African financial technology startups move beyond payment services

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor Africa Roundup: Paga goes global and 4 startups raise $99M in VC Polestar unveils first production EV with aim to overtake Tesla If mobile money was the first phase […]

If mobile money was the first phase in the development of digital finance in Africa, the next phase of digital financial services on the continent will focus on lending, insurance and wealth management

In “Beyond Payments: The Next Generation of Fintech Startups in Sub-Saharan Africa,” the venture capital firm Village Global, and their reporting partner, PayPal, tip their hat to M-Pesa and mobile money in Africa, but say that there’s a wave of innovation still to come.

The investment firm identified f 12 companies it determined were “building solutions in fintech subsectors outside of payments.”

In partnership with PayPal, Village Capital has set up Fintech: Africa 2018, a program in that seeks to find and support startups bringing other “critical services” to Africa’s unbanked populations.

“We can’t do enough to highlight what the next generation of fintech startups will and should be driving….whether it’s in agriculture—helping farmers have access to the financial system—through alternative credit scoring and lending—so people can actually get access to loans or insurance—or building savings and wealth,” Village Capital Managing Director and report co-author Allie Burns told TechCrunch.

Village Capital’s work gives a snapshot of these four sub-sectors—agricultural finance, insurtech, alternative credit scoring, and savings and wealth—including players, opportunities and challenges, recent raises, and early-stage startups to watch.

In alternative credit scoring and lending it sees blockchain as a driver of innovation in reducing “both transaction costs and intermediation costs, helping entrepreneurs bypass expensive verification systems and third parties.”

The report highlights recent raises by savings startup PiggybankNG and Nigerian agtech firm Farmcrowdy. Village Capital sees the biggest opportunities for insurtech startups in five countries: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria.

On non-payments fintech startups overall, Village Capital chose a cohort of 12 for its 2018 program. They included F-Pesa — a Kenyan foreign exchange app­ — and Nigerian installment e-commerce app CredPal. All 12 participated in three Village Capital and PayPal sponsored workshops to introduce them to mentors and investors. Two of the cohort (identity venture Youverify and Ugandan cloud focused microfinance company Ensibuuko) received funding offers from Village Capital.

PayPal’s involvement in Village Capital’s Fintech Africa program “is really about…our commitment to financial health and the democratization of finance,” PayPal head of social innovation Sean Milliken told TechCrunch.

PayPal provided financial resources for the Fintech Africa program and study and participated in the development of the curriculum “toward those participating ventures getting investment ready,” said PayPal’s Director of Corporate Affairs Tyler Spalding. They didn’t invest though: “our funds were not actually deployed in an investment capacity,” he added.

PayPal has increased its presence and payment activity in Africa over the last several years through a number of partnerships—including one to transfer funds through Safaricom’s M-Pesa product—and plans to deliver more remittances into Nigeria and South Africa through its Xoom subsidiary.

Village Capital is still mulling the possibility running another round of its Fintech Africa program in 2019. To date the fund has invested in 14 Sub-Saharan African startups.

Whether its payment or non-payment applications, the number of startups in Africa’s fintech space and the breadth of their activities continue to grow.

Big developments TecCrunch has covered this year have mostly been on the digital payments side including Paga’s global expansion and plans to take on providers such as PayPal and Safaricom. Then there have been big raises by payments focused Paga ($10), Cellulant ($47M), and Mines ($13) and by lending platform Jumo ($52) and South African business enterprise services startup Yoco.

Flutterwave and Ventures Platform CEOs will join us at Startup Battlefield Africa

Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa this December. TechCrunch will be hitting Lagos, Nigeria, bringing with it our Battlefield competition and a day’s worth of panel discussions, focused on topics facing the city’s startup scene. We’ve already announced a pair of speakers for the event and and are excited to add a couple more to […]

Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa this December. TechCrunch will be hitting Lagos, Nigeria, bringing with it our Battlefield competition and a day’s worth of panel discussions, focused on topics facing the city’s startup scene.

Iyin “E” Aboyeji

We’ve already announced a pair of speakers for the event and and are excited to add a couple more to the list, bringing with them expertise on topics like VC funding and blockchain technology.

Iyin “E” Aboyeji is the Founder and CEO of Flutterwave, a payment solution designed to transfer funds between Africa and abroad. The Lagos-based startup serves as a payment gateway for a number of high profile companies including Uber, TransferWise, booking.com and tuition platform, Flywire.

In July of this year, Flutterwave rasied a $10 million Series A led by Greycroft Partners and Green Visor Capital.

Other investors include Y Combinator, Omidyar Network, Social Capital, CRE Venture Capital and HOF Capital. Aboyeji will join us to discuss the potential of blockchain tech in Africa’s burgeoning startup scenes.

Kola Aina

Kola Aina is the CEO and founder of Ventures Platform, a Lagos-based VC firm focused on Africa. VP is among the largest accelerator/seed stage funders in the space with an eye toward solving local issues. In addition to serving as a Partner at the fund, Aina is also a mentor at World Bank Group and Google’s Launchpad Accelerator.

We’ve got plenty more speakers to announce in the coming weeks. You can grab your tickets to the event here.

Africa Roundup: Paga goes global and 4 startups raise $99M in VC

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor Polestar unveils first production EV with aim to overtake Tesla Liquid Telecom goes long on Africa’s startups as future clients Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for international expansion […]

Nigerian digital payments startup Paga is gearing up for international expansion with a $10 million round led by the Global Innovation Fund.

The company is exploring the release of its payments product in Ethiopia, Mexico, and the Philippines—CEO Tayo Oviosu told TechCrunch.

Paga looks to go head to head with regional and global payment players, such as PayPal, Alipay, and Safaricom according to Oviosu.

“We are not only in a position to compete with them, we’re going beyond them,” he said of Kenya’s MPesa mobile money product. “Our goal is to build a global payment ecosystem across many emerging markets.”

Launched in 2012, Paga has created a multi-channel network and platform to transfer money, pay bills, and buy things digitally 9 million customers in Nigeria—including 6000 businesses.

Since inception, the startup has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, according to Oviosu. He joined Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge and Helios Investment Partners’ Fope Adelowo at Disrupt San Francisco to discuss fintech and Africa’s tech ecosystem.

South African fintech startup Jumo raised a $52 million round (led by Goldman Sachs) to bring its fintech services to Asia. The company—that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa—has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way.

The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors and also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments.

Launched in 2014, Jumo specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses.

To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year. Jumo is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing.

Lagos based Paystack raised an $8 million Series A round led by Stripe.

In Nigeria the company’s payment API integrates with tens of thousands of businesses, and in two years it has grown to process 15 percent of all online payments.

In 2016, Paystack became the first startup from Nigeria to enter Y Combinator, and the incubator is doing some follow-on investing in this round.

Other strategic investors in this Series A include Visa and the Chinese online giant Tencent, parent of WeChat and a plethora of other services. Tencent also invested in Paystack’s previous round: the startup has raised $10 million to date.

Paystack integrates a wide range of payment options (wire transfers, cards, and mobile) that Nigerians (and soon, those in other countries in Africa) use both to accept and make payments. There’s more about the company’s platform and strategy in this TechCrunch feature.

South African startup Yoco raised $16 million in a new round of funding to expand its payment management and audit services for small and medium-sized businesses as it angles to become one of Africa’s billion-dollar businesses.

To get there the company that “builds tools and services to help SMEs get paid and manage their business” plans to tap $20 billion in commercial activity that the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Katlego Maphai estimates is waiting to move from cash payments to digital offerings.

Yoco offers a point of sale card reader that links to its proprietary payment and performance software at an entry cost of just over $100.

With this kit, cash-based businesses can start accepting cards and tracking metrics such as top-selling products, peak sales periods, and inventory flows.

Yoco has positioned itself as a missing link to “solving an access problem” for SMEs. Though South Africa has POS and business enterprise providers — and relatively high card (75 percent) and mobile penetration (68 percent) — the company estimates only 7 percent of South African businesses accept cards.

Yoco says it is already processing $280 million in annualized payment volume for just under 30,000 businesses.

The startup generates revenue through margins on hardware and software sales and fees of 2.95 percent per transaction on its POS devices.

Yoco will use the $16 million round on product and platform development, growing its distribution channels, and acquiring new talent.

Emerging markets credit startup Mines.io closed a $13 million Series A round led by The Rise Fund, and looks to expand in South America and Asia.

Mines provides business to consumer (B2C) “credit-as-a-service” products to large firms.

“We’re a technology company that facilitates local institutions — banks, mobile operators, retailers — to offer credit to their customers,” Mines CEO and co-founder Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

Most of Mines’ partnerships entail white-label lending products offered on mobile phones, including non-smart USSD devices.

With offices in San Mateo and Lagos, Mines uses big-data (extracted primarily from mobile users) and proprietary risk algorithms “to enable lending decisions,” Nwokah explained.

Mines started operations in Nigeria and counts payment processor Interswitch and mobile operator Airtel as current partners. In addition to talent acquisition, the startup plans to use the Series A to expand its credit-as-a-service products into new markets in South America and Southeast Asia “in the next few months,” according to its CEO.

Nwokah wouldn’t name specific countries for the startup’s pending South America and Southeast Asia expansion, but believes “this technology is scalable across geographies.”

As part of the Series A, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth (founder of The Rise Fund) will join Mines’ board of directors.

 

Digital infrastructure company Liquid Telecom is betting big on African startups by rolling out multiple sponsorships and free internet across key access points to the continent’s tech entrepreneurs.

The Econet Wireless subsidiary is also partnering with local and global players like Afrilabs and Microsoft­­ to create a cross-border commercial network for the continent’s startup community.

“We believe startups will be key employers in Africa’s future economy. They’re also our future customers,” Liquid Telecom’s Head of Innovation Partnerships Oswald Jumira told TechCrunch.

With 13 offices on the continent, Liquid Telecom’s core business is building the infrastructure for all things digital in Africa.

The company provides voice, high-speed internet, and IP services at the carrier, enterprise, and retail level across Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa. It operates data centers in Nairobi and Johannesburg with 6,800 square meters of rack space.

Liquid Telecom has built a 50,000 kilometer fiber network, from Cape Town to Nairobi and this year switched on the Cape to Cairo initiative—a land-based fiber link from South Africa to Egypt.

Though startups don’t provide an immediate revenue windfall, the company is betting they will as future enterprise clients.

“Step one…in supporting startups has been….supporting co-working spaces and events with sponsorships and free internet,” Liquid Telecom CTO Ben Roberts told TechCrunch. “Step two is helping startups to adopt…business services.”

Liquid Telecom provides free internet to 30 hubs in seven countries and is active sponsoring startup related events.

On the infrastructure side, it’s developing commercial services for startups to plug into.

“At the early stage and middle stage, we’re offering startups connectivity, skills development, and access to capital through the hubs,” said Liquid Telecom’s Oswald Jumira.

“When they reach the more mature level, we’re focused on how we can scale them up…and be a go to market partner for them. To do that they’ll need to leverage…cloud services.”

Microsoft and Liquid Telecom announced a partnership in 2017 to offer cloud services such as Microsoft’s Azure, Dynamics 365, and Office 365 to select startups through free credits—and connected to comp packages of Liquid Telecom product offerings.

On the venture side, Liquid Telecom doesn’t have a fund but that could be in the cards.

“We haven’t yet started investing in startups, but I’d like to see that we do,” said chief technology officer Ben Roberts. “That can be the next move onwards… from having successful business partnerships.”

And finally, tickets are now available here for Startup Battlefield Africa in Lagos this December. The first two speakers were also announced, TLcom Capital senior partner and former minister of communication technology for Nigeria Omobola Johnson and Singularity Investment’s Lexi Novitske will discuss keys to investing across Africa’s startup landscape.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

African Tech Around the Net

We’re kicking off Startup Battlefield MENA, here are the startups and agenda

We’re kicking off Startup Battlefield MENA here in Beirut, where 15 startups will be taking the stage, along with speakers from Facebook (our partner on the event through its FB Start program), Instabug, Eventus, Wuzzuf, Careem and Myki. For those of you who can’t be here in person, check back on TechCrunch later today, where […]

We’re kicking off Startup Battlefield MENA here in Beirut, where 15 startups will be taking the stage, along with speakers from Facebook (our partner on the event through its FB Start program), Instabug, Eventus, Wuzzuf, Careem and Myki.

For those of you who can’t be here in person, check back on TechCrunch later today, where we’ll be sharing videos and other highlights from the event. And of course, announcing the winner!

For the first time, TechCrunch is holding Startup Battlefield MENA in partnership with FB Start. After scouring does dozens of countries, sifting through hundreds and hundreds of extremely talented startups, TechCrunch selected 15 elite companies across the region to compete in prestigious global Startup Battlefield competition for $25,000 equity-free prize, a trip for 2 to TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 and the coveted title of “Middle East & North Africa’s Favorite Startup”.

After weeks of intense coaching from the TC team, these startups are primed for international launch. For the semi-final round, each founder will pitch for 6 minutes, with a live demo on stage, followed by 6 minutes of Q&A with our expert panel of judges. After, our judges will deliberate and 5 teams will be selected to compete in the final round of Startup Battlefield – same pitch, but with an even more intense Q&A.

So, who are these chosen few? From creating new forms of fast setting concrete to quickly build houses in areas recovering from natural disasters to agricultural monitoring technology preventing water-related conflict, this batch of companies is truly changing the world. Companies also include financial investment AI platforms, edible insect based protein powder, to culturally relevant dating apps. Founders in the automotive industry are poised to change everything from how we pick the cars we want to buy to how we optimize their maintenance. From innovations to hydroponic gardens, educational tutoring platforms to modernizing technology for hotel chains, Startup Battlefield MENA is set to highlight the regions most promising startups. Videos from the event will be posted on TechCrunch.com after the event. Stay tuned!

Session 1: 9:30am – 10:30am

BuildinkHarmonicaMaterialSolvedMoneyFellowsNeotic AI

Session 2: 11:10am – 12:10am

NaturansaSeabex by IT GrapesIN2SeezAutotell 

Session 3: 1:40pm – 2:40pm

SynkersVerboseMakerbraneArgineeringPureHarvest


Welcome Remarks
9:05 am – 9:25 am

Infrastructure and Connectivity: A Regional Perspective with Imad Kreidieh (Ogero Telecom) and Ari Kesisoglu (Facebook)
Access to the internet and connectivity is the driving force for the 4th industrial revolution. Join a conversation about how the Telco industry is changing in Lebanon and the region, and what that means for businesses and consumers. Sponsored by Facebook

9:25 am – 10:30 am

Startup Battlefield Competition – Flight #1
TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is here and for the first time in MENA, as entrepreneurs from around the region pitch expert judges and vie for US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019.

10:30 am – 10:50 am

BREAK
10:50 am – 11:10 am

Jennifer Fong (Facebook)
Hear from Facebook’s head of the Developer Circles Program about their work with developers, startups and businesses to build, grow, measure, and monetize using Facebook and Messenger platform products. Sponsored by Facebook

11:10 am – 12:10 am

Startup Battlefield Competition – Flight #2
TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is here and for the first time in MENA, as entrepreneurs from around the region pitch expert judges and vie for US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019.

12:10 pm – 1:10 pm

BREAK
12:15 pm – 1:15 pm

Workshop: Automated Driving Mobility in MENA with Mandali Khalesi (Toyota)
Toyota’s Global Head of Automated Driving Mobility and Innovation will share Toyota’s latest automated driving research findings and its plans for the future. There will be 30 minutes set aside for consultation, where the audience will have the opportunity to advise Toyota on both how it should go about developing automated driving mobility for MENA, as well as how best to work together with entrepreneurs in the region.

1:15 pm – 1:40 pm

Lessons 10 Years On with Omar Gabr (Instabug), Nour Al Hassan (Tarjama), Mai Medhat (Eventtus) and Ameer Sherif (Wuzzuf) – Moderated by Editor at Large Mike Butcher
Ten years ago the Middle East and North Africa’s tech ecosystem was worth perhaps tens of millions of dollars. Today it’s in the hundreds of millions, and beyond. A decade ago the societal landscape was very different from today. Let’s discuss the huge changes that have happened and challenges and opportunities ahead.

1:40 pm – 2:40 pm

Startup Battlefield Competition – Flight #3
TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is here and for the first time in MENA, as entrepreneurs from around the region pitch expert judges and vie for US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019.

2:40 pm – 3:00 pm

Fireside Chat with Magnus Olsson (Careem) – Moderated by Managing Editor Matt Burns
How do you scale a big startup in MENA? We hear from Magnus Olsson, founder and Managing Director of ride-hailing giant Careem on how they joined the unicorn club with Lyft and Uber.

3:00 pm – 3:25 pm

Where Will the Exits Come From with Henri Asseliy (Leap Ventures), Priscilla Elora Sharuk (Myki), and Kenza Lahlou (Outlierz Ventures) – Moderated by News Editor Ingrid Lunden
Both VCs and startups in MENA alike are furiously building the companies of the future. But you can’t have a startup without an acquisition or IPO, so where are they going to come from? We’ll hear from both the founder and investor perspectives.

3:25 pm – 4:40 pm

Startup Battlefield Competition – Final Round
TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is here and for the first time in MENA, as entrepreneurs from around the region pitch expert judges and vie for US$25,000 no-equity cash prize and a trip for two to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2019.

4:40 pm – 4:55 pm

BREAK
4:55 pm – 5:20 pm

MENA Content Plays with Paul Chucrallah (BeryTech Fund), Hussam Hammo (Tamatem) and Rami Al Qawasmi (Mawdoo3) – Moderated by News Editor Ingrid Lunden
A little-known fact about the MENA market is the sheer lack of Arabic language content online for consumers, whether it be media, music, games or events. Arabic-specific sites have appeared, tailor-made to the market. We’ll get the perspective of key entrepreneurs in this space.

5:20 pm – 5:35 pm

Startup Battlefield Closing Awards Ceremony
Watch the crowning of the latest winner of the Startup Battlefield

How a Ugandan prince and a crypto startup are planning an African revolution

Crypto and blockchain enthusiasts have been railing for years against the centralized world of banks, but many have been doing so from the privileged vantage point of developed countries. But what if blockchain technology turned out to be most revolutionary in emerging economies?

Crypto and blockchain enthusiasts have been railing for years against the centralized world of banks, but many have been doing so from the privileged vantage point of developed countries. But what if blockchain technology turned out to be most revolutionary in emerging economies?

Take Africa for instance. Consumers in those countries became so frustrated with the banking fees imposed on their transactions every time they wanted to merely top up their mobile airtime, that airtime minutes alone actually became a form of money. Banking in the way it’s been developed for the developed world simply does not work when a transaction to top up a phone can cost more than the airtime itself.

South African-based startup Wala realized this early on. It developed a smartphone app that acted like a wallet, facilitating customer transactions via the app with existing banking infrastructures. But the high banking fees for nearly every function was hurting Wala’s customer base and the company’s early business model as a mobile wallet for the smartphone generation.

They needed a zero-fee solution, but the existing financial system just didn’t work. That’s when they realized they could switch to a cryptocurrency and allow payments across a peer-to-peer network for merchants, offering airtime, data, electricity bills — even the ability to pay school fees.

Today Wala, which raised $1.2 million selling Ethereum-based “$DALA” tokens in an initial coin offering (ICO) in December last year, is facilitating thousands of transactions in daily accounts across Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa, with most of those as micropayments under $1.

Since the launch of their $DALA currency in May 2018 (currently accessible through the Wala mobile application), more than 100,000 $DALA wallets have been opened and more than 2.5 million $DALA transactions have been processed, says the company. The multi-chain crypto asset — at least right now — uses Ether for the wallet and Stellar for transactions, though it is not locked to any one platform.

Through $DALA protocols (Kopa, Soko and Kazi), consumers have access to borderless, low cost, efficient and unique financial services enabling them to earn, save, borrow and transact in a new, decentralized, financial system.

But Wala does not plan to stop there.

Today, Dala, announced it has partnered with a gigawatt-scale solar program for Uganda to create a blockchain-enabled clean energy economy.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

Long-time energy company CleanPath Emerging Markets Uganda (CPEM) is partnering on the project with the Ugandan government and the Ugandan Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development, which will mean Ugandans are able to buy solar energy from this massive new infrastructure project using $DALA.

CPEM will use the DALA blockchain platform to manage its ledger, its vendor contracts and its partner commitments. The company has more than 11,000 MWs of renewable energy experience already under its belt.

The $1.5 billion program aims to create a new clean energy economy in Uganda, not only creating employment and kick-starting a clean energy economy but new economic development in Uganda. Ugandan consumers will be able to buy solar power in $DALA, workers can be paid in $DALA and the program will even run on $DALA.

Tricia Martinez, Wala co-founder and CEO, told me at the recent Pathfounder event in Oslo: “The numbers we’ve seen since the launch of $DALA have been staggering, and a large portion of our current users are Ugandan, so this partnership is a natural next step to allow users the opportunity to further benefit from using $DALA. The high level of user traffic also shows us that Ugandans are ready to use crypto assets in their day-to-day transactions.”

But the story wouldn’t have come about without an enlightened African prince who could have stepped straight out of the mythical kingdom of Wakanda, as featured in the recent smash-hit movie Black Panther.

For the founder of CPEM is Prince Kudra Kalema of the Bugandan Kingdom (a Ugandan royal family), whose ancestry goes back to at least the 14th century. Buganda is now a kingdom monarchy with a large degree of autonomy from the Ugandan state.

“We’re truly excited about this program and our partnership with Dala”, says Prince Kudra Kalema of the Buganda Kingdom, who is also managing partner and co-founder at CPEM. “By providing Ugandans with an opportunity to access clean energy through $DALA, we’re fostering a more inclusive decentralized financial system not possible with legacy technologies.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Prince Kalema told me: “My family considers itself to be the custodian of the land, and I have been searching for about a decade to find solutions that would improve the country. But what could we work on when people couldn’t even switch their lights on?”

It became obvious to him that the biggest issue was affordable electricity. And to do it in a renewable way. And it had to be solar. Microgrids turned out not to be the solution. And it had to be at scale.

But the question is, why did he hit on cryptocurrency?

“We began using the $DALA protocol because it became very clear that the financial structure in Uganda was not adequate. It was clear we needed something. There is no way the Uganda shilling is stable enough for the type of program we are doing. Wala was already invested in the same country and wasn’t just about the idea of a running a crypto coin in an emerging market, but was also about creating the best type of financial institutions for the country. That goes hand in hand with what we are doing. It became a no-brainer.”

“Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work.” — Prince Kudra Kalema

He says the $DALA crypto combined with his solar project will be much easier to run in Uganda than in countries like the U.S.: “Over 80 percent of Ugandans are under 35, and very well-educated. I don’t like the term leap-frogging, but this is what this is. They don’t have to unlearn anything that was there before. They are eager to figure out and learn about a solution that will help them. When you look at how quickly mobile money was adopted by Ugandans — it became powerful not because it was imposed but because people yearned for it. Ugandans are saying that what we have right now does not work. The banking transaction fees, the cost of remittances… — it’s difficult for them to be enthusiastic about something they know doesn’t work already.”

Uganda continues to be a market hungry to adopt new technology, and the recent announcement that Binance is launching a fiat to crypto exchange in the country is a recent example of this.

He added: “Uganda has always been at the forefront of these types of things. Even before we were a protectorate of the British Empire, Uganda was part of the region where people would travel to find out how to deal with things in Africa. We had an intricate tribal system. The British didn’t invade, they made it a protectorate because of this.”

The details of the plan are ambitious. Prince Kalema’s CPEM plans to create a gigawatt-scale solar power development program in Uganda providing clean energy to 25 percent of the population and creating 200,000 new jobs in the clean energy economy.

The program would more than double the current electricity generation capacity in Uganda (equivalent of about two average U.S. coal power plants), where 75 percent of the population has no access to energy.

By using $DALA, Ugandans will be able to consume energy at zero transaction fees, use it for everyday purchases and also convert it back to fiat Ugandan currency via agents/merchants and cryptocurrency exchanges.

It will even allow CPEM and the government of Uganda to make grants of free power available to the poorest, while keeping a completely auditable and tamper-proof record of these grants.

The story of how a small startup came to take African markets by storm begins in 2014.

Initially backed by angel investor and a social-impact VC (Impact Engine) in the U.S., Tricia Martinez’s Wala (pictured above) joined the Barclays Techstars Accelerator in London in 2016. It later set up shop in Cape Town, South Africa and started growing its team (it’s now at a total of 12 staff).

Not long after, South African VC Newtown Partners invested and Wala then issued the $DALA crypto-asset and set up the Dala foundation. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Newtown is headed-up by Vinny Lingham (of the well-known Civic and Ethereum-based project).

Martinez is passionate that cryptocurrency is going to be the solution emerging markets like Africa have wanted and needed for years: “The fact that the unit of account and store of value for this program is $DALA proves its utility and shows its potential to become a preferred financial system across emerging markets. We’re excited to be involved from the ground-level and look forward to playing our part in creating a just and accessible financial system for consumers.”

She says both the prince and the Ugandan government “needed a partner that can help drive the financial inclusion to get them into a more efficient digital system. That’s when they heard about us. When we started talking we both saw the opportunity to actually build an entire ecosystem built on a crypto asset.

“So it’s not just that consumers are buying that energy cryptocurrency, but the workers who are building our energy grids will get paid in it. So they’ve become very passionate about blockchain especially from the energy perspective, to create transparency. Working with the government to create more accountable records of what they’re building out could even reduce the potential for corruption.”

As Martinez points out: “In the hands of over 100,000 users in Uganda, already people are purchasing their electricity needs, products and services. The goal with this project is for people who are getting the energy to be able to then tap into all these other services that we offer. We’re also going to be launching cashing agents so that people can go to those mobile money agents around the corner to cash in and cash out to their wallet.”

It’s clearly a big project. Some observers will see the words “Uganda” and “Cryptocurrency” in the same sentence and no doubt come out with some kind of trite, dismissive, assessment.

But Wala’s experience on the ground — and it cannot be emphasized enough how important that is, compared to the armchair commentators at most blockchain conferences in the Western world — combined with the hunger of an emerging nation, a passionate prince and the ingenuity of its people should not be underestimated.

Meet the startups in the latest Alchemist class

Alchemist is the Valley’s premiere enterprise accelerator and every season they feature a group of promising startups. They are also trying something new this year: they’re putting a reserve button next to each company, allowing angels to express their interest in investing immediately. It’s a clever addition to the demo day model. You can watch […]

Alchemist is the Valley’s premiere enterprise accelerator and every season they feature a group of promising startups. They are also trying something new this year: they’re putting a reserve button next to each company, allowing angels to express their interest in investing immediately. It’s a clever addition to the demo day model.

You can watch the livestream at 3pm PST here.

Videoflow – Videoflow allows broadcasters to personalize live TV. The founding team is a duo of brothers — one from the creative side of TV as a designer, the other a computer scientist. Their SaaS product delivers personalized and targeted content on top of live video streams to viewers. Completely bootstrapped to date, they’ve landed NBC, ABC, and CBS Sports as paying customers and appear to be growing fast, having booked over $300k in revenue this year.

Redbird Health Tech – Redbird is a lab-in-a-box for convenient health monitoring in emerging market pharmacies, starting with Africa. Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world — but also the fastest growing rate of diabetes (double North America’s). Redbird supplies local pharmacies with software and rapid tests to transform them into health monitoring points – for anything from blood sugar to malaria to cholesterol. The founding team includes a Princeton Chemical Engineer, 2 Peace Corps alums, and a Pharmacist from Ghana’s top engineering school. They have 20 customers, and are growing 36% week over week.

Shuttle Shuttle is getting a head start on the future of space travel by building a commercial spaceflight booking platform. Space tourism may be coming sooner than you think. Shuttle wants to democratize access to the heavens above. Founded by a Stanford Computer Science alum active in Stanford’s Student Space Society, Shuttle has partnerships with the leading spaceflight operators, including Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, and Zero-G. Tickets to space today will set you back a cool $250K, but Shuttle believes that prices will drop exponentially as reusable rockets and landing pads become pervasive. They have $1.6m in reservations and growing.

Birdnest – Threading the needle between communal and private, Birdnest is the Goldilocks of office space for startups. Communal coworking spaces are accessible but have too many distractions. Traditional office spaces are private but inflexible on their terms. Birdnest brings the best of each without the drawbacks: finding, leasing, and operating a network of underutilized spaces inside of private offices. The cofounders, a duo of Duke and Kellogg MBA grads, are at $300K ARR with a fast-growing 50+ client waitlist.

Tag.bio – Tag.bio wants to make data science actionable in healthtech. The founding team is comprised of a former Ayasdi bioinformatician and a former Honda Racing engineer with a Stanford MBA. They’ve developed a next-generation data science platform that makes it easy and fast to build data apps for end users, or as they say, “WordPress for data science.” The result they claim is lightning-fast analysis apps that can be run by end users, dramatically accelerating insight discovery. They count the UCSF Medical Center and a “large Swiss pharma company” as early customers.

nCorium – They’ve built a new server architecture to handle the onslaught of AI to come with what they claim is the world’s first AI accelerator on memory to deliver 30x greater performance than the status quo. The quad founding team is intimidatingly technical — including a UCSD Professor, and former engineers from Qualcomm and Intel with 40 patents among them. They have $300K in pilots.

Spiio – Software eats landscaping with Spiio, which combines cloud-driven AI with physical sensors to monitor watering and landscaping for big companies. Their smart system knows when to water and when not to. This reduces water consumption by 50%, which means their system pays for itself in less than 30 days for big companies. They want to connect every plant to the internet, and look like they are off to a good start — $100K in orders from brand name Valley tech firms, and they are doubling monthly.

Element42 – Fraud is a major problem — For example, if you buy a Rolex on eBay, you run the risk of winding up with a counterfeit. Started by ex-VPs from Citibank, the founders are using risk models and technologies that banks use to help brands combat fraud and counterfeiting. Designed with token economics, they also incentivize customers to buy genuine products by serving exclusive content and promotions only to genuine product holders. Built on blockchain at the core, they claim to be the world’s first peer-to-peer authentication platform for physical assets. They have 45 customers across two industry verticals, 800K in ARR and are a member of World Economic Forum’s global initiatives against corruption.

My90 – Distrust between the public and the police has rarely been more strained than it is today. My90 wants to solve that by collecting data about interactions between the police and the public—think traffic stops, service calls, etc.—and turn these into actionable intelligence via an online analytics dashboard. Users text My90 anonymously about their interactions, and My90’s dashboard analyzes the results using natural language processing. Customers include major city police departments like the San Jose Police Department and the world’s largest community policing program. They have booked $150K in pilots and are expanding aggressively across the US.

Nunetz – A Stanford Computer Science grad and UCSF Neurosurgeon have come together to try to build a single unifying interface to replace the deluge of monitors and data sources in today’s clinical health environment. The goal is to prepare a daily “battle map” for physicians, nurses, and other providers, with an initial focus on the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). They have closed 3 paid pilots with hospitals through grants.

When Labs – If you hate managing people, When Labs wants to unburden you. Using an AI-powered assistant that texts with employees to negotiate assignments for hourly work, WhenLabs is trying to free customers like Hilton from spending money on managers who would normally do this manually. As the system gets smarter, they claim employees will prefer interfacing with their AI bot more than a human. AI and HR is a crowded space, but this might be the team to separate from the pack: the founding team’s previous company had a 9 figure exit to IBM.

FirstCut – FirstCut helps businesses put video content out at scale. Video dominates social media — it creates 10x more comments than text — and is emerging as a necessity for B2B media. But putting video out if you are a B2B marketer normally requires using agencies that charge hefty fees. FirstCut wants to disrupt the agencies with software and marketplaces. They use software automation and an on-demand talent marketplace to offer a fixed price product for video content. They are at $180k revenue, and most of it is moving to recurring subscriptions.

LynxCare – LynxCare claims that 90% of healthcare data goes untapped when doctors make critical decisions about your life. Further, they claim the average person’s life could be extended by 4 years if that data can be converted into insights. Their team of clinicians and data scientists aims to do just that — building a data platform that aggregates disparate data sets and drive insight for better clinical outcomes. And it looks like their platform has fans: they are active in 9 hospitals, count Pharma companies like Pfizer as Partners, and grew 4x over the past year and now are at $800K ARR.

ADIAN – Adian is a B2B SaaS product that digitizes the complex agrochemical supply chain in order to improve the sales process between manufacturers and distributors. The company claims manufacturers reduce costs by 20% and increase sales by 4% by using their online framework. $1.5 Billion and 70,000 orders have gone through the platform to date.

Hardin Scientific – Hardin is building IoT-enabled, Smart Lab Equipment. The hardware becomes a gateway to become the hub for monitoring, controlling, and sharing scientific data across teams. They’ve closed over $1.5m in revenue, and raised $15m in equity and debt financing. One of their smart devices is being used to 3D print bio-tissues and human organs in space.

ZaiNar – This team of 5 Stanford grads — 3 PhD’s and 2 MBAs — joined up with the Co-Founder of BlueKai to build the world’s best time synchronization technology. ZaiNar claims their ability to wirelessly synchronize and distribute time between networked devices is a thousand times better than existing technologies. This enables them to locate RF-emitting devices (i.e. phones, cars, drones, & RFID) at long distances with sub-meter accuracy. Beyond location, this technology has applications across data transmission, 5G communications, and energy grids. ZaiNar has raised a $1.7M seed from AME Cloud and Softbank, and has built an extensive patent portfolio.

SMART Brain Aging – This startup claims to reduce the onset of dementia by 2.25 years with software. They are the only company approved by Medicare to get reimbursed on a preventative basis for the treatment of dementia. In conjunction with Harvard University, they have developed 20,000 exercises that are clinically proven to reduce the onset of dementia and, they claim, help build neurotransmitters. The company works with 300 patients per week ($2.2m annual revenue) and is building to a goal of helping 22,000 people in 24 months.

Phoneic – Phoneic believes the data trapped in voice calls from cellphones is a gold mine waiting to be unleashed. Their app records and transcribes cell phones conversations, and the company has built an integration layer to enterprise AI and CRM systems that traditionally didn’t have access to voice data. The team is led by the co-founder of 3jam, one of the first group SMS and virtual number companies, which was acquired by Skype in 2011. He is keenly aware of the power of virality — and like Skype, the use of Phoneic spreads its adoption. The company has already raised $800,000 in seed funding.

Arkose Labs – Whether or not you think Russia interfered with the 2016 election, it’s no secret that bots are having significant impact on society. Arkose Labs wants to fight fraud, without adding friction to legit users. Most fraud prevention platforms today focus on gathering info from the user and providing a probability score that the traffic is good or bad. This leaves companies with a difficult decision where they may be blocking revenue generating users. Arkose has a different approach, and uses a bilateral approach that doesn’t force this tradeoff. They claim to be the only solution to offer a 100% SLA on fraud prevention. Big companies like Singapore Airlines and Electronic Arts are customers. USVP led a $6m investment into the company.

Hear about the keys to local investing at Startup Battlefield Africa with Omobola Johnson and Lexi Novitske

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa in December, this time in Lagos, Nigeria. We will have a day-long program full of our flagship Battlefield competition highlighting the best startups that Africa has to offer. Not only that, we’ll have panel discussions designed to explore the continent’s rapidly developing technological infrastructure on the continent. To […]

Omobola Johnson (Image: Flickr/World Economic Forum under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

TechCrunch Startup Battlefield is returning to Africa in December, this time in Lagos, Nigeria. We will have a day-long program full of our flagship Battlefield competition highlighting the best startups that Africa has to offer.

Not only that, we’ll have panel discussions designed to explore the continent’s rapidly developing technological infrastructure on the continent. To wit, I’m excited to announce the first two speakers who will don our stage with direct knowledge about investing Silicon Valley money in the local ecosystem.

Omobola Johnson is a senior partner at TLcom Capital and the former minister of communication technology for Nigeria. Her vast knowledge about the startup investing landscape comes from her 25-year tenure at Accenture where she served as the managing director.

As ICT minister, she focused on the execution of the National Broadband Plan, as well as promoting government interest in local venture capital through the development of a fund and a network of startup incubators. And at Accenture, she advised numerous startups in various industries on how to become competitive and help to strengthen the tech landscape.

Lexi Novitske

Lexi Novitske is the principal investment officer for Singularity Investments where she is responsible for managing investments in the firm’s Africa portfolio.

Novitske moved to Africa from the United States, having identified a unique approach to providing African startups with the capital necessary to thrive. Big surprise: It’s not just about writing a check and hoping for returns. It’s about understanding the complexities of the environment, modifying Western attitudes about business and working hard with your companies to ensure the best outcomes.

Johnson and Novitske are just the beginning of what we have to offer at Battlefield Africa technology. Stay tuned for more announcements of great speakers and get your tickets before they sell out.

Africa’s Jumo raises $52M led by Goldman to bring its fintech services to Asia

Asia’s fintech scene is poised to get a little larger after Jumo, a company that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa, revealed plans to expand into the continent. To get the ball rolling, Jumo has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way and landed a massive $52 million investment led by banking giant […]

Asia’s fintech scene is poised to get a little larger after Jumo, a company that offers loans to the unbanked in Africa, revealed plans to expand into the continent. To get the ball rolling, Jumo has opened an office in Singapore to lead the way and landed a massive $52 million investment led by banking giant Goldman Sachs to fuel the growth.

The new round takes Jumo to $90 million raised from investors. While Goldman is the lead — and standout name — the round also saw participation from existing backers that include Proparco — which is attached to the French Development Agency — Finnfund, Vostok Emerging Finance, Gemcorp Capital, and LeapFrog Investments.

Jumo launched in 2014 and it specializes in social impact financial products. That means loans and saving options for those who sit outside of the existing banking system, and particularly small businesses. To date, it claims to have helped nine million consumers across its six markets in Africa and originated over $700 million in loans. The company, which has some 350 staff across 10 offices in Africa, Europe and Asia, was part of Google’s Launchpad accelerator last year and it is led by CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball, who has close to two decades in finance and investing.

Watkins-Ball told TechCrunch that he believes Jumo’s experience working in Africa sets it up perfectly to offer similar services in markets across Asia.

“We grew up in a very tough play yard,” he said in an interview. “We built our initial success in Tanzania which is probably one of the hardest [financial] markets in the world. A lot of these environments [in Asia] look more attractive.”

Unlike the West, where challengers are trying to unseat banks, fintech startups in emerging markets work with the existing system. That isn’t some cop-out, it actually makes perfect sense. Banks simply aren’t equipped to deal with customers seeking small loans in the hundreds of U.S. dollar bracket.

Jumo CEO Andrew Watkins-Ball believes his company’s work in Africa is ideal preparation for its expansion into Asia

Financially, the returns aren’t there from these customers and it doesn’t make sense for banks to invest resources sounding out a prospective loan. Even if they wanted to, they couldn’t vet these would-be customers, though. Many emerging markets simply don’t have the formalized credit checking systems that exist in the West, while many of the unbanked (or ‘less banked’) consumers wouldn’t even show up if they did due to a range of factors.

That’s where a new approach is needed. Fintech startups essentially act like a funnel. They manage the customer acquisition and retention, develop systems to assess credit based on alternative signals and, over time, build up a customer profile that reduces credit risk. That suits banks because they don’t need to handle the nitty-gritty and, when it works well, the startups bring them larger enough volumes of small loans that are a worthwhile opportunity for financial institutions.

Just looking at recent funding deals, the model is evident in markets like India — where ZestMoney pulled in funds last month — and Southeast Asia, where Experian backed fintech startup C88.

Watkins-Ball said Jumo is aiming to do the same having already proven its model in Africa. He acknowledged that a number of startups are also tackling the problem and welcomed the increase competition and growth potential across the fintech and micro-financing space.

“We’ve offered services to millions of new customers who weren’t part of the banking ecosystems,” he explained. “Essentially we grow the addressable market for banks.”

Already, Jumo has begun offering services in Pakistan and it has plans to open up in more markets in Asia, although Watkins-Ball isn’t saying which ones or when right now. But, in addition to proving its model, he believes that Jumo has already shown it can adapt to new markets.

“The differences between countries like Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia are as great as those between India, China and Indonesia,” he told TechCrunch. “So we’ve had to learn to use our platform, which we built to be flexible, and localize in order to fit the customer.”

That’s backed up by Goldman Sachs executive director Jules Frebault, who said in a statement: “There’s an immense opportunity across Africa and beyond for Jumo to build on their successful track record developing digital marketplace infrastructure to offer mobile subscribers access to relevant financial products.”

In addition to Asian expansions, Jumo’s new capital will also go towards expanding its current selection of productions in Africa. In particular, Watkins-Ball says the company is working to partner with more banks and it plans to introduce “new generations” of saving products.

While it isn’t taking its foot off the pedal in Africa, he said Jumo will likely devote the majority of its resources to the Asia expansion plan. That’ll make Jumo a very notable addition to a fintech scene that is already showing significant potential across the Asian region.

Facebook is hiring a director of human rights policy to work on “conflict prevention” and “peace-building”

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities. In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does […]

Facebook is advertising for a human rights policy director to join its business, located either at its Menlo Park HQ or in Washington DC — with “conflict prevention” and “peace-building” among the listed responsibilities.

In the job ad, Facebook writes that as the reach and impact of its various products continues to grow “so does the responsibility we have to respect the individual and human rights of the members of our diverse global community”, saying it’s:

… looking for a Director of Human Rights Policy to coordinate our company-wide effort to address human rights abuses, including by both state and non-state actors. This role will be responsible for: (1) Working with product teams to ensure that Facebook is a positive force for human rights and apply the lessons we learn from our investigations, (2) representing Facebook with key stakeholders in civil society, government, international institutions, and industry, (3) driving our investigations into and disruptions of human rights abusers on our platforms, and (4) crafting policies to counteract bad actors and help us ensure that we continue to operate our platforms consistent with human rights principles.

Among the minimum requirements for the role, Facebook lists experience “working in developing nations and with governments and civil society organizations around the world”.

It adds that “global travel to support our international teams is expected”.

The company has faced fierce criticism in recent years over its failure to take greater responsibility for the spread of disinformation and hate speech on its platform. Especially in international markets it has targeted for business growth via its Internet.org initiative which seeks to get more people ‘connected’ to the Internet (and thus to Facebook).

More connections means more users for Facebook’s business and growth for its shareholders. But the costs of that growth have been cast into sharp relief over the past several years as the human impact of handing millions of people lacking in digital literacy some very powerful social sharing tools — without a commensurately large investment in local education programs (or even in moderating and policing Facebook’s own platform) — has become all too clear.

In Myanmar Facebook’s tools have been used to spread hate and accelerate ethic cleansing and/or the targeting of political critics of authoritarian governments — earning the company widespread condemnation, including a rebuke from the UN earlier this year which blamed the platform for accelerating ethnic violence against Myanmar’s Muslim minority.

In the Philippines Facebook also played a pivotal role in the election of president Rodrigo Duterte — who now stands accused of plunging the country into its worst human rights crisis since the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 80s.

While in India the popularity of the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging platform has been blamed for accelerating the spread of misinformation — leading to mob violence and the deaths of several people.

Facebook famously failed even to spot mass manipulation campaigns going on in its own backyard — when in 2016 Kremlin-backed disinformation agents injected masses of anti-Clinton, pro-Trump propaganda into its platform and garnered hundreds of millions of American voters’ eyeballs at a bargain basement price.

So it’s hardly surprising the company has been equally naive in markets it understands far less. Though also hardly excusable — given all the signals it has access to.

In Myanmar, for example, local organizations that are sensitive to the cultural context repeatedly complained to Facebook that it lacked Burmese-speaking staff — complaints that apparently fell on deaf ears for the longest time.

The cost to American society of social media enabled political manipulation and increased social division is certainly very high. The costs of the weaponization of digital information in markets such as Myanmar looks incalculable.

In the Philippines Facebook also indirectly has blood on its hands — having provided services to the Duterte government to help it make more effective use of its tools. This same government is now waging a bloody ‘war on drugs’ that Human Rights Watch says has claimed the lives of around 12,000 people, including children.

Facebook’s job ad for a human rights policy director includes the pledge that “we’re just getting started” — referring to its stated mission of helping  people “build stronger communities”.

But when you consider the impact its business decisions have already had in certain corners of the world it’s hard not to read that line with a shudder.

Citing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (and “our commitments as a member of the Global Network Initiative”), Facebook writes that its product policy team is dedicated to “understanding the human rights impacts of our platform and to crafting policies that allow us both to act against those who would use Facebook to enable harm, stifle expression, and undermine human rights, and to support those who seek to advance rights, promote peace, and build strong communities”.

Clearly it has an awful lot of “understanding” to do on this front. And hopefully it will now move fast to understand the impact of its own platform, circa fifteen years into its great ‘society reshaping experience’, and prevent Facebook from being repeatedly used to trash human rights.

As well as representing the company in meetings with politicians, policymakers, NGOs and civil society groups, Facebook says the new human rights director will work on formulating internal policies governing user, advertiser, and developer behavior on Facebook. “This includes policies to encourage responsible online activity as well as policies that deter or mitigate the risk of human rights violations or the escalation of targeted violence,” it notes. 

The director will also work with internal public policy, community ops and security teams to try to spot and disrupt “actors that seek to misuse our platforms and target our users” — while also working to support “those using our platforms to foster peace-building and enable transitional justice”.

So you have to wonder how, for example, Holocaust denial continuing to be being protected speech on Facebook will square with that stated mission for the human rights policy director.

At the same time, Facebook is currently hiring for a public policy manager in Francophone, Africa — who it writes can “combine a passion for technology’s potential to create opportunity and to make Africa more open and connected, with deep knowledge of the political and regulatory dynamics across key Francophone countries in Africa”.

That job ad does not explicitly reference human rights — talking only about “interesting public policy challenges… including privacy, safety and security, freedom of expression, Internet shutdowns, the impact of the Internet on economic growth, and new opportunities for democratic engagement”.

As well as “new opportunities for democratic engagement”, among the role’s other listed responsibilities is working with Facebook’s Politics & Government team to “promote the use of Facebook as a platform for citizen and voter engagement to policymakers and NGOs and other political influencers”.

So here, in a second policy job, Facebook looks to be continuing its ‘business as usual’ strategy of pushing for more political activity to take place on Facebook.

And if Facebook wants an accelerated understanding of human rights issues around the world it might be better advised to take a more joined up approach to human rights across its own policy staff board, and at least include it among the listed responsibilities of all the policy shapers it’s looking to hire.

African experiments with drone technologies could leapfrog decades of infrastructure neglect

Jake Bright Contributor Jake Bright is a writer and author in New York City. He is co-author of The Next Africa. More posts by this contributor Harley-Davidson is opening a Silicon Valley R&D center to power EV production With a $10 million round, Nigeria’s Paga plans global expansion Samantha Stein Contributor More posts by this […]

A drone revolution is coming to sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries across the continent are experimenting with this 21st century technology as a way to leapfrog decades of neglect of 20th century infrastructure.

Over the last two years, San Francisco-based startup Zipline launched a national UAV delivery program in East Africa; South Africa passed commercial drone legislation to train and license pilots; and Malawi even opened a Drone Test Corridor to African and its global partners. 

In Rwanda, the country’s government became one of the first adopters of performance-based regulations for all drones earlier this year. The country’s progressive UAV programs drew special attention from the White House and two U.S. Secretaries of Transportation.

Some experts believe Africa’s drone space could contribute to UAV development in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

“The fact that [global drone] companies can operate in Africa and showcase amazing use cases…is a big benefit,” said Lisa Ellsman, co-executive director of the Commercial Drone Alliance.

Test in Africa

It’s clear that the UAV programs in Malawi and Rwanda are getting attention from international drone companies.

Opened in 2017, Malawi’s Drone Test Corridor has been accepting global applications. The program is managed by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority in partnership with UNICEF.

The primary purpose is to test UAV’s for humanitarian purposes, but the program “was designed to provide a controlled platform for… governments…and other partners…to explore how UAV’s can help deliver services,” according to Michael Scheibenreif, UNICEF’s drone lead in Malawi.

That decision to include the private sector opened the launch pads for commercial drones. Swedish firm GLOBEHE has tested using the corridor and reps from Chinese e-commerce company JD have toured the site. Other companies to test in Malawi’s corridor include Belgian UAV air traffic systems company Unifly and U.S. delivery drone manufacturer Vayu, according to Scheibenreif.

Though the government of Rwanda is most visible for its Zipline partnership, it shaping a national testing program for multiple drone actors. 

“We don’t want to limit ourselves with just one operator,” said Claudette Irere, Director General of the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MiTEC).

“When we started with Zipline it was more of a pilot to see if this could work,” she said. “As we’ve gotten more interest and have grown the program…this gives us an opportunity to open up to other drone operators, and give space to our local UAV operators.”

Irere said Rwanda has been approached by 16 drone operators, “some of them big names”—but could not reveal them due to temporary NDAs. She also highlighted Charis UAS, a Rwandan drone company, that’s used the country’s test program, and is now operating commercially in and outside of Rwanda.

UAV Policy

Africa’s commercial drone history is largely compressed to a handful of projects and countries within the last 5-7 years. Several governments have jumped out ahead on UAV policy.

In 2016, South Africa passed drone legislation regulating the sector under the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. The guidelines set training requirements for commercial drone pilots to receive Remote Pilot Licenses (RPLs) for Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. At the end of 2017 South Africa had registered 686 RPLs and 663 drone aircraft systems, according to a recent State of Drone Report.

Over the last year and a half Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania have issued or updated drone regulatory guidelines and announced future UAV initiatives.  

In 2018, Rwanda extended its leadership role on drone policy when it adopted performance-based regulations for all drones—claiming to be the first country in the world to do so.

So what does this mean?

“In performance-based regulation the government states this is our safety threshold and you companies tell us the combination of technologies and operational mitigations you’re going to use to meet it,” said Timothy Reuter, Civil Drones Project Head at the World Economic Forum.

Lisa Ellsman, shared a similar interpretation.

“Rather than the government saying ‘you have to use this kind of technology to stop your drone,’ they would say, ‘your drone needs to be able to stop in so many seconds,’” she said.

This gives the drone operators flexibility to build drones around performance targets, vs. “prescriptively requiring a certain type of technology,” according to Ellsman.

Rwanda is still working out the implementation of its performance-based regulations, according to MiTEC’s Claudette Irere. They’ve entered a partnership with the World Economic Forum to further build out best practices. Rwanda will also soon release an online portal for global drone operators to apply to test there.

As for Rwanda being first to release performance-based regulations, that’s disputable. “Many States around the world have been developing and implementing performance-based regulations for unmanned aircraft,” said Leslie Cary, Program Manager for the International Civil Aviation Authority’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft System. “ICAO has not monitored all of these States to determine which was first,” she added.

Other governments have done bits and pieces of Rwanda’s drone policy, according to Timothy Reuter, the head of the civil drones project at the World Economic Forum. “But as currently written in Rwanda, it’s the broadest implementation of performance based regulations in the world.”

Commercial Use Cases

As the UAV programs across Africa mature, there are a handful of strong examples and several projects to watch.

With Zipline as the most robust and visible drone use case in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While the startup’s primary focus is delivery of critical medical supplies, execs repeatedly underscore that Zipline is a for-profit venture backed by $41 million in VC.

The San Francisco-based robotics company — that also manufactures its own UAVs — was one of the earliest drone partners of the government of Rwanda.

Zipline demonstration

The alliance also brought UPS and the UPS Foundation into the mix, who supports Zipline with financial and logistical support.

After several test rounds, Zipline went live with the program in October, becoming the world’s first national drone delivery program at scale.

“We’ve since completed over 6000 deliveries and logged 500,000 flight kilometers,” Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek told TechCrunch. “We’re planning to go live in Tanzania soon and talking to some other African countries.”  

In May Zipline was accepted into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program (UAS IPP). Out of 149 applicants, the Africa focused startup was one of 10 selected to participate in a drone pilot in the U.S.– to operate beyond visual line of sight medical delivery services in North Carolina.    

In a non-delivery commercial use case, South Africa’s Rocketmine has built out a UAV survey business in 5 countries. The company looks to book $2 million in revenue in 2018 for its “aerial data solutions” services in mining, agriculture, forestry, and civil engineering.

“We have over 50 aircraft now, compared to 15 a couple years ago,” Rocketmine CEO Christopher Clark told TechCrunch. “We operate in South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and moved into Mexico.”

Rocketmine doesn’t plan to enter delivery services, but is looking to expand into the surveillance and security market. “After the survey market that’s probably the biggest request we get from our customers,” said Clark.

More African use cases are likely to come from the Lake Victoria Challenge — a mission specific drone operator challenge set in Tanzania’s Mwanza testing corridor. WeRobotics has also opened FlyingLabs in Kenya, Tanzania, and Benin. And the government of Zambia is reportedly working with Sony’s Aerosense on a drone delivery pilot program.

Africa and Global UAV

With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. rapidly developing drone regulations and testing (or already operating) delivery programs (see JD.com in China), Africa may not take the sole position as the leader in global UAV development — but these pilot projects in the particularly challenging environments these geographies (and economies) represent will shape the development of the drone industry. 

The continent’s test programs — and Rwanda’s performance-based drone regulations in particular — could advance beyond visual line of sight UAV technology at a quicker pace. This could set the stage for faster development of automated drone fleets for remote internet access, commercial and medical delivery, and even give Africa a lead in testing flying autonomous taxis.

“With drones, Africa is willing to take more bold steps more quickly because the benefits are there and the countries have been willing to move in a more agile manner around regulation,” said the WEF’s Reuter.

“There’s an opportunity for Africa to maintain its leadership in this space,” he said. “But the countries need to be willing to take calculated risk to enable technology companies to deploy their solutions there.”

Reuter also underscored the potential for “drone companies that originate in Africa increasingly developing services.”

There’s a case to be made this is already happening with Zipline. Though founded in California, the startup honed its UAVs and delivery model in Rwanda.

“We’re absolutely leveraging our experience built in Africa as we now test through the UAS IPP program to deliver in the U.S.,” said Zipline co-founder Keenan Wyrobek.