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Ugandan fintech wins Catapult: Inclusion Africa 2021

Emata, a Ugandan Fintech that gives farmers access to digital and affordable financial products has been announced as the winner of the Best Catapulter Award at the end of the CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa 2021 digital bootcamp. 

Emata, a Ugandan fintech has been announced as the winner for Catapult: Inclusion Africa 2021

The award was announced at the end of CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa’s digital pitching ceremony held on 27 May. Each of the 14 finalists presented their final pitch to a panel of esteemed judges. 

Bram van den Bosch, CEO, and co-founder of Emata sheds light on the fintech’s innovative offering.

“Access to formal and affordable financial services is crucial for farmers to prosper, and we think Emata solves this sustainably and innovatively that ultimately strengthens the entire ecosystem. Catapult and the LHoFT has offered us a platform to meet, discuss with and learn from great founders and investors. We look forward to putting this into action as we scale up in Uganda and beyond.” 

As the overall winner of the bootcamp, Emata received €5 000 in LHoFT prize money and free entry and accommodation to attend the upcoming “African MicroFinance Week” in October 2021. 

The first runner-up of CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa was awarded to Mosabi, a Sierra Leone-based Fintech and Edtech hybrid. The fintech hybrid unlocks financial opportunities through innovative learning. 

The second runner-up was awarded to Nokwary Technologies, a Ghanaian startup developing voice-based interfaces for financial services, with the aim to facilitate financial inclusion of the technologically illiterate.

All the 14 Fintech participating in the bootcamp received a one-year free membership at the LHoFT. (See this story)

Emata

Founded in 2020, the Kampala-based fintech startup Emata provides a service that enables farmers to access a range of affordable and digital financial services. 

The fintech has reportedly built a credit history by digitising milk delivery systems in Uganda, based on this credit history the startup provides credit to farmers at interest rates that they can afford.

(Supplied)

Catapult: Inclusion Africa 2021

Developed by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs’ Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs with key strategic partners, the programme aims to help selected fintech startups grow, develop, network, and secure funding. 

The bootcamp served to build bridges for business between Africa and Europe and helped the Fintechs connect with an international set of investors and Venture Capitalists. During the 10-day online programme, participating fintech’s were provided insight into a range of topics including business model mapping, investment readiness, funding, and capital raising, social impact, scaling strategy, building teams, operational management, and pitch development.  

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MFS Africa leads $2.3M seed round in Ugandan fintech startup Numida

Small businesses in Africa need digital banking services, including plenty of credit. Although these businesses drive economic growth and contribute up to one-third of the continent’s GDP, they are often financially excluded from credit and other financial services due to their size and informality.

One such company tackling this challenge in the eastern part of Africa is Ugandan fintech startup Numida. And today, the company is announcing the close of its $2.3 million seed round.

Mina Shahid, Catherine Denis and Ben Best founded Numida in 2017 and capitalized on the opportunity to build one of East Africa’s first digital fintechs targeting semi-formal micro and small businesses. Typically, these businesses access credit from family, loan sharks and informal money lenders that offer poorly designed consumer credit. They can also get loans from a traditional microfinance institution but not without meeting a series of requirements.

But the founders didn’t set out to offer credit to businesses when they first started. An initial pilot in 2016 was centered around a bookkeeping tool that enabled traditional microfinance institutions (MFIs) to provide unsecured credit to semi-formal businesses.

“One of the major reasons why financial institutions don’t give loans to these businesses is because they don’t have good financial track records and cash flow history,” Shahid said to TechCrunch. “That was the problem we set out to solve — to create the mechanisms to get that cash flow data and present it in a form that can be used and incorporated into the underwriting processes.”

The founders thought that these microfinance institutions would begin to use the data obtained from months of bookkeeping to serve these businesses. But they didn’t envisage what happened after nine months. Shahid stated that even though the MFIs claimed to love the data that Numida could bring out, they were unwilling to adjust their underwriting practices. In turn, they rejected all Numida’s customers who applied for loans on the platform because they lacked collateral.

“So we thought among ourselves that if our mission is to unlock access to resources that these mom and pop shops need in order to grow their businesses, we’re not going to do that by partnering with these traditional MFIs; we had to do that ourselves,” he continued.

Via a proprietary credit score, Numida offers risk-based pricing on an applicant’s first loan. After that, businesses can access unsecured working capital loans of up to $3,500 in less than two hours, according to the company.Two business people using Numida

Numida business owners. Image Credits: Numida

From May 2017, when it pivoted, to September 2019, Numida kept its outstanding portfolio very small and iterated on its underwriting process and credit risk algorithm. After making several iterations, the company went full on to the market in October 2019, and the CEO says the company has grown 6x in lending volumes.

To date, it has provided more than $2 million in unsecured credit to 3,000 micro and small businesses in Uganda, disbursing around $250,000 per month. This is with outstanding collections, repayment rates and client retention, the CEO added.

Although the consumer digital lending space in East Africa has seen an abundance of transactions in recent years, the same cannot be said for startups targeting the micro and small business segment. As one of the few facing this segment, the business has faced issues around getting relevant data to improve its model but doesn’t collate data it thinks isn’t necessary (social media activities, SMS or mobile money transactions) for the sake of aggregating data.

“We look at the business fundamentals, the cash flow of the business, and some demographic data about the applicants. We’ve had to build our own data set because there are no readily available cashflow data on semi-formal, micro and small businesses in Africa,” remarked Shahid.

Its underwriting model was built off 15,000 loans, which took a long time to execute, and this timing puts some strain on how fast it can onboard customers and serve them. But the company has since moved past that problem and easily serves thousands of customers. The pandemic also helped in accelerating its growth and with this new investment, Numida is poised to grow further.

Pan-African payments company MFS Africa led the seed round. There was also participation from firms like DRK Foundation, Equilibria Capital and Segal Family Foundation alongside angel investors.

The last time MFS Africa was in the news regarding an investment dates back to June 2020, when it acquired Ugandan fintech startup Beyonic for an undisclosed amount.

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020

Numida is another Ugandan fintech, and a similar play might be in the cards. According to Shahid, the most obvious acquisition path for any successful lending startup to small businesses in Africa is a payments platform. His reason? Because credit is one of the core financial products that will create loyalty and retention to a specific payments platform.

He adds that MFS is a strategic investor in Numida and not the typical VC. He sees the Pan-African company as owning infrastructure, which his company can ride on as a solid foundation for scale. “That’s an opportunity we see in the future. We were concerned about scaling across the continent and who would be the best partner for this. We thought MFS has a lot of expertise and footprint on the continent that will allow us to scale moving forward.”

With this new financing, Numida plans to expand aggressively in Uganda and pilot in a new market, preferably in West Africa. There are some parallels between Uganda and Ghana, Numida’s primary choice in the region. They both have similar mobile money penetration, issues with traditional financial service providers and similar businesses that Shahid says make an enticing market. Per plans, Numida will introduce to its customers additional financial services like payments, micro-insurance and deposits

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African payments company Flutterwave raises $170M, now valued at over $1B

The proliferation of fintech services across Africa remains in full swing as investors remain bullish about the opportunities that abound in the sector. Today we behold another unicorn: African payments company Flutterwave announced that it has closed $170 million, valuing the company over $1 billion.

New York-based private investment firm Avenir Growth Capital and U.S. hedge fund and investment firm Tiger Global led the Series C round. New and existing investors who participated include DST Global, Early Capital Berrywood, Green Visor Capital, Greycroft Capital, Insight Partners, Salesforce Ventures, Tiger Management, Worldpay FIS and 9yards Capital. 

The Series C round comes a year after Flutterwave closed its $35 million Series B and $20 million Series A in 2018. In total, Flutterwave has raised $225 million and is one of the few African startups to have secured more than $200 million in funding. 

Launched in 2016 as a Nigerian and U.S.-based payments company with offices in Lagos and San Francisco, Flutterwave helps businesses build customizable payments applications through its APIs.

When the company raised its Series B, we reported that Flutterwave had processed 107 million transactions worth $5.4 billion. Right now, those numbers have increased to over 140 million transactions worth more than $9 billion. The company, which also helps businesses outside Africa to expand their operations on the continent, has an impressive clientele of international companies, including Booking.com, Flywire and Uber.

Flutterwave says more than 290,000 businesses use its platform to carry out payments. And according to the company’s statement, they can do so “in 150 currencies and multiple payment modes including local and international cards, mobile wallets, bank transfers, Barter by Flutterwave.”

While its website shows an active presence in 11 African countries, Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola, also known as GB, told TechCrunch the company is live in 20 African countries with an infrastructure reach in over 33 countries on the continent.

Last year was a pivotal one for the five-year-old company. Its second investment came just in time before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Africa, negatively impacting some businesses but not payments companies like Flutterwave.

Agboola says his company grew more than 100% in revenue within the past year due to the pandemic without giving specifics on numbers. It also contributed to its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 226% from 2018.  

According to the CEO, this growth resulted from an increase in activities in “COVID beneficiary sectors” — a term used by Flutterwave to describe sectors positively impacted by the pandemic. They include streaming, gaming, remittance and e-commerce, among others. Agboola adds that the company plans to ride on these sectors’ growth and continue in that trajectory.

Besides, Flutterwave’s response in introducing the Flutterwave Store for merchants during pandemic-induced lockdowns was instrumental as well. The product, which went live across 15 African countries, helps over 20,000 merchants to create storefronts and sell their products online.

Image Credits: Flutterwave

Flutterwave wants to become a global payments company, and the Series C investment helps to reach that goal. The company says it plans to use the funds to speed up customer acquisition in its present markets. It will also improve existing product offerings like Barter, where it has over 500,000 users, and introduce new offerings. One such is Flutterwave Mobile, which in the founder’s words “will turn merchants’ mobile devices into a point of sale, allowing them to accept payments and make sales.”

In a statement, Agboola gives credit to the company’s more than 300 staff, investors, customers and regulatory bodies like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for creating the backbone for Flutterwave’s success.

For some, it would come off as strange that the CEO mentioned the last stakeholder given the unfavourable and questionable regulations it has recently placed on fintechs in Nigeria.

However, Agboola thinks the reverse is the case. He makes a bold statement by saying that under the current CBN governor’s administration, the Central Bank has shown a consistent regulatory framework that has allowed fintechs like Flutterwave to thrive.

“Flutterwave, for instance, launched when the governor just came in. We got our license and scaled our business because of a favourable regime that allowed it to be possible. There are so many trailblazing innovations that we don’t talk about a lot about Nigeria, like the BVN and the NIP system. Nigeria has consistently been at the forefront of payments innovation for over a decade, and it was all possible because of the forward-looking CBN policies,” he said.

On exits, acquisitions and the billion-dollar club

One fintech company that has unquestionably championed payments in this time frame is Interswitch. The payments giant is currently worth $1 billion after Visa acquired a 20% stake in 2019, and Flutterwave joins the company as the only fintechs in Nigeria to have reached that valuation. This number increases to four in Africa when including publicly traded African e-commerce company Jumia and Egyptian payments company Fawry.

Flutterwave’s $170 million mammoth raise and its billion-dollar valuation represent a landmark achievement for the African startup scene. While the aforementioned companies’ valuations can’t be disputed, there are question marks on whether some are startups and whether others are African companies.

Interswitch, for instance, was founded in 2002, which doesn’t necessarily make it a startup despite still being private. Fawry was launched in 2007, but didn’t become a billion-dollar company until 2020, a year after going public. Jumia, albeit public, reached unicorn status as a private company in 2016; however, there are varying opinions as to whether it is an African company or not.

Unlike the others, Flutterwave checks all the boxes of what a billion-dollar African startup should ideally look like — founded by Africans in Africa while reaching a $1 billion valuation in fewer than 10 years.

Most stakeholders in Africa’s tech ecosystem knew this would happen, but the timing expected was later rather than sooner. After raising $35 million in a Series B in 2020, who would have thought Flutterwave was going to raise almost five times that amount the following round and be valued at more than $1 billion the next year? Maybe just a few.

Well, these numbers rarely matter to Agboola, as I ask him what he thinks of Flutterwave’s new growth metric. “I’ll say valuation is both art and science. At some point, we were also the most valuable African company at YC, but it’s not really a metric we’re focused on at Flutterwave because they move up and down,” he smiles. “Our key metrics have always been revenue, customer growth and retention.”

Aptly said, but as the company continues to grow, questions around profitability and exit will become more frequent.

Paystack, another Nigerian payments company that is often compared to Flutterwave, got acquired by Stripe for more than $200 million last year. At the time, there were also rumours of Flutterwave taking the same route, but this Series C raise suggests that the company is not looking to exit at the moment. However, if the YC-backed company indeed does, it might be through an IPO.

“Like every other startup, we’re thinking about ways to create exit tools for our investors. So, a listing is very much in our plans, but for now, we’re focused on giving the best value to our customers,” Agboola said. 

In the course of the company’s journey to this point, it has remained big on partnerships. In 2019, Flutterwave partnered with Visa to launch Barter and Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China. Then last year, the company announced a partnership with Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

Although Flutterwave has done this with bigger establishments, Agboola says the company will be looking to do the same with smaller companies, opening the doors to potential acquisitions.

“We believe in payments in partnership as you have to partner to scale. So, if in the course of making partnerships and scaling and we identify promising companies with a similar ethos and have our vision in mind, that is in making Africa a country, an acquisition isn’t off the table,” he said.

After capturing much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Agboola says Flutterwave’s next plan is to go live in North Africa. There, it will likely face competition from a local leader, Fawry, but that doesn’t matter. The African fintech market is large enough to accommodate multiple players.

That’s one reason why it has also been a popular bet with investors. The sector, which is both local and international investors’ top destination, attracted between 25% to 31% of the total VC funding last year from varying sources.

But from the information on their websites, this is the first time Flutterwave’s lead investors —  Avenir Growth Capital and Tiger Global — are backing an African fintech startup. For the former, Flutterwave represents the first African startup in its portfolio, but Tiger Global is known to have invested in Nigerian media company iROKOtv and South African e-commerce company, Takealot.

Via their partners — Jamie Reynolds of Avenir Growth Capital and Scott Shleifer of Tiger Global, both firms said they’re backing Flutterwave on its quest to build a global and world-class payments company.

Looking into the future, Agboola insists that the company’s focus remains to support its 290,000 merchants and help them build global businesses.

“We look forward to increasing our investments across the continent and deepening the impact our platform has on lives and livelihoods as we take more businesses in Africa to the world, and at the same time continue to bring more of the world to Africa,” he said.

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Flutterwave and PayPal collaborate to allow African merchants to accept and make payments

It is nearly impossible for businesses in some African countries to receive money from PayPal. While the payments giant has not given reasons why this is so, speculation hints at factors like insufficient regulation and poor banking security in said countries. 

That might be a thing of the past for some businesses, as African payments company Flutterwave today is announcing a collaboration with PayPal to allow PayPal customers globally to pay African merchants through its “Pay with PayPal” feature.

Via this partnership, African businesses can connect with the more than 377 million PayPal accounts globally and overcome the challenges presented by the highly fragmented and complex payment and banking infrastructure on the continent.

According to CEO Olugbenga “GB” Agboola, this will happen via a Flutterwave integration with PayPal so merchants can add PayPal as a payment option when receiving money outside the continent. The service, which is already available for merchants with registered business accounts on Flutterwave, will be operational across 50 African countries and worldwide, the company claims. Flutterwave hopes to roll out this service to individual merchants on the platform as well.  

“In a nutshell, we’re bringing more than 300 million PayPal users to African businesses so they can accept payments across the continent,” he said to TechCrunch. “Our mission at the company has always been to simplify payments for endless possibilities, and from when we started, it has always been about global payments. So despite having the largest payment infrastructure in Africa, we want to have arguably all the important payments systems in the world on our platform.”

Image Credits: Flutterwave

A PayPal spokesperson confirmed the Flutterwave collaboration with TechCrunch.

Since the company’s expansion to Africa, it has maintained a one-sided relationship with most countries on the continent, allowing them only to send money. And according to its website, only 12 African countries can send and receive money on the platform, but to varying degrees. They include Algeria, Botswana, Egypt, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa.

Users in countries who are not afforded the luxury to do so have to rely on using the PayPal account of a friend or family, based in countries where payments can be received. Next, they request the funds via bank transfer, leading to more incurred costs or use other cross-border money platforms like WorldRemit.

This is a pain point for these businesses, particularly in Nigeria. PayPal finally arrived in Africa’s most populous country in 2014, and a year later it became the company’s second-biggest market on the continent.But despite its fast adoption rate and large fintech appetite, merchants cannot still receive payments from other countries on the platform. Various sources have alluded to PayPal’s decision not to make this service available to the country due to its history with internet fraud. Fraud or not, Nigeria’s e-commerce and that of the continent at large continues to grow at a breathtaking pace. In 2017, Africa generated $16.5 billion in revenue, and by 2022, it is expected to reach $29 billion. With numbers like this, it isn’t hard to see why PayPal wants to get in on the action, albeit not completely. Hence, the partnership with Flutterwave.

The company, via its APIs, offers payment services to individuals and businesses across the continent. Since launching in 2019, the African payments company has partnered with Visa to launch Barter; Alipay to offer digital payments between Africa and China; and Worldpay FIS for payments in Africa.

But this one with PayPal is arguably its biggest collaboration yet. Now, African businesses have more access to sell to global customers using PayPal to receive and send payments online. 

In a way, Flutterwave absorbs most of the risk PayPal thinks it will incur if it makes its platform more open to merchants in these countries. But at the same time, it solidifies Flutterwave’s position in the eyes of multinationals looking to enter the African market.

Like when its partnership with Worldpay FIS coincided with its Series B funding, this announcement is also coming on the back of a raise. Last week, the payments company closed a $170 million Series C led by Avenir Growth Capital and Tiger Global, becoming a billion-dollar company in the process.

In hindsight, the mammoth raise suggests that there are a couple of projects in the company’s pipeline. Going by this partnership, we can expect the majority of them to be global plays.

Yet, these questions remain top of mind — What happens when PayPal automatically allows businesses from these neglected African countries to start receiving payments? Will both services continue to coexist if that happens? We’ve reached out to PayPal for comment.

However that plays out, this is a step forward in the right direction for Flutterwave, which has shown time and time again the length it is willing to go for its 290,000 merchants and the ongoing quest to become a global payments company.

“By working with PayPal, we can further strengthen our commitment to our customers and service users as we will be enabling them to transact and expand their business operations to reach new markets. PayPal’s global reach is unrivalled, and collaborating with them allows our customers to explore new markets where PayPal is embedded,” the CEO said.


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