BRCK acquires ISPs EveryLayer and Surf to boost Africa’s public Wi-Fi

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: Zimbabwe’s net blackout, Partech’s $143M fund, Andela’s $100M raise, Flutterwave’s pivot Partech is doubling the size of its African venture fund to $143 million Kenyan communications hardware […]

Kenyan communications hardware company BRCK has acquired the assets of Nairobi based internet provider Surf and its U.S. parent EveryLayer in a purchase deal of an undisclosed amount announced Friday.

Based in Nairobi, Surf is a hotspot service provider aimed at offering affordable internet to lower income segments. BRCK is a five year old venture that pairs its rugged WiFi routers to internet service packages designed to bring people online in frontier and emerging markets.

With the acquisition, BRCK gains the assets of San Francisco based EveryLayer and its Surf subsidiary, including 1200 hotspots and 200,000 active customers across 22 cities in Kenya, according to BRCK CEO and founder Erik Hersman. EveryLayer CEO Mark Summer confirmed these details with TechCrunch.

Backed by $10 million from investors including Steve Case’s  href="https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/revolution" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/revolution&source=gmail&ust=1550264079401000&usg=AFQjCNHxpQzuoH0fPB4lHfAa_bZ07Yiklg">Revolution VC fund, BRCK plans to use its new resources to expand to an undisclosed East African and is eying options abroad. “We’re looking at Indonesia and starting our pilot in Mexico next month,” Hersman told TechCrunch on a call from Kigali.

BRCK built its platform around providing internet solutions primarily in Kenya and Rwanda. In 2017, the company rolled out its SupaBRCK product and paired it to its Moja service, which offers free public WiFi—internet, music, and entertainment—subsidized by commercial partners.

There’s not a requirement to click on or watch advertisements to gain Moja access, though users can gain faster access if they “interact with one of our business partners…by doing a survey, downloading an app, or watching an ad,” said Hersman.

In 2018, BRCK began offering SupaBRCK devices to drivers of Nairobi’s Mutatu buses for Kenyan commuters to access Moja. As of January Moja traffic is racking up 300,000 active uniques and 3.7 million impressions per month, according to Hersman.

The BRCK founder has described Africa’s internet challenges—mainly the lowest penetration rates in the world—as shifting toward more of an affordability than availability problem.

“The demand on internet in Africa is largely driven by the 10 to 15 percent who can afford it. The real massive opportunity is trying to connect the 70 to 80 percent of the people who can’t. That’s where the internet race really is,” Hersman told TechCrunch in 2017.

Speaking on the recent EveryLayer asset acquisition, Hersman explained that improvements over recent years in Africa’s smartphone penetration, internet costs, and broadband capabilities are not necessarily translating to large portions of Africa’s 1.2 billion people.

“Even with penetration improving, even with data prices going down, there’s still not a viable way to get internet to huge swaths of people,” he told TechCrunch. “The real numbers are that about 20 percent in every country can now afford to buy data-bundles, but 80 percent can’t.”

With the recent asset acquisition BRCK hopes to add its experience in delivering internet solutions on transit networks to Surf’s WiFi and IP capabilities toward new partnerships and service countries.

“Surf has a model for fixed WiFi and a team that roll things out in Kenya and new geographies. We can go to big ISPs in other countries and create partnerships…for fixed WiFi followed by transportation connectivity,” said Hersman.

BRCK will maintain the Surf name in the short term, “but over the next three to six months it will all be rebranded and the platform will become Moja WiFi,” Hersman said. Surf’s existing employees have been invited to join BRCK.

As for Surf’s parent company, EveryLayer, “at this point it will be shutdown. One of the founders Andris Bjornson will join BRCK,” CEO Mark Summer told TechCrunch.

In 2018, EveryLayer announced a partnership whereby Surf would also offer Facebook’s Express WiFi hotspots on its network. With the acquisition, that arrangement will continue “only for those existing express WiFi locations” until BRCK transitions “those…nodes to Moja WiFi in the next three to six months, explained BRCK CEO Erik Hersman. “

On data-privacy for BRCK’s Moja users, “BRCK doesn’t capture personally identifying information beyond the MacID of the device connecting…We don’t associate users browsing data with individual users and there are no logins,” Hersman told TechCrunch.

Connecting African software developers with top tech companies nets Andela $100 million

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, has raised $100 million in a new round of funding. The new financing from Generation Investment Management (the investment fund co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between […]

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, has raised $100 million in a new round of funding.

The new financing from Generation Investment Management (the investment fund co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between $600 million and $700 million, based on data available from Pitchbook on the company’s valuation following it’s previous $40 million funding.

Previous investors from that financing, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV, Spark Capital, and CRE Venture Capital also participated.

“It’s increasingly clear that the future of work will be distributed, in part due to the severe shortage of engineering talent,” says Jeremy Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Andela. “Given our access to incredible talent across Africa, as well as what we’ve learned from scaling hundreds of engineering teams around the world, Andela is able to provide the talent and the technology to power high-performing teams and help companies adopt the distributed model faster.”

The company now has over 200 customers paying for access to the roughly 1100 developers Andela has trained and manages.

Since its founding in 2014, Andela has seen over 130,000 applicants for those 1100 slots. Once a promising developer is onboarded goes through a 6 month training bootcamp at one of the company’s coding campuses in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, or Uganda they’re placed with an Andela customer to work as a remote, full-time employee.

Andela receives anywhere from $50,000 to $120,000 per developer from a company and passes one third of that directly on to the developer with the remainder going to support the company’s operations and cover the cost of training and maintaining its facilities in Africa. Coders working with Andela sign a four year commitment (with a two year requirement to work at the company) after which they’re able to do whatever they want.

Even after the two-year period is up, Andela boasts a 98% retention rate for developers, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s operations.

With the new cash in hand, Andela says it will double in size, hiring another thousand developers, and invest in new product development and its own engineering and data resources. Part of that product development will focus on refining its performance monitoring and management toolkit for overseeing remote workforces. 

“We believe Andela is a transformational model to develop software engineers and deploy them at scale into the future enterprise,” says Lilly Wollman, Co-Head of Growth Equity at Generation Investment Management, in a statement. “The global demand for software engineers far exceeds supply, and that gap is projected to widen. Andela’s leading technology enables firms to effectively build and manage distributed engineering teams.”

Connecting African software developers with top tech companies nets Andela $100 million

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, has raised $100 million in a new round of funding. The new financing from Generation Investment Management (the investment fund co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between […]

Andela, the company that connects Africa’s top software developers with technology companies from the U.S. and around the world, has raised $100 million in a new round of funding.

The new financing from Generation Investment Management (the investment fund co-founded by former Vice President Al Gore) puts the valuation of the company at somewhere between $600 million and $700 million, based on data available from Pitchbook on the company’s valuation following it’s previous $40 million funding.

Previous investors from that financing, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV, Spark Capital, and CRE Venture Capital also participated.

“It’s increasingly clear that the future of work will be distributed, in part due to the severe shortage of engineering talent,” says Jeremy Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Andela. “Given our access to incredible talent across Africa, as well as what we’ve learned from scaling hundreds of engineering teams around the world, Andela is able to provide the talent and the technology to power high-performing teams and help companies adopt the distributed model faster.”

The company now has over 200 customers paying for access to the roughly 1100 developers Andela has trained and manages.

Since its founding in 2014, Andela has seen over 130,000 applicants for those 1100 slots. Once a promising developer is onboarded goes through a 6 month training bootcamp at one of the company’s coding campuses in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, or Uganda they’re placed with an Andela customer to work as a remote, full-time employee.

Andela receives anywhere from $50,000 to $120,000 per developer from a company and passes one third of that directly on to the developer with the remainder going to support the company’s operations and cover the cost of training and maintaining its facilities in Africa. Coders working with Andela sign a four year commitment (with a two year requirement to work at the company) after which they’re able to do whatever they want.

Even after the two-year period is up, Andela boasts a 98% retention rate for developers, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s operations.

With the new cash in hand, Andela says it will double in size, hiring another thousand developers, and invest in new product development and its own engineering and data resources. Part of that product development will focus on refining its performance monitoring and management toolkit for overseeing remote workforces. 

“We believe Andela is a transformational model to develop software engineers and deploy them at scale into the future enterprise,” says Lilly Wollman, Co-Head of Growth Equity at Generation Investment Management, in a statement. “The global demand for software engineers far exceeds supply, and that gap is projected to widen. Andela’s leading technology enables firms to effectively build and manage distributed engineering teams.”

OffGridBox raises $1.6M to charge and hydrate rural Africa with its all-in-one installations

The simplest needs are often the most vital: power and clean water will get you a long way. But in rural areas of developing countries they can both be hard to come by. OffGridBox is attempting to provide both, sustainably and profitably, while meeting humanitarian and ecological goals at the same time. The company just raised $1.6 million to pursue its lofty agenda.

The simplest needs are often the most vital: power and clean water will get you a long way. But in rural areas of developing countries they can both be hard to come by. OffGridBox is attempting to provide both, sustainably and profitably, while meeting humanitarian and ecological goals at the same time. The company just raised $1.6 million to pursue its lofty agenda.

The idea is fairly simple, though naturally rather difficult to engineer: Use solar power to provide to a small community both electricity (in the form of charged batteries) and potable water. It’s not easy, and it’s not autonomous — but that’s by design.

I met two of the OffGridBox crew, founder and CEO Emiliano Cecchini and U.S. director Troy Billett, much earlier this year at CES in Las Vegas, where they were being honored by Not Impossible, alongside the brilliant BecDot braille learning toy. The team had a lot of irons in the fire, but now are ready to announce their seed round and progress in deploying what could be a life-saving innovation.

They’ve installed 38 boxes so far, some at their own expense and others with the help of backers. Each is about the size of a small shed — a section of a shipping container, with a scaffold on top to attach the solar cells. Inside are the necessary components for storing electricity and distributing it to dozens of rechargeable batteries and lights at a time, plus a water reservoir and purifier.

Water from a nearby unsafe natural (or municipal, really) source is trucked or piped in and replenishes the reservoir. The solar cells run the purifier, providing clean water for cheap — around a third of what a family would normally pay, by the team’s estimate — and potentially with a much shorter trek. Simultaneously, charged batteries and lights are rented out at similarly low rates to people otherwise without electricity. Each box can generate as much as 12 kWh per day, which is split between the two tasks.

The alternatives for these communities would generally be small dedicated solar installations, the upfront cost of which can be unrealistic for them. The average household spend for electricity, Billett told me, is around 43 cents per day; OffGridBox will be offering it for less than half that, about 18 cents.

It doesn’t run itself: The box is administrated by a local merchant, who handles payments and communication with OffGridBox itself. Young women are targeted for this role, as they are more likely to be long-term residents of the area and members of the community. The box acts as a small business for them, essentially drawing money out of the air.

OffGridBox works with local nonprofits to find likely candidates; the women pictured above were recommended by Women for Women. They in turn will support others who, for example, deliver or resell the water or run side businesses that rely on the electricity provided. There’s even an associated local bottled water brand now — “Amaziyateke,” named after a big leaf that collects rainwater, but in Rwanda is also slang for a beautiful woman.

Some boxes are being set up to offer Wi-Fi as well via a cellular or satellite connection, which has its own obvious benefits. And recently people have been asking for the ability to play music at home, so the company started including portable speakers. This was unexpected, but an easy demand to meet, said Billett — “It is critical to listen!”

The company does do some work to keep the tech running efficiently and safely, remotely monitoring for problems and scheduling maintenance calls. So these things aren’t just set down and forgotten. That said, they can and have run for hundreds of thousands of hours — years — without major work being done.

Each box costs about $15,000 to build, plus roughly another $10,000 to deliver and install. The business model has an investor or investors cover this initial cost, then receive a share of the revenue for the life of the box. At capacity usage this might take around two years, after which the revenue split shifts (from 80/20 favoring investors to 50/50); it’s a small, safe source of income for years to come. At around $10,000 of revenue per year per box with full utilization, the IRR is estimated at 15 percent.

What OffGridBox believes is that this model is better than any other for quick deployment of these boxes. Grants are an option, of course, and they can also be brought in for disaster relief purposes. Originally the idea was to sell these to rich folks who wanted to live off the grid or have a more self-sufficient mountain cabin, but this is definitely better — for a lot of reasons. (You could probably still get one for yourself if you really wanted.)

OffGridBox has been through the Techstars accelerator as part of a 2017 group, and worked through 2018, as I mentioned earlier, to secure funding from a variety of sources. This seed round totaling $1.6 million was led by the Doen and Good Energies Foundations; the Banque Populaire du Rwanda is also a partner.

Along with a series A planned for 2019, this money will support the deployment of a total of 42 box installations in Rwandan communities.

“This will help us become a major player in the energy and water markets in Rwanda while empowering women entrepreneurs, fighting biocontamination for improved health, and introducing lighting in rural homes,” said Cecchini in the press release announcing the funding.

Alternative or complementary sources of power, such as wind, are being looked into, and desalination of water (as opposed to just sterilization) is being actively researched. This would increase the range and reliability of the boxes, naturally, and make island communities much more realistic.

Those 42 boxes are just the beginning: The company hopes to deploy as many as 1,000 throughout Rwanda, and even then that would only reach a fifth of the country’s off-grid market. By partnering with local energy concerns and banks, OffGridBox hopes to deploy as many as 100 boxes a year, potentially bringing water and power to as many as 100,000 more people.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 raises $6M, expands in Africa

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 SimbaPay launches Kenya to China payment service over WeChat Africa’s agtech wave gets $10 million richer as Twiga Foods raises more capital Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised $6 million […]

Nigerian trucking logistics startup Kobo360 has raised $6 million to upgrade its platform and expand operations to Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire.

The company — with an Uber -like app that connects truckers and companies with freight needs — gained the equity financing in an IFC led investment. The funding saw participation from others, including TLcom Capital and Y Combinator.

With the investment Kobo360 aims to become more than a trucking transit app.

“We started off as an app, but our goal is to build a global logistics operating system. We’re no longer an app, we’re a platform,” founder Obi Ozor told TechCrunch.

In addition to connecting truckers, producers and distributors, the company is building that platform to offer supply chain management tools for enterprise customers.

“Large enterprises are asking us for very specific features related to movement, tracking, and sales of their goods. We either integrate other services, like SAP, into Kobo or we build those solutions into our platform directly,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will start by developing its API and opening it up to large enterprise customers.

“We want clients to be able to use our Kobo dashboard for everything; moving goods, tracking, sales, and accounting…and tackling their challenges,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will also build more physical presence throughout Nigeria to service its business. “We’ll open 100 hubs before the end of 2019…to be able to help operations collect proof of delivery, to monitor trucks on the roads, and have closer access to truck owners for vehicle inspection and training,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will add more warehousing capabilities, “to support our reverse logistics business”—one of the ways the company brings prices down by matching trucks with return freight after they drop their loads, rather than returning empty, according to Ozor.

Kobo360 will also use its $6 million investment to expand programs and services for its drivers, something Ozor sees as a strategic priority.

“The day you neglect your drivers you are not going to have a company, only issues. If Uber were more driver focused it would be a trillion dollar company today,” he said.

The startup offers drivers training and group programs on insurance, discounted petrol, and vehicle financing (KoboWin). Drivers on the Kobo360 app earn on average approximately $5000 per month, according to Ozor.

Under KoboCare, Kobo360 has also created an HMO for drivers and an incentive based program to pay for education. “We give school fee support, a 5000 Naira bonus per trip for drivers toward educational expenses for their kids,” said Ozor.

Kobo360 will complete limited expansion into new markets Ghana, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire in 2019. “The expansion will be with existing customers, one in the port operations business, one in FMCG, and another in agriculture,” said Ozor

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Owning trucks is just too difficult to manage. The best scalable model is to aggregate trucks,” he told TechCrunch in a previous interview.

With the latest investment, IFC’s regional head for Africa Wale Ayeni and TLcom senior partner Omobola Johnson will join Kobo360’s board. “There’s a lot of inefficiencies in long-haul freight in Africa…and they’re building a platform that can help a lot of these issues,” said Ayeni of Kobo360’s appeal as an investment.

The company has served 900 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 8000 drivers and moved 155 million kilograms, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, Dangote, and DHL.

MarketLine estimated the value of Nigeria’s transportation sector in 2016 at $6 billion, with 99.4 percent comprising road freight.

Logistics has become an active space in Africa’s tech sector with startup entrepreneurs connecting digital to delivery models. In Nigeria, Jumia founder Tunde Kehinde departed and founded Africa Courier Express. Startup Max.ng is wrapping an app around motorcycles as an e-delivery platform. Nairobi-based Lori Systems has moved into digital coordination of trucking in East Africa. And U.S.-based Zipline—who launched drone delivery of commercial medical supplies in partnership with the government of Rwanda and support of UPS—and is in “process of expanding to several other countries,” according to a spokesperson.

Kobo360 has plans for broader Africa expansion but would not name additional countries yet.

Ozor said the company is profitable, though the startup does not release financial results. Wale Ayeni also wouldn’t divulge revenue figures, but confirmed IFC’s did full “legal and financial due diligence on Kobo’s stats,” as part of the investment.

Ozor named Lori Systems as Kobo360’s closest African startup competitor.

On the biggest challenge to revenue generation, it’s all about service delivery and execution, according to Ozor.

“We already have volume and demand in the market. The biggest threat to revenues is if Kobo360’s platform doesn’t succeed in solving our client’s problems and bringing reliability to their needs,” he said.

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.

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

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 to expand EV lineup, may include scooters, bicycles Update: EV startups Alta, Energica, and Zero could reboot the motorcycle industry B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment […]

B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href="https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/">unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

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