By Adedayo Amzat, GMD, Zedcrest Group
The People’s Republic of China was officially founded in 1949, but the economy didn’t really find its feet until the start of economic reforms in 1978, after the topsy turvy turbulence of the two periods of “The Great Leap Forward” 1958-1960 and the “Cultural Revolution 1966-1976.”
What changed in China? Emerging from decades of war before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Soviet style socialism became a focal point of governance, largely due to the expected nationalistic tendencies arising from periodic civil wars and at least two main war programs against regional arch nemesis, the Empire of Japan. Socialism led to mixed results with massive state-controlled investments in Industry.
However, the lack of private incentives and public disillusion with Marxist-Leninism led to misallocation of resources, and an eventual collapse of the system. Sustainable growth didn’t really start until the advent of Deng Xiaoping as the Supreme leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978. Despite being a socialist republic, Deng unleashed a culture of innovation and market-economy reforms, the eventual bedrock of the tremendous economic development of China till today, taking GDP size from 50billion dollars in 1960 to 14.3 trillion dollars in 2020, an economic miracle by all standards.
When we started Zedcrest in 2013, our conviction was that Africa was exactly where China was in the early 80s and despite continuing struggles, has the opportunity to develop continent-wide growth in a similar fashion as China. All it would take is focused leadership, a MORE connected continent and an explosion of Innovation across the continent. We then set our vision along those tenets, with the dream to build a core of African-wide financial services businesses and a satellite of Investment portfolios. Seven years later and achieving domain leadership in the financial markets, consumer lending and now Investment management, we have now turbocharged both our continental ambition in our core businesses and in our early stage investing initiatives to support Innovation across the continent.
Officially starting in 2019, we have invested rapidly to test our hypothesis and make up for lost grounds. Investing directly and in partnerships with co-investors and syndicates, we have backed 30+ early stage businesses with cheque sizes ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 (US Dollars). With the potential of the continent becoming more established with the surging interests from larger and seasoned global investors, we have joined the likes of Idris Bello at Afropreneur, and Kola Aina at Ventures Partners as “discovery investors”, investing early enough and helping founders through the rough periods of market and business validation.
A Stoplight On Some Key Investments
Koniku – ‘Intelligence is Natural’ led by Osh Agabi, is building sensing and thinking machines, with synthetic neurobiology at its core. Koniku’s flagship device, the “Koniku Kore” is a wetware device that can detect and interpret smells and process that data for use in aviation security, policing and medical research. A future where diseases and threats can be detected by the power of “smell” is one envisaged by Koniku.
The company recently announced its partnership with global aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.
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Koniku’s work for Airbus is in aircraft and airport security. Both companies are co-developing solutions for detecting biological hazards, and spotting chemical and explosive threats. Airbus will install Koniku’s Konikore; a small device that looks like a jellyfish. The device can perform the bomb-sniffing roles that have come to be associated with police dogs. In the best conditions, Konikores are expected to detect substances within 10 seconds.
Bankly – Banking the Unbanked
We met Tomi and Fred in 2019, and immediately connected with the glint in their eyes. Despite the explosion of Fintech services, most digital banking products are built almost exclusively for the about 30million already banked people. Who is working on bringing the remaining 50million adults into the digital world? This is where Bankly’s work becomes very important. We led the pre-seed round of Bankly in 2019 and it has been beautiful to see their work blossom.
Working with agents, Bankly has built custom solutions to onboard unbanked users onto its digital platforms, leading with savings as product.
Bankly recently concluded a seed raise of $2million, led by new investors Flutterwave and Vault.
Bento Africa – The Operating System for Salaries and Lives
Formerly known as Verifi, the leading payroll software solution firm has made a lot of progress in the last two years while also rebranding its name to Bento Africa. Bento believes that Salaries are the operating system that life is built upon and has partnered with other startups like Nigerian edtech startup, Schoolable; property rental platform, Kwaba; consumer lending firm, Zedvance among others to enable its users do more.
TalentQL: Boosting the Competitiveness of African Talents
Understanding the importance and value of tech talent in Nigeria and the diaspora, TalentQL, one of Zedcrest’s portfolio companies is creating a diverse and sustainable pipeline for tech talent for companies anywhere in the world.
TalentQL recently got accepted into Techstars Toronto. The African-focused talent recruitment and outsourcing company joined nine other startups in the accelerator’s class of 2021.
Other portfolio companies are:
…Driving the Next Generation of Fintech Solutions
Working with open banking frameworks, Onepipe is an aggregator of Application Software Integrations (APIs) into a standardized gateway, offering businesses the opportunity to be a one-stop shop for digital financial services with one integration.
Prince Boakye Boampong is building a unified alternative payment network that does not require a bank account for over 1billion Africans with Spektra. Essentially, he is building Alipay, but for Africa.
In funding Kenya startup, Tanda, Zedcrest is supporting the founder, Geoffrey in promoting financial inclusion by converting neighbourhood dukas (micro-retailers) who account for over 70% of consumer purchases across Africa into a one-stop shop for basic financial services.
Lenco is building a better banking and expense management experience for businesses across Africa
Indicina is building the Africa’s credit infrastructure by enabling the much needed risk innovation
Kaoshi is leveraging Open Banking API technology to unlock cross border finance, specifically the finances of the diaspora to their home countries.
Julaya: Starting out of Francophone Ivory Coast, Julaya is building the digital account for African small and medium-sized businesses.
Fintor: The Los-Angeles based company turns real estate investment opportunities into micro-equity shares starting at around $5 to make investing in real estate available to everyone.
Thundr: A mobile-first equities trading platform that is designed to make investing easy for both green and expert investors alike. The YC-backed startup is pioneering commission free investing in Egypt.
Yoello is a payments platform building infrastructure that connects banks and payment networks to merchants’ consumers.
SUDO: An API platform that enables you instantly issue physical and virtual cards with more control & flexibility at scale
Helium Health is a startup leading the digitization of Africa’s medical industry by providing a suite of cutting-edge technology solutions for all healthcare stakeholders in emerging markets. The startup raised $8million in 2020 to fund its African wide expansion.
Amara Medicare aims to revolutionize the 3-in-1 services of Ophthalmology, Dental and ENT practice.
Lora DiCarlo is changing the world by empowering individuals to embrace their sexuality with positivity and confidence, with technology that solves our most important sexual health and wellness issues. The company announced the coming on-board of Cara Delevingne as co-owner and creative advisor.
Contraline is a medical device company developing a long-lasting, non-hormonal, and reversible male contraceptive using advancements in hydrogel technology.
Bypa-ss is digitizing healthcare information exchange between healthcare providers to deliver best quality of care to their patients.
….Building the Future of Education
Abwaab: Founded in 2019 by former Uber, Careem, and Mawdoo executives, Abwaab’s online platform enables secondary school students in the Middle East & North Africa to learn different subjects at their own pace with the help of engaging video lessons and interacting with tutors, test themselves using tests and quizzes, and track their performance using different tools. The company just completed a $5.1million seed round and is now live in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi, and Palestine.
Utiva: Utiva is building talents for the future of work. With Africa needing to retrain a generation of workers to adopt the required skills set for the digital economy, Utiva is leading this mission by combining remote learning models with instructor-led approaches to help people acquire the skills they need to make a transition into new tech roles.
….Building Logistics Infrastructure
Freterium: Moroccan startup, Freterium is giving superpowers to logistics team with its AI-driven platform. Freterium’s cloud-based transport management platform offers the easiest and most automated way for manufacturers, retailers and logistics firms, to manage their daily road freight shipments.
SOTE: Based in Kenya, Sote is building the digital logistics infrastructure for Africa. SOTE’s mission is to grow the GDP of the continent by facilitating growth of trade. The company provides a combination of ERP solutions, underwriting models, and software driven supply chain services across the continent.
FLYR Labs FLYR’s cirrus platform is a modern and cutting edge Revenue Operating System (ROS) for the airline industry.
XTI Aircraft Company is a cleantech aviation company developing the world’s first hybrid-electric long-range vertical takeoff airplane.
….Providing Basic Human Needs & Improving Sustainability
Zenfix is providing savoury and nutrient dense foods in Nigeria.
Zumi Africa: Zumi is revolutionizing the apparel supply chain in Africa by connecting apparel wholesalers and retailers in a transparent, affordable marketplace.
Tagaddod is a renewable Energy and Waste Management company, started in February 2013 and operating in Egypt. Currently focusing on clean fuels, Tagaddod is working on Biodiesel production from Vegetable Oils.
….Providing Enterprise Services
Simpu helps businesses start and nurture quality relationships with their customers. With a one-tap experience platform, businesses can interact with customers across multiple channels in real-time.
Appruve builds identity and financial solutions for firms to verify data they collect from their customers across their lifecycle. Appruve provides verification services around identity and financial profiles, fraud detection and management.
Youverify is building trust in Africa by helping businesses and individuals confirm identity and physical addresses. Using artificial intelligence, Youverify confirms a user’s identity document and compares it with their facial biometrics. This information can be cross-checked against more than 300 databases locally and globally.
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