Nigeria’s Grey raises $2M for cross-border payments play and regional expansion

The provision of virtual foreign bank accounts has become a common strategy for fintechs to enable Nigerians and Africans to facilitate international transfers. In the latest development, Grey, a fintech in this category that provides virtual international bank accounts to African freelancers and remote workers, is announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.

Idorenyin Obong and Femi Aghedo founded Grey in July 2020 as an instant exchange service to help Nigerians exchange foreign currencies in their domiciliary account for local money — the naira. Last year, the startup raised an undisclosed pre-seed investment and got accepted into YC’s winter batch this March.

The YC-backed Nigerian fintech has since expanded into East Africa, starting with Kenya. CEO Obong told TechCrunch that partnerships with two companies in Kenya: payments giant Cellulant and edtech upstart Moringa accompanied the move. 

“We went with Cellulant to power our payment infrastructure for Kenyan shillings,” said the chief executive. “Moringa is like an avenue and channel for training new tech talent, so it made sense to have such a partnership as we are trying to build this for freelancers.”

Thus, users in Nigeria and Kenya can receive foreign payments from over 88 countries using USD, GBP, and EUR bank accounts created on the platform, convert them into their local currencies (naira and shilling) and withdraw directly to their mobile money or local bank account. They can also send money to the UK and Europe on the platform. Grey has also upped its functionality to support payouts in another East African currency: Ugandan shillings, bringing the total number of supported currencies to six. Although it is yet to launch in the country, Obong said Uganda is in Grey’s regional purview as well as fellow East African country Tanzania; the fintech will expand into the latter within a month, he added.

Grey claims to have about 100,000 individual users, and since the beginning of the year, its transaction volumes have increased by 200%. COO Aghedo said the company privately launched a business-focused product, Grey Business, to complement this consumer-facing growth and extend its product beyond remittances and person-to-person payments.  

The lack of interoperability between African currencies is one reason businesses on the continent use the dollar to pay one another instead of local currencies. Platforms like Verto, a global B2B payments platform that allows African businesses to make international payments via multicurrency wallets, are tackling this problem. With its Grey Business product, the one-year-old fintech intends to tap into the market and provide a cheaper option to send and receive local currencies within the continent, particularly for micro and small businesses.

Grey Business has been in private beta for the last two months and the seed investment will help to launch it publicly across Nigeria and Kenya. Investors in the round include venture firms such as Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Heirloom Fund, and True Culture Fund and angels like Alan Rutledge, Samvit Ramadurgam and Karthik Ramakrishnan. Startups offering similar services include the likes of Techstars-backed PayDay.

“Grey was founded to empower people to live a location-independent lifestyle. “I believe that the least of your worries as a freelancer, remote worker, or digital nomad should be sending or receiving payments, so we’ve made it easy,” said CEO Obong. “We like to say that we’re on a mission to make international payments as easy as sending an email. We want to do impactful work to improve how Africa as a continent interacts with money across its borders.”

VCs set sights on African countries beyond the ‘Big Four’

Africa’s tech startup scene has grown significantly over the last decade, with various reports showing a sizable increase in the number of deals, ticket sizes and funding. Last year, startups in the continent raised about $5 billion, double what was raised in 2021 and nine times the amount from five years ago.

However, this growth has been focused on four countries — Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt, known as the “Big Four” because they account for more than 70% of venture capital investment into the continent.

But VCs are shifting their attention elsewhere, reaching startups in at least 29 countries last year, up from 26 in 2020. Outside the Big Four, investments ballooned to $1.4 billion, up 382% year on year, according to Partech’s 2021 report.

What could be driving the sudden interest in other African countries?

“Investors are looking for better-priced but quality deals in these markets. Deals in the Big Four have become overpriced and competitive with the entry of foreign investors,” Nairobi-based Novastar Ventures associate investment director Abel Boreto told TechCrunch.

Kenyan B2B e-commerce platform Marketforce cut about 9% of staff in reorganization strategy

Kenyan retail B2B and end-to-end distribution platform Marketforce laid off a chunk of its workforce in July, according to sources familiar with the matter. 

In an email sent from Marketforce CEO Tesh Mbaabu and obtained by TechCrunch, the layoffs were a part of a reorganization strategy in Kenya, one of its five markets which include Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. 

Mbaabu confirmed the news on a call with TechCrunch, adding that the company let go of 54 people. Marketforce had more than 600 employees before the event last month, so about 9% of its overall workforce was affected, mainly from field sales, supply chain and customer experience departments. 

Some of these roles were instrumental to Marketforce’s growth over the past year as the company concentrated its efforts on onboarding thousands of merchants to its RejaReja platform. However, they had become redundant now that the company wants to drive more revenue per merchant, said the CEO. “We were at the phase where we were focused on growth, but we’ve gotten to a point where we’re optimizing towards profitability,” he added. 

This February, Marketforce raised a $40 million Series A in debt and equity (equally shared across the board) from V8 Capital Partners, Ten13 VC, SOSV Select Fund, VU Venture Partners, Vastly Valuable Ventures and Uncovered Fund. Mbaabu founded the company with Mesongo Sibuti in 2018 as a SaaS platform for retail distribution. Two years later, the company launched RejaReja, its asset-light merchant super app and marketplace that informal traders can use to source goods directly from manufacturers and distributors, make and pay for orders digitally and accept payments for utility bills.

Since its launch, RejaReja has grown exponentially, with more than 87,000 orders made through the platform at an average basket value of $151. With a 40% month-on-month growth, it expected to record over $60 million in annualized transaction volumes at the end of last year, the company told TechCrunch this February. Some of its competitors include players such as Wasoko, TradeDepot and Omnibiz.

Last year, the four-year-old company said it would introduce buy now, pay later (BNPL) options to help merchants access fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) on credit. Marketforce also highlighted expansion into more markets across East and West Africa; however, those plans might be on hold for the time being following this restructuring move in Kenya. 

Sources also implied that Marketforce might be struggling with its business as suppliers have begun pulling out. Mbaabu brushed the claims aside by saying, “as part of optimizing for sustainability, we are driving more consignment-based operations and reducing SKUs, meaning less suppliers overall.”

Mbaabu, in the email, reassured employees that the company still has enough arsenal in its coffers and attributed the company’s decision to “adapting to the global economic uncertainties” and “optimizing the business for different growth metrics.” Some roles in the Kenya market will become redundant, and new ones will emerge; all our other markets will not be impacted, he said. According to the CEO, Marketforce has commenced hires in Tanzania to scale its RejaReja product; before now, businesses in the country only had access to the SaaS platform. 

To employees impacted by the reorganization, Marketforce said it will:

  • Offer you counseling services on navigating change and managing anxiety during uncertain times.
  • Offer a training session on revamping your CV, optimizing your LinkedIn profile and interview preparation techniques.
  • Partner with recruiters who will consider you for opportunities within other organizations that are looking to hire.
  • Offer a certificate of service and letter of recommendation as appropriate.
  • Pay you in lieu of notice in addition to a severance package of 15 days for every completed year of service and unutilised leave days.

“To be clear, it is a path to profitability conversation. I think for a lot of people, even internally, it was hard for them to understand why we’ve raised money and have cash but still conduct layoffs,” the chief executive commented on how employees took the news. “But any additional month spent with redundant staff means cutting your runway short. And so, I think that at the end of the day, you need to think about how you conduct layoffs in a humane way. But also ensure that the company’s best interest is at heart.”

Layoffs from the African tech scene have been few compared to the rest of the world. Last week, news of Kenyan logistics platform Sendy laying off employees made the rounds, adding to earlier reports from Swvl, Vezeeta and Wave. This, and the fact that funding data shows the African ecosystem has already seen inflows of around $3 billion in the first half of this year, way more than what the continent raised by this time last year, has compelled many onlookers to express optimism about the region’s chances of coming out of this bear run unscathed.

But while the African tech scene has emerged as one of the most popular tech markets in the world, bustling with opportunities, it might begin to witness a rapidly changing landscape, particularly in the second half of this year as more startups raise bridge rounds, trim staff size and accept lesser valuations. “The moment of truth will be the end of the summer,” Max Cuvellier, co-founder of The Big Deal, told TechCrunch in a June interview. “August [and] September in particular because this is when we saw a boom last year.”

Disney+ rolls out to 16 more markets across the Middle East and North Africa

This week, the Walt Disney Company continues to gain ground in the global streaming market as it launches Disney+ in 16 markets across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This follows the launch of Disney+ in South Africa last month.

The company is inching towards its plan to more than double the number of countries where Disney+ is available, having said it aims to have the service in over 160 countries by its fiscal 2023. In March, Disney+ announced the launch dates for 42 countries and territories, including the 16 that are a part of this new MENA launch. The service will also be launched in more countries across Europe on June 14.

Subscribers in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, and eight other markets will now have a variant version of the Disney+ Hotstar app, which subscribers in India and South-East Asia also have. This means the service will be structured a little differently than in the U.S., as it will have a different user interface and a different login system that uses a mobile number instead of a Disney ID.

Disney+ Hotstar is the Indian streaming service and offers 100,000+ hours of content across nine languages, plus live sports programming (cricket, football, kabaddi, etc.).

The MENA version of Disney+ will not only get general programming from Hotstar, but it will also be a hub for thousands of films, shows, and exclusive originals from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. This includes “Ms. Marvel,” “The Mandalorian,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “Moon Knight,” “Only Murders In The Building,” “The Dropout,” and “The Kardashians,” and more.

Subscribers will have access to up to four simultaneous streams, unlimited downloads on up to ten devices, and a maximum of seven user profiles (including kid’s profiles that only have age-appropriate content).

In the second quarter of the year, Disney+ had 137.9 million subscribers worldwide, while Disney+ Hotstar had 50 million subscribers. The recent expansion puts the streamer in line to potentially succeed in its ambitious goal of reaching 230 to 260 million subscribers by 2024.

This wasn’t the only news Disney shared this week. Yesterday, the company announced that it had named Dana Walden as the new Chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content. She will report directly to CEO Bob Chapek. As a continuation of the high-level executive restructuring that has taken place at Disney, Walden will be replacing Peter Rice, the former chairman that was suspected of being Chapek’s replacement. This will not be the case, however.

Uber hits 1 billion rides in Africa

Uber, today, announced a significant milestone — it has completed 1 billion rides across all its markets in Africa. This feat translates to over 10 billion kilometres in terms of distance covered, according to the company. 

This milestone for Uber is coming nearly a decade after the mobility tech company set shop on the continent in Johannesburg, South Africa. It has since established a presence in seven other African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ivory Coast.

“Since entering the market in 2013, we have created over 6 million economic opportunities in over 50 cities across SSA that we are present in,” said Lorraine Onduru, the company’s spokesperson and head of comms for East and West Africa, in a statement. 

Uber expanded to over 30 cities across its major markets within the past year: 21 in South Africa — its most dominant market, four cities each in Kenya and Nigeria, and two in Ghana. 

Part of Uber’s growth efforts has also included expanding Uber Eats, its food delivery arm across a few South African cities and Nairobi, Kenya. Uber Eats launched in 2016 in South Africa with just 1,000 restaurants. Now, it serves over 8,000 merchants across 36 cities in South Africa and Kenya. 

The statement also highlights that Uber and Uber Eats have collectively reached over 30 million riders and eaters in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2017, the company services reached under 2 million riders. 

Here are other metrics the company reported in its decade-old growth report. The most popular time users requests Uber rides is 2 pm. The most popular day users requests Uber rides is on Friday. The most popular drop-off destination is the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. The most popular ride option is UberX (from a list that includes Uber Go, Uber Moto, Uber Boda and Uber Poa). The average trip time recorded on Uber is 24 minutes, and the longest recorded trip was over 492 km. 

Over the years, Uber has disrupted local cab industries while creating over 50,000 driver jobs. But within this time, Uber has faced stiff competition from Bolt in its major markets, which has led to price wars that still affect drivers’ earnings today. 

In 2016, the company sliced fares by almost 50% in Kenya due to fresh competition from Bolt. Although it sparked a civil suit filed against the company and Uber BV from its drivers, a former Uber executive in charge of launching new products in East Africa and negotiating partnerships with third-party companies told TechCrunch that Uber had intended to reduce commuter charges for UberX in Kenya further. 

The company withdrew this plan and introduced Chap Chap, a lower-priced service, in January 2018; however, it wasn’t enough to thwart the civil suit — which is still ongoing despite talks about Uber opting to settle via arbitration. 

CarePoint raises $10M to spread healthcare tech across Africa

CarePoint, a technology-driven healthcare startup, has raised $10 million bridge round to accelerate its growth across Africa, as it seeks to make healthcare accessible to the masses.

The startup recently entered Egypt, its fourth market in Africa, after Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. It is now eyeing North and East Africa, to continue its growth which is driven by mergers and acquisitions.

The startup’s founder and CEO, Dr. Sangu Delle, told TechCrunch that they are in the process of setting up telemedicine centers in their facilities and building “micro-tech-enabled-clinics” targeting the masses. This will grow CarePoint‘s, formerly known as Africa Health Holdings, portfolio beyond in-person visits.

“The micro-clinics will have, at most, 12 employees, including a nurse. The patients will consult with doctors virtually. We are taking this route because we realized that as much as the mobile subscription in Africa is great and growing, if you look at it from an internet penetration perspective, so many people are still locked out because they cannot afford mobile data,” said Delle.

“These clinics are a way of democratizing access, and taking quality healthcare closer to the people, while making it affordable to them too,” he said.

Patients are also able to access care virtually through CarePoint’s MyCareMobile app, which links them to diverse services through teleconferencing, including consultations with their doctors, test results and 24-hour emergency response.

The startup is backed by five brands, including Sahe in Egypt, Meridian Health Group in Kenya, Rabito Clinic in Ghana and Nigeria’s Care Point, and Lilys Hospitals, all operating a total of 65 facilities.

Delle founded CarePoint after a lengthy career as an investor and CEO at Golden Palm Investments, a venture firm with an interest in early-stage opportunities in Africa, where he still serves as the chairman.

“At Golden Palm we built a very active venture capital practice and invested in many of the leading tech startups today – including Flutterwave and mPharma. So, everything about CarePoint started at Golden Palm since it incubates businesses too,” said Delle, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and a Harvard and Oxford graduate

“We first started looking at healthcare because we realized that for us to have any socio-economic transformation, we have to solve health care challenges too. And to contextualize it, we (Africa) have about 16% of the global population, 26% of the global disease burden, but only 3% of global health care workers and 1% of global healthcare resources. We need to urgently bridge the gap, or we’re going to be in real trouble,” he said.

Delle appealed for urgent action and investment in the healthcare sector, especially given that the continent’s population is expected to almost double in the next three decades.

“From our thesis and pilot, we believe we can use technology as a key competitive differentiator to democratize access, and improve the quality of care,” said Delle.

Delle said CarePoint will use part of the funding to build data science and AI teams to strengthen its technological resources, in addition to introducing new products.

The latest funding round was led by TRB Advisors, and brings the total funding raised by CarePoint to $30 million. It follows a $18 million series A round announced  mid-November last year.

New and existing investors that took part in the bridge round include Delle, Breyer Capital, Beyond Capital Ventures (BVC), M3, Inc, Asia Pacific Land/ Natural World Limited, and Alan Waxman, who is Sixth Street Partners’ CEO.

Eva Yazhari, a general partner at BVC, said, “CarePoint is at the forefront of creating solutions through its three core pillars of a scaled network of healthcare facilities, a strong technology backbone, and patient-centered care highlighted by the first Africa-focused healthcare data repository.”

The BVC also recently invested in Kasha Global, a Femtech retailer in East Africa and Viebeg, a heathtech company streamlining the medical supply chain in Eastern and Central Africa

“Beyond Capital Ventures is excited to participate in CarePoint’s Series B bridge round, and will work with Dr. Sangu Delle to scale an emerging technology-driven healthcare system in Africa… CarePoint is capturing demographic shifts to transform Africa into the next frontier for healthcare and transform health outcomes,” said Yazhari.


The 25 crypto startups that Y Combinator is backing in its W22 batch

Crypto was big at YC this batch.

Y Combinator Demo Days returned yet again with another ballooning heap of startups. In the old days, a gaggle of TechCrunch reporters would go to the Demo Day in person, write up the presentations of each startup and hobnob with VCs during the breaks, but in a post-pandemic bloat, YC has gotten just so massive that one comprehensive list of startups is neither feasible nor particularly useful to readers. That said, this was a massive year for crypto and I wanted to make sure that we profiled each and every crypto startup that publicly launched at Demo Days this batch.

The list of 25 companies unsurprisingly spans NFTs, DeFi, web3 services and crypto investing.

A couple of notes on these descriptions… These are listed in the seemingly random order in which they appeared on the YC Demo Days site. The “What it says it does:” sections are also taken from that site, while the “Founders:” section is largely based on info from the LinkedIn profiles of the co-founders of each startup. I have not personally fact-checked any of the information that was self-reported by the founders themselves. The “Quick thoughts:” section is made up entirely of my own insightful thoughts, though I also cannot guarantee that they are always all that insightful.

Now, onto the startups… But wait! While I have you, please do me a favor and subscribe to TechCrunch’s new crypto-focused podcast and newsletter Chain Reaction which is launching in April — hosted by myself and my colleague Anita Ramaswamy.

Okay, now, onto the startups!!


What it says it does: “SimpleHash allows web3 developers to query all NFT data from a single API. We index multiple blockchains, take care of edge cases, provide a rapid media CDN, and can be integrated in a few lines of code.”
Founders: Alex Kilkka previously co-founded NFT social network Showtime and Olly Wilson has been an EIR at Portage Ventures.
Quick thoughts: The NFT market has made huge strides already on Ethereum, but it’s no secret that any future mainstream embrace of NFTs will rely on Layer 2 blockchains lowering transaction costs. Where this creates opportunities for startups, it also introduces cross-chain headaches for them, something SimpleHash is looking to streamline.


What it says it does: “NFTScoring is the place for you to discover, analyze and trade NFTs. We give you the superpowers to understand the NFT market in any given moment, make the best decisions, and take faster actions.”
Founders: David Mokoš and Adam Zvada previously co-founded AI lab Cognitic and hyperlocal delivery platform GoDeliver together.
Quick thoughts: NFTScoring is trying to build a better dashboard for NFT traders which accounts for some of the unique attributes that make some NFTs more valuable than others, all while helping users find trending projects early. A big emphasis appears to be tracking which projects NFT whales are buying into through tracking a network of wallets. The startup has premium tier pricing which users need to pay for with Eth.

Remi Labs

What it says it does: “Launching an NFT collection can seem tantalizing for brands, however, when executed poorly can create long-lasting negative implications. We take the cringe out of NFTs.”
Founders: Brant Choate and Dan Conger both previously worked in senior roles at enterprise messaging startup Podium.
Quick thoughts: Basically as soon as NFTs took off, brands looked how to get involved and saw a pretty confusing space with a lot of consumer skepticism tied up in it. Soon after, a lot of white-label NFT services took off aiming to give them a better path towards launching NFT projects. Remi Labs is eyeing this opportunity with a specific focus on NFT collections early-on.

Image Credits: Poko


What it says it does: “We are building Slack for Web3. We aim to replace LLCs with DAOs in emerging market cross border collaborations. We will take costly multi-step months-long company registration and setups down to $50 a month and with the ease of opening a Slack channel.”
Founders: Van Tran previously led strategy in the SEA region for Netflix, Geoffrey See was an exec at identity startup Trusting Social and Sean Ang founded education org Success Alliance Enrichment.
Quick thoughts: DAOs are hot, but the tooling behind them is still catching up with the hype. Poko is leaning into the idea of using DAOs as LLCs which has some legal blurriness stateside but less so in plenty of other geographies including Singapore (as far as I know) where the startup is based.


What it says it does: “GoSats is a bitcoin rewards app. We help people accumulate free bitcoin as cashbacks and rewards every time they shop in India.”
Founders: Roshni Aslam was previously a research analyst at consulting firm ONEX AE, Mohammed Roshan was the CTO for blockchain startup ThroughBit.
Quick thoughts: Crypto credit card rewards are a pretty well-worn path at this point. Though India’s government has played hardball with crypto thus far, plenty of entrepreneurs see the market as one where the industry has outsized opportunities.


What it says it does: “Cashmere is a crypto wallet for web3 startups to manage their digital assets on Solana. Instead of running their business from one person’s wallet, startups can use our wallet to collaboratively manage their funds.”
Founders: Shashank Khanna previously was a senior engineer at SoFi, Rebecca Lee was a deployed engineer at Retool and Charlotte McGinn was a software engineer at Tesla.
Quick thoughts: Consumer crypto wallets have been big business over the past year, but the tech to help startups, projects and DAOs manage funds securely with enterprise-grade multi-signature wallets has had less action. Solana has courted plenty of developer attention over the past year and they are. aiming to replicate some of Ethereum’s tooling while leveraging Solana’s advantages to make improvements.


What it says it does: “Chaingrep is a search engine for on-chain interactions and digital assets. You can think of it as a new kind of block explorer. We think that current block explorers like Etherscan are too complicated to use for regular users, and that abstracting a lot of their functionalities and filtering out all the noise can dramatically improve the experience of finding on-chain information.”
Founders: Rosco Kalis previously was an engineer at crypto startup Truffle, Merwane Drai has no LinkedIn profile but says he’s working on hacking his way out of the matrix.
Quick thoughts: The transparency offered my blockchains is only as good as the platforms that make interpreting that data simple and readable, something that will become more important as more non-technical users find their way to web3 platforms.

Image Credits: Winter


What it says it does: “Winter offers an embeddable widget to help your consumers buy an NFT with a credit card or bank account! We also help custody & manage a user’s NFT if they don’t have a wallet.”
Founders: Michael Luo was previously a product manager at Facebook, Laila Chima was a software engineer at Stripe.
Quick thoughts: For anyone who has navigated the process of buying an NFT, the headaches associated with buying crypto on a centralized exchange, creating a wallet and transferring the crypto to that wallet to make a purchase are often the most time-consuming parts of the process. It’s unsurprising that startups are trying to abstract this away with credit card purchases, which will likely appeal to web2 platforms that are trying to find an opportunity in NFTs.


What it says it does: “Decent enables musicians to monetize their work directly through their fans, aligning artist & fan incentives to reinvent funding, IP protection, and discovery. We do this through a marketplace and infrastructure that enables musicians to issue NFTs collateralized by their royalties.”
Founders: Will Collier was previously an analyst at Accenture, Charlie Durbin was an analyst at Vox Media, Will Kantaros is studying Applied Math and Econ at Brown, Alexander Carlson is a music producer.
Quick thoughts: NFTs have largely found their fit in the art world, but a handful of startups have been trying to find opportunities in other facets of media like music. Decent’s sell seems to be creating NFT incentive structures for new fans to build up buzz around musicians over time that’s more closely tied to the success of the songs themselves.


What it says it does: “Yatima is a Substrate blockchain which uses on-chain formal verification and zero-knowledge proofs to radically improve the safety and scalability of smart contracts, and other deterministic computations.”
Founders: John Burnham was previously CEO of Sunshine Cybernetics, Samuel Burnham recently graduated with a CS degree from , Gabriel Aquino Barreto has worked as an Ethereum software developer.
Quick thoughts: This is one of the more technical startups listed thus far and some of the details are lost on me, but Yatima is building a crypto programming language based around emerging technologies like zero-knowledge proofs, which use complex math to cryptographically verify batches of transactions and are generally seen as a key element of the future of more scalable, trustless blockchains.

Image Credits: CypherD

CypherD Wallet

What it says it does: “Existing Crypto Wallets are too geeky for mainstream users. We are building a multi-chain crypto wallet simplifying user experience for the mainstream users along with a crypto card.”
Founders: Kuberan Marimuthu was previously a senior engineering manager at Coinbase, Muthukrishnan Ramabadran was a senior software engineer at Lyft, Dheeban S.G. was a senior engineer at blockchain startup Magic.
Quick thoughts: There are some major unknowns around what the future of consumer web3 look like, but most investors are assuming that wallet apps will play a pretty central role in that future, giving users a central place to host their coins and NFTs. CypherD is looking to make wallets a hub for USD assets as well, giving users a MasterCard debit card that they can use after converting crypto into USD inside the wallet.


What it says it does: “Courtyard stores physical collectibles (trading cards, sneakers, watches, etc.) in secured vaults, creates a 3D representation of the asset and mints it as an NFT on the blockchain. We’ve partnered with one of the largest security companies in the world to store collectibles.”
Founders: Paulin Andurand was previously a senior software engineer at Apple, Nicolas le Jeune was previously a manager at YouTube.
Quick thoughts: NFTs are great at creating liquid markets for digital assets, but there’s been a lot of chatter about using them to make transacting physical collectibles easier. Vertical-specific marketplaces have already had some success aiming to do this, though there have also been legal challenges associated with selling digital assets that use the likenesses of physical product as a token.


What it says it does: “We build the tools and infrastructure that make it easier, faster and cheaper for anyone in Africa easy, fast and cheap access to crypto and web3.”
Founders: Bashir Aminu was previously head of Africa for Binance P2P, Hakeem Adeyemi Orewole was previously a software engineer at Andela, John Anisere previously was a senior software engineer at Intersection Ventures.
Quick thoughts: Crypto advocates are quick to highlight how blockchain-based payments can do wonders for unbanked users in developing countries, but precious little venture funding seems to have been given to teams aiming to do just that.


What it says it does: “Argo is on a mission to empower Film and TV makers worldwide. It’s the easiest way to upload and monetize your content. Argo provides the technology and the ecosystem for the Filmmakers to monetize their film and tv work through advertising, subscription and NFT sales.”
Founders: Arcadiy Golubovich previously led entertainment production company Primeridian.
Quick thoughts: Argo seems to be a media startup focused on short films first and foremost, offering a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work while also tapping NFT sales as a way of helping them monetize their work and build buzz.


What it says it does: “Finnt is the first DeFi app for families. We provide multi-user, high yield saving accounts, which make it easy to save with crypto for your children or family members.”
Founders: Anji Ismail led product at Welcome, Faozi El Yagoubi was previously director of engineering at Ovavi
Quick thoughts: DeFi for families is an awfully specific pitch, which seems mainly focused on allowing users to link sub-accounts to a central investment account. High-profile exploits of DeFi protocols are undoubtedly going to leave some families skeptical of putting their nest egg here, but much higher yield rates are likely going to make it a risk some are happy to take.

Image Credits: Tradezi


What it says it does: “Tradezi is the Robinhood for Southeast Asia. We aim to help everyone invest in stocks, crypto, and other alternative assets all in one place.”
Founders: Phi Dang and Jasmine Huynh were both previously senior software engineers at Google.
Quick thoughts: Robinhood has obviously done a lot to expose American retail traders to crypto by showcasing the coins alongside publicly traded stocks, this is a model Tradezi seems to be interested in tackling in SEA.


What it says it does: “Botin a mobile app where people in Latin America can invest in US Stocks, Crypto and more.”
Founders: Robert Baron was previously a developer at BitGo, James Jara was previously a software engineer at Avantica. 
Quick thoughts: The Costa Rica startup is also taking the Robinhood approach towards stock and crypto to Latin American users and hoping to find a broader audience for retail trading.


What it says it does: “earnJARVIS is a crypto investment platform that helps retail investors (i.e, you) and businesses intelligently invest across the crypto-economy.”
Founders: Atyab Bhatti was previously a manager at McKinsey, Kush Maheshwari was previously a software engineer at Rubrik.
Quick thoughts: Robo-advisors have been big business for entry retail investors, but crypto trading has largely been a DIY affair at the same levels. There’s likely going to be a crop of platforms popping up that promise to automate the process of diversifying across crypto assets while exposing users to elements of the DeFi world.


What it says it does: “We’re bring universally needed tools to crypto companies to help them manage their token distributions, tokenholder onboarding/offboarding, and other critical tools.”
Founders: Bruno Faviero previously was a product manager at Palantir, Arun Kirubarajan is a graduate researcher at Penn.
Quick thoughts: Cap tables have gotten hilariously convoluted in an era where crypto startups are granting both equity and tokens to investors and employees. The cleverly named Magna is looking to add some much-needed streamlining to managing token grants in the same way Carta rethought cap table management for web2 startups.


What it says it does: “With Soon you can invest without the stress of speculating. Our fully automated sweep account attaches to your bank and uses routine spending activity to signal market trades. By investing on a schedule and selling available gains when you spend, Soon automates investing from beginning to end.”
Founders: Chris Lovato was previously a DevOps engineer at Adobe, Aaron Bylund led corporate strategy at Nu Skin, Michael Shattuck was previously a senior software engineer at Pluralsight.
Quick thoughts: Just because new platforms are bringing users access to new asset classes doesn’t mean consumers all want to turn into part-time investors. Soon is building a platform that automatically invests idle money in a user’s bank account across crypto and more traditional assets.


What it says it does: “LiquiFi (“Carta for crypto”) helps companies and DAOs automate their token vesting, management, and distribution to employees, investors, partners, and community members. Secure, audited smart contracts guarantee timely distribution of vesting tokens and save significant time and resources spent building your own solution.”
Founders: Robin Ji previously was a product lead at Eco, Oliver Tang was an engineering manager at Amazon.
Quick thoughts:  It’s unsurprising that YC is backing a pair of startups approaching the same opportunity, token management is a clear web3 startup growing pain and YC has always been particularly successful in helping scale “startup-for-startup” products.


What it says it does: “A single API for fintechs to embed DeFi products on their platform. This allows them to acquire more customers, retain these customers and increase revenue & engagement, all in a custodial, secure, & compliant way.”
Founders: Pranay Shetty was an early employee at CloudKitchens, Ramkumar Venkataraman was the founding engineer of Moneyworld.
Quick thoughts:  While trading stocks and crypto inside the same app has grown to be an expected feature of traditional trading apps, that same relationship hasn’t come to DeFi and traditional fintech services which live separate lives in separate apps and platforms.


What it says it does: “OnScale is business bank for high-earning Creators that automates income budgeting, cash flow management, tax write offs and invoicing. We help creators automate financial tasks, save money and time.”
Founders: Tonjé Bakang Tonje is the founder of Afrostream, German Saprykin was a senior engineering manager at Grab.
Quick thoughts:  While plenty of creator-focused web3 products have taken particular aim at NFT creators, OnScale is looking to help a broader swath of creators access traditional financial products while building in crypto rails to help users easily convert income into crypto inside the platform.


What it says it does: “We make crypto investing safe and easy for consumer and businesses through DeFi yielding. Our product is plain simple. People can deposit and withdraw in 3 clicks. Right after deposit, they might earn competitive interest with no hidden fees. The interest is obtained from DeFi protocols.”
Founders: Fransiskus Raymond was a sales manager at Gojek, Ghuniyu Fattah Rozaq was a developer at Ritase.
Quick thoughts:  An awful lot has been said about DeFi yield farming which offers high percentage rates for depositing funds into investment pools. Sometimes these seemingly too-good-to-be-true rates have proven to be just that, but other times they highlight how much upside there is when users cut banks (and their associated protections) from the investing/saving process.

Image Credits: Bloom


What it says it does: “Bloom offers students and young professionals in East Africa US Dollar banking. By saving in USD or digital dollars, and spending as they go in local currencies, they won’t be subject to inflation.”
Founders: Ahmed Ismail previously worked at Barclays, Khalid Keenan was an engineer at Finbourne, Youcef Oudjidane was a managing partner at Class 5 Global, Abdigani Diriye was a research manager at Amazon.
Quick thoughts:  The Sudan startup is looking to tap stablecoins to help young professionals in East Africa avoid the hyperinflation common to many currencies in the region. There are clearly large opportunities in helping users in developing nations build wealth, but the risks associated with crypto means that these startups have a big burden of responsibility as well.

Take a look at some more of our Y Combinator Demo Day coverage.

Read more about YC Demo Day on TechCrunch

Kenya-based agritech Apollo raises $40 million in Softbank-led round, joined by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, CDC

Kenya-based agritech Apollo Agriculture, which helps farmers access high-quality farm inputs, financing and markets, plans to double the number of farmers it is serving by the end 2022 and to introduce other products that deliver more value per acre of land. This is after raising $40 million in Series B funding in the equity round led by Softbank Vision Fund 2.

Apollo uses the satellite imagery data of farms and AI to rate the credit-worthiness of farmers. It plans to use the new funding to refine its technology and deliver more products and services to farmers. Launched in 2016, the startup works with a network of agents, who recruit farmers and retailers to its platform.

Apollo Agriculture co-founder and CEO, Eli Pollak, while talking about their areas of priority told TechCrunch that, “We are continuing to invest in growing fast; serving more farmers, helping them grow their acreage and really hitting the acceleration on the business. And so that’ll be both continued expansion across Kenya but also expansion into new markets.”

The agritech is scouting for growth opportunities in East and West Africa.

“We are also continuing to develop products that deliver more value per acre. That could be new crops that enable customers to earn more money,” said Pollak, who co-founded Apollo with Benjamin Njenga and Earl St Sauver.

Apollo started off by working with maize farmers but helping them diversify to other high-yielding crops has been its area of focus.

“We began with maize. Maize is not perfect, but it has a profound advantage, which is that nearly every farmer plants across East Africa. This gives us a place where we can earn farmer’s trust and we can deliver value immediately,” he said.

“We believe that the pathway from subsistence farming to farming as a business means partnering with that farmer and using our machine learning models to identify the farmers with the best prospects of graduating to higher-profitability crops.”

By the end of last year, Apollo had worked with 100,000 farmers, with plans to double the reach by the end of this year. It has a network of “over a thousand” retailers and 5,000 agents spread across the country.

The agents onboard farmers to the Apollo while retailers use the startup’s “checkout app” to handle point of sale, inventory, source wholesale orders and as access to trade credit.

Since the close of a $6 million series A in 2020, Pollak said Apollo has grown 10 times, accelerated by product financing. The agritech has also received over $16 million in debt-funding over the years for onward lending.

Apollo started off by working with maize farmers but is now helping them diversify to other high-yielding crops. Image Credits: Zafaran Photography

Apollo’s products include insurance – which is offered by its partners including Pula, the Kenya-based insurtech.

“We have designed our business to strengthen farming systems, and if you think about climate change, we bundle insurance with every credit we sell to protect the borrower,” said Pollak.

Its latest funding round included participation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Yara Growth Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, CDC, and existing investors including Anthemis Exponential Ventures, Flourish Ventures, Leaps by Bayer, SBI, Breyer Capital, and TO Ventures Food.

SoftBank Investment investment director, AdvisersAlexia Yannopoulos, said, “in the face of sustained macroeconomic and geopolitical volatility, feeding the world is one of the most important challenges facing society. Apollo’s platform offers a one stop shop solution to help small-scale farmers in emerging regions to improve crop and livestock outputs. Embedding valuable financial services like credit, insurance and advice into the supply chain is critical in supporting a more efficient and sustainable global food chain.”

Pollak and Earl had previously worked at The Climate Corporation in the US, where they helped farmers use data in making production decisions. With an urge to create a bigger impact, they launched Apollo to help farmers outside the US to more than double their output, and shift from subsistence to commercial farming.

The agriculture sector contributes 26% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employs over 40% of the country’s population and accounts for 65% of its export earnings. It is this importance to the country’s economic livelihood that makes the sector a key area of focus for innovators. Other agritechs that are already creating ripples in the market include Twiga, the B2B supply-chain firm and iProcure, a farm input procurement and last-mile distribution service platform.

Daily Crunch: 2 months after launching, São Paulo-based payments startup Yuno raises $10M

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Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for Thursday, March 10, 2022! Am writing to you after coming off a live taping of Equity, which means I am still full of adrenaline. Doing stuff live is really good fun, which is why I am pleased to bring you a raft of news about our upcoming live events! TC Sessions Climate is coming; OpenView Ventures’ Kyle Poyar is coming to Early Stage to talk software pricing; and we just announced that Luminar’s Austin Russell is coming to our upcoming mobility-focused event. TechCrunch is going to have a busy darn year. We can’t wait to see you! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

Startups and VC

Much is going on as always, but let’s flip the script and start with some venture news before we delve into startups, yeah? TechCrunch wrote about Antler East Africa, which just put together a $13.5 million fund for early-stage startups. The company is a blend of venture fund and accelerator, we report.

Moving on, let’s knock out the day’s huge rounds: Up first is Lunar, a Nordic neobank. It just raised a $77 million round at a $2 billion valuation. As part of the news, Lunar also released crypto trading and a B2B payments service. And people said that neobank fundraising was dead! Also out today was news from Stilt, which raised $114 million in equity and debt for its credit API. Furthermore, Typeform raised nine figures. The company reached $70 million ARR last year.

Now, the rest of the news:

  • Zeta raises for surgical imaging tech: Boston-based with the requisite Harvard pedigree, Zeta Surgical came out of stealth this week with $5.2 million in funding and a goal of “delivering precise surgical imaging guidance for non-invasive surgeries performed outside the operating room,” we write.
  • Curacel wants to help tech companies offer insurance: Speaking of startup niches that you might have thought were done raising capital for a bit, insurtech, like neobanks, is also not dead! Curacel offers an API that allows other firms – fintech, e-commerce, etc. – to offer insurance products.
  • Sure, Mobileye is going public, but Autobrains is like bring it: Israel-based Autobrains has raised a $19 million round at a $120 million valuation to keep working in making self-driving cars work. Sure, Mobileye could be worth $50 billion. That isn’t stopping smaller firms from claiming their bite on the apple.
  • Don’t reinvent Excel, just amend it? That appears to be the pitch that DataRails is making to finance types who live in the well-known Microsoft spreadsheeting app. Many startups are building stuff to get folks out of spreadsheets. It’s neat to see a company not take that approach.

And to close us out, Instacart is building out features for its in-store shoppers. Our growth questions about the company remain.

How to calculate your startup’s TAM, SAM and SOM

For many first-time founders, calculating the size of the market in which they hope to compete is one of their biggest challenges.

Calculating TAM, SAM and SOM sounds like an existential exercise, but there’s no need to dread it “if you approach market sizing methodically,” says Marjorie Radlo-Zandi, a veteran investor and entrepreneur.

In a comprehensive article for TechCrunch+, she breaks down the steps required to capture these key metrics that “show prospective investors how they stand to gain from investing in your company, and put yourself in the best possible position to achieve your goals.”

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Twitter makes it easy to swap modes: One thing I love about Twitter is the fact that I can get my tweets in time-series format. It’s the only way that I want to interact with the service. But some folks prefer to have Twitter’s overlord robot (read: algorithm) do the sorting for them. Now you can swap between the two more easily in its app.
  • Hey Google, pay for my parking: Sadly, Google won’t lend you its debit card, but the company’s mobile OS will now work with ParkMobile to let users pay for parking more easily. If this works, let it spread.
  • DoorDash wants to help you return packages: The market for food delivery is not infinite. And with multiple competitors in nearly every market you can name, it’s competitive to boot. And with public-market growth expectations thrown in, you can’t be shocked that DoorDash is looking for TAM boosters.
  • Google to work on data portability: Major platforms don’t want your data to leave their domain. After all, data is power and companies want more power, not less. But Google is working on the matter after tech has scuffled with the EU over data issues in recent years, we report.

Antler East Africa closes $13.5M fund to invest in early-stage startups

Antler East Africa, the Nairobi office of VC firm and venture builder Antler, has closed a $13.5 million fund to invest in early-stage tech startups in the region.

The oversubscribed round — Antler intended to raise $10 million but ended up with an extra $3.5 million — has LPs that include Baillie Gifford, a well-known Tesla backer; family offices such as Canica; and institutional investors like the IFC.

Antler East Africa was launched in August 2019. It runs a full venture building model with two cohorts each year.

Five cohorts with 153 founders have passed through the accelerator programs so far, and the firm has made 14 investments. A few of them include AIfluence, Marketforce-subsidiary Digiduka, Honeycoin, Uncover Skincare, Try Cooked and Vybe.

However, its parent company, Antler, founded two years earlier by Magnus Grimeland, employs a mixed model where it acts as a venture builder and VC firm.

The firm, which invests from pre-seed to Series C, has cut checks in more than 250 companies from its $300 million fund.

Antler East Africa’s new fund allows it to embrace a similar approach: accepting founders who want to build their startups from scratch and investing in already formed teams that need capital to scale.

“We still do the venture building. That’s still the core of what we do. Just that now that the fund is closed, we have enough money to spend in existing businesses that are coming in,” Selam Kebede, the firm’s director, told TechCrunch over a call. “And we can invest in stuff that’s already been built with a pure kind of VCs type setup investment.”

Kebede is part of the all-female-led team that includes partners Melalite Ayenew and Marie Nielsen and program manager Joana Borges.

Antler said it would accept founders and teams on a rolling basis. Founders going for the venture building model to find a co-founder and launch an idea will stay within Antler’s community for up to six months.

For existing startups, two to six weeks is all that’s needed for Antler East Africa to work with the team before the firm cuts a check. Antler East Africa says it will invest up to $100,000 in these startups at a “mutually agreed valuation.” It plans to make 35 new investments from pre-seed to Series A over the next three years. There’s also an arrangement for the global Antler fund to follow up on some rounds all the way to Series C.

“What changed now is, in the past, we were going only from zero to like the first $100,000 ticket. But now we’re saying we can also take in existing teams and ideas that formed outside of Antler, but they can come to us and then we can invest just like any other VC would,” Kebede noted.

“So that changed a bit from what we typically used to do in the past three years. Now, we can start from literally day zero to support you and give you the first institutional ticket following up to Series C and D.”

Kebede told TechCrunch that Antler East Africa is sector agnostic. Nevertheless, the firm is keen on investing in startups solving problems in climate tech, agritech and fintech. She also said the team has already made a few investments with this new format but declined to disclose their names.

Being a female-led VC team, Antler East Africa is particular about investing more in startups founded and led by women in the region, Kebede said. It will try to improve the numbers from its venture building model, where 25% of the founders in its portfolio are women.

Meanwhile, female-run VC firms are impressively taking up their place in a male-dominated tech space as they try to address the funding gap that has plagued the industry for years. The Antler East Africa team, led by Ayenew and Nielsen, joins that list of such firms, including those specially dedicated to female-founded and led teams like Alitheia Capital and FirstCheck Africa.

“There are few or no female-run VC 100% that I know of, at least in Kenya. But our partners [Ayenew and Nielsen] and I, we’re all women,” expressed Kebede.

“And so it’s been super exciting to be able to do this, especially as first-time fund managers. It hasn’t been easy though because, you know, there’s the added kind of scrutiny and concern from other people when they see only women running it, but it has been exciting too.”