noted that a lot of time that should otherwise be put into meaningful work is spent by scientists shuttling between cities and universities to have their samples tested. And in the process, yielding unreliable research projects that are shallow at best. According to the CEO, this has put a strain on the trust between industry and academia resulting in a poor ‘research-to-product’ conversion rate. He, however, believes that the startup is now better poised to fix these problems.

With the latest development, Nawah Scientific has now become one of the first life sciences startups in the MENA region that has achieved success in raising significant investment. Since its inception, the startup has posted an impressive year-on-year growth and this can be thought to have gone some way towards attracting and closing the investment deal. And this bodes well for other science-based startups in the region as the company appears to have broken the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaking with regards to the investment, Tarek Fahim, Managing Partner of Endure Capital, opined that biotech startups share a lot in common with software startups before AWS and rapid development tools. He also stressed the importance of infrastructure players who can push boundaries to the growth and sustainability of biotech enterprises, stating that they can help “lower cost for starting and increase the speed of prototyping.”

Egypt Ventures; a VC that was launched recently by Egypt’s Ministry of Investment, is believed to be the biggest investor in this round. Hema Ali, Managing Director of the newly launched VC, expressed the company’s excitement at being part of the startup’s journey as it looks to scale its offerings and expand into new markets.

It was this time last year when Nawah Scientific clinched the grand prize in the pitch competition at the 2017 RiseUp Summit. Having emerged winners of the competition, the startup roped in a USD 50 K cash prize.

Now, barely a year on from that night of blitz, the startup appears to be holding its own quite well, and the latest investment worth USD 1 Mn (which is quite substantial given that the startup is raising external capital for the first time) is a testament that Nawah Scientific is on the right track, as this connotes investor confidence.

Plans related to expanding the startup’s services and growing its marketing activities outside of Egypt are expected to get most of the attention with the latest capital injection.

 

 

Feature image CourtesyNawah Scientific

Egyptian Healthtech Startup Vezeeta Raises Investment From IFC

Nzekwe Henry December 10

Egyptian healthtech startup, Vezeeta, has secured an undisclosed amount of investment from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). This development sees Vezeeta become the first Egyptian technology company to bag a direct investment from the IFC.

Vezeeta is one of the leading healthtech startups in the MENA region and the latest investment from IFC into the Cairo-based company follows a previous announcement which saw the startup close a Series-C round worth USD 12 Mn. That round was led by STV; a Saudi-based investment firm.

Vezeeta was launched in 2012 by Amir Barsoum. The startup makes it possible for patients to search, compare, book, and consult with doctors in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Lebanon. Vezeeta also assists medical personnel with practice management solutions that help in better management of medical appointments and patient data.

Up to 2 million appointments are believed to be facilitated by the platform on a yearly basis, and that’s according to the startup. More so, Vezeeta claims to have over 10,000 healthcare providers signed on to the platform, providing services to at least 2.5 million patients in the region.

With regards to the development, Amir Barsoum, Founder and CEO of Vezeeta, offered that the investment from a “global power” like the IFC will help accelerate the growth of the startup, as well as buoy its plans of building a formidable global network.

Chief Executive Officer of the IFC, Philippe Le Houerou, also commented on the development expressing his confidence in the ability of Vezeeta to drive innovation in the MENA region. The CEO also expressed delight at the prospect of African entrepreneurs harnessing their creativity and drive with the power of novel technologies to address some of the continent’s most pressing problems.

Vezeeta’s Chief Technology Officer, Adel Khalil, also rendered his voice in support of the development reiterating its importance in helping the startup keep up with its mandate of empowering millions of patients in the region, and making sure patients and healthcare providers are seamlessly connected by leveraging data and new products in healthcare.

Mohammad Elmougi echoed, Vezeeta’s VP North Africa, echoed the thoughts of the CTO when he hinted at the commitment of the startup to pulling down all accessibility barriers and improving the quality of healthcare experienced by patients in the region through the elimination of all the bottlenecks that currently bedevil quality healthcare service accessibility.

While this is undoubtedly the IFC’s very first direct investment in an Egyptian technology venture, it would, however, not be the first this investment arm of the World Bank Group is throwing about its financial weight in the MENA region. Over the course of the past few years,  the IFC is known to have made funding commitments worth over USD 100 Mn in startups, venture funds, and accelerators across the Middle East and North Africa, including such Egyptian ventures as Flat6Labs and Algebra Ventures.

 

Feature image courtesyMENAbytes

Ugandan Startup Swipe2pay Swipes Away USD 40K At BRIDGE East Africa Startup Pitch

Kevin Gachiri December 10

Swipe2pay, a Ugandan startup was picked as the winner of BRIDGE East Africa Startup pitch and secured USD 40K at Weetracker’s first flagship conference event held at Crowne Plaza on 7th December in Nairobi. The announcement was made by Takuma Terakubo the CEO of Leapfrog Ventures whose joint partnership with Weetracker made the event possible. Leapfrog Ventures will add Swipe2pay to its roster of startups, it is funding in East Africa. Other startups that took part in the pitch included Yusudi, Talklift, Zumi and Asilimia.

The Selection of Swipe2pay came as a surprise considering that each of the 5 startups had delivered convincing pitches in front of the panel that comprised Japanese investors on tour in Africa, some for the first time. Solomon Kitumba, CEO Swipe2pay, had come from pitching at #slush18 in Helsinki arriving in time to make his pitch as the last participant for the day. Swipe2pay makes it possible for informal businesses that accept cash from customers to be able to accept digital payments as well as credit card transactions. The startup which was founded in 2017, is already integrated with Visa and Mastercard.

In an interview with Weetracker, Solomon intimated that “We are already active in Uganda with a majority of our customers coming from Mbarara and Jinja. We have built a regular customer base of 550 regular users on our  platform with transactions sometimes growing upto 3,500 per day when we get very busy.”

According to their website, the solution they provide to customers also includes their provision of daily, weekly and monthly reports. The fintech startup has integration with Kenya’s MPESA making it possible for them to venture into the local Kenyan market as well.

Solomon is assisted by a team of six who play different roles in driving the business forward and the funding they have received will go into product development as well as strengthening its talent pool which would be necessary for looking at how the product can be polished, refined or extend its features. Having grown in rural Uganda, Solomon had observed how informal market traders mostly women fail to access finance since they don’t keep records or any form of payments they receive from clients.  This makes it difficult to get credit reference. The need to accept funds from clients who wish to pay by cards also means that they usually turn away clients from this customer segment. Swipe2pay, therefore, helps in attracting more customers.  It is this discovery that made Solomon devise a method of bringing a better solution to these informal traders.

Weetracker’s BRIDGE East Africa, held in Kenya drew a substantial crowd of investors from Japan as well as attendance of local investors, venture capitalists and seasoned entrepreneurs. The event hosted startup pitches that were held in between the panel discussions and fireside chats with selected guests. Leapfrog Ventures announced at the event that it is looking at making 200 investments in Africa in the coming 3 years.

What You Should Know About Google Hangouts’ Rumored Shutdown

Andrew Christian December 9

Sources familiar with the tech giant’s product’s internal roadmap have reported that 2019 will be the last year for Google Hangouts, as the company plans to shut it down by the year 2020. The development, to nearly no one’s surprise, is a reiteration which accompanies the company’s apparent decision to hold off on further developments on the app more than a year ago.

Google had previously announced its pivot for the Hangouts brand for enterprise use scenarios with Hangout Chat and Hangout Meet, so it has been telling for a while that the consumer app would soon cease to exist. With the abandonment of Google Hangouts concerning development and its presumed final extinction, many entrepreneurs have begun charting a course away from the app, even though it will remain a prominent official chat option in Gmail on the web – continuing on the Google Play Store even now. In line with recent reviews, the app has shown signs of ageing which are evident in its display of bugs and performance glitches.

Hangout as a brand will remain with G Suite’s Hangout Chat and Hangouts Meet, with the former tailored for Slack app-comparable team communication and the latter as a video meetings platform. In the same line, Google Voice calling, which was initially independent and then integrated into Hangouts, was restored to its own redesigned app earlier this year.

Worthy of interest is that in spite of its inevitable axing, Hangouts was one of the few apps to receive early support for Android Auto’s new MMS and RCS functionality, alongside Whatsapp and Android Messages.

Nonetheless, Google’s Scott Johnson has chimed in on this development and denied any decision being made about the timeline of legacy Hangouts’ shutdown. He did confirm that users of consumer Hangouts will somehow be upgraded to Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, both of which have been presented as enterprise-focused products that fill different needs. Scott also confirmed rather explicitly that Hangouts Classic, which is the subject of this development, will eventually be “shutting down’. Meanwhile, there are sources which corroborate the initial report, informing that decisions have been made for the depreciation of legacy Hangouts.

Most of us consider the Chat and Meet to be more business-focused products, and these plans make the situation seem as though they could have more of a consumer-facing component in the future. For entrepreneurs who have continued to use Hangouts, and who are now coming to rely on Slack or Discord style at-mentions, having such features in Hangouts may be somewhat snazzy. If the rumour of Hangouts’ death or transition are true or have been exaggerated, it wouldn’t matter so much if the new upgrades come with those new features.

Meanwhile, another source reports that Google provided an update on its current efforts, and now focuses moving towards a simpler communication experience. Starting on the consumer front, Google has “decided to stop supporting Allo to focus on Messages.” In April this year, Google only noted that it was “holding off investment” on Allo, but the tech giant confirmed that the service is about to get the sunset. Allo will be available until March 2019, with the service continuing to work until then; disregarding today’s downtime. Google has furnished us with details on how users can export existing conversation history from the app.

Google Hangouts, for as long as it has been in use, hasn’t disappointed entrepreneurs, as it can be a great asset to a company of any size – even more ideal for smaller businesses and startups. The app allows you to connect with employees easily, business colleagues and clients via calls and video chat making it seamless for those who travel or work from home. Hangouts also afford companies the flexibility of connection form virtually any smart device. Users can also, during chats, share files via Google Drive, stream live broadcast, participate in webinars and hold staff meetings amongst many more.

As customers will be able to review your business as an accessible one that cares about customer satisfaction, using Google Hangouts is a marketing strategy with all the makings of greatness. With weekly/monthly question and answer sessions, customer chats and feedback reception, you can not only appeal to customers but receive immediate interactions that can help you develop a more robust marketing strategy. Taylor Swift hosted a Google+ Hangout to announce her new album, and with the medium, she was able to reach fans from all over the world – making her song hit number one right after its release.

This goes to say that Hangouts is a great way to make business announcements such as funding rounds, product launches, expansion or any other news that customers may be interested in. The app is also useful in holding online staff meetings, and conference calls with important clients even while you are in transit.

We are yet to find out the actual features that will come with the storied Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet as replacements to the authority-building, customer-gathering, engaging, and collaborative Google Hangouts. 2020 is more than a year from now, so while Sundar Pichai and his team of techies decide the fate of this G Suite member, we still have no less than 12 months to enjoy the existing chat room app.

Nigeria’s Logistics Startup Kobo360 Raises USD 6 Mn From World Bank’s IFC

Andrew Christian December 7

Nigeria’s Uber-like trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised USD 6 Mn in its second investment round this year. The equity financing which was gained from World Bank ’s sister organization IFC, will help the company upgrade its e-logistics platform and spread its tentacles to Ghana, Togo and Ivory Coast.

This recent investment for Kobo360, which also involved efforts from other platforms such as TLom Capital and Y Combinator, will be used by the startup to become more than just a transit app. The founder, Obi Ozor, told Techcrunch that the company broke into the logistics market as an app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs, but now looks to build a global logistics operating system and become a full-fledged platform.

While bridging the gap between truckers, producers and distributors, Kobo360 is now chomping at bit to build the platform that will offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers. In a statement, Ozor revealed that large firms are now demanding for movement, tracking and sales-related specific features, which is why the startup is looking to leverage two options – integrate other services such as SAP into Kobo or building the solutions directly into the e-logistics platform.

With this new investment round, the startup will sally forth with the said upgrade by developing its API and opening it up to for the use to large enterprise customers. With the intent for clients to use Kobo360’s dashboard for everything from moving goods, tracking, sales and accounting, the platform wishes to tackle the challenges faced by its customers.

It is also reported that the company will forge a more physical Nigerian presence in order to serve its customers better. Concerned about truck movements and monitoring, helping operation’s collect proof of delivery and accessing trucker owners more closely for inspection and training purposes, Kobo360 is poised to launch 100 hubs before the end of 2019, according to its founder.

The startup, remaining “aggressively” focused on reducing logistics friction for large enterprises and SMEs alike, alongside connecting new markets and unlock better community wellbeing, will add more warehousing capabilities to support its reverse logistics business. By matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, Kobo360 will bring down prices and eliminate the return-empty challenge facing its customers.

In a statement, the IFC enthused that the company currently has over 5000 trucks empanelled on its platform, from more than 600 small fleet owners, serving some of the largest enterprises in Nigeria. Kobo360 told Techcrunch in January that it is looking to add 20,000 trucks to its platform and latch on to the expansion which is now made possible by its USD 6 Mn raise. According to the founder, the expansion, which is scheduled to take off in 2019, will be with existing customers – one in the port operations business, another in FMCG and the last in agriculture.

As a matter of strategic priority, the funding, which was announced by both parties on the eve of the opening of the IFC’s Next 100 African Startups Initiative, will be used by the startup to also expand programs and services for its driver members. Along this line, Ozor remarked that neglecting drivers would crumble the company to a pile of issues while iterating that the same loophole hinders ride-hailing companies from becoming trillion-dollar enterprises.

Because owning trucks may be too cumbersome to handle, Ozor opines that the best scalable model is to aggregate trucks, while handling more volume at cheaper prices to leverage the startup’s asset-free digital platform and business model to outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria.

According to a Weetracker report, Kobo360 raised USD 1.2 Mn in June this year from U.S venture capital firm Western Technology Investment and became a Y-Combinator cohort, while receiving USD 120 K equity investment from the seed fund. The logistics startup, which has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, is welcoming IFC’s regional head for Africa, Wale Ayeni and TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson to take seats at its board.

Kobo360 also offers training and programs on insurance, discount petrol and vehicle financing to its drivers. The startup has also created an HMO for drivers, alongside an incentive-based program to afford education, which is monikered as KoboCare. The company’s top clients include Honeywell, Dangote, Unilever, Olam and DHL.

 

Featured Image Courtesy: Macktrucks

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