Algeria’s Yassir picks up $30M to build a super app in North Africa

Yassir, an Algerian startup that provides on-demand services such as ride-hailing and last-mile delivery, has raised a $30 million Series A round.

The investment came from a long list of VCs and angel investors. VCs include WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, Quiet Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital and Moving Capital. The angel investors include Cleo Sham of Uber; Thomas Layton of Upwork, Opentable and Metaweb; Rohan Monga of Gojek; and Hannes Graah of Spotify and Revolut.

The company said in a statement that most of the investors from its $13.25 million seed round, which was previously undisclosed, participated as well.  

After earning a Ph.D. at Stanford and spending most of his professional life in Silicon Valley working at various companies, CEO Noureddine Tayebi returned to Algeria to get involved in the country’s nascent tech scene to start a company and build technical talent in the Maghreb region (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia).

Most people in French-speaking Africa are unbanked due to a lack of trust in incumbents and inefficient banking solutions. Tayebi felt that providing on-demand services — which solves essential needs and, more importantly, builds trust to then provide payment services — was the catalyst to enable financial inclusion in the region.

He founded Yassir with Mahdi Yettou in 2017. The company started with ride-hailing services because the cities it targeted had dense populations and inefficient transportation services. Yassir progressed to offer last-mile delivery services, creating a multi-sided marketplace that brings drivers, couriers, merchants, suppliers and wholesalers to individual users on one platform.

Yassir

Yassir CEO Noureddine Tayebi. Image Credits: Yassir

According to Tayebi, the plan is to use the marketplace model to offer payment services to all parties involved and create a super app in the process.

“Our approach of solving the unbanked population problem is unique in the region by offering more of a ‘banking as a platform’ solution where daily services are at the heart of it all via a super-app marketplace,” he told TechCrunch.

“Such services not only build trust for all the sides of the marketplace but also use them as channels to offer these payment services, which we think is the approach that is most suited to the region. Most of our competitors are either on-demand services — ride-hailing or last-mile delivery only — or pure payment solutions. This gives us an edge over them as we build the network, the channels and the trust that are all key ingredients for the adoption of payment services at large scale.”

Yassir has seen exponential growth since launching four years ago. Last year, it was part of Y Combinator’s winter batch as the first Algerian startup in the accelerator. In terms of traction, over 3 million people and 40,000 partners in all its markets now use the platform. Tayebi said that Yassir generates revenues by taking a commission on the services it offers.  

This round of funding makes Yassir the most funded startup in Algeria and one of the most funded in the Maghreb and MENA region. Tayebi isn’t coy about saying his company aims for regional dominance in its category. Yassir also plans to gain market share outside the region into other markets, primarily sub-Saharan Africa and other “strategic geographies.”

The company will use the investment to achieve that as well as consolidate growth in its existing markets by launching new products and improving existing ones.

Yassir also plans to triple the size of its engineering team, a department the company is also particular about building locally.

“We are [a] 100% local champion, including tech talent, as we want to empower the tech talent in the region and hire them in each country we operate in. We want a success model that is fully from the region,” Tayebi said.

“Yassir is a natural evolution of companies seen elsewhere in the world,” WndrCo partner Anthony Saleh said in a statement.The moment we met the team, we saw the opportunity of entering an enormous market with a service taking the best of models we have seen elsewhere. We’re thrilled to be part of this supercharged journey.”

Foundry Lab raises $8M to quickly, cheaply create metal castings using a microwave

Remember Easy Bake Ovens? You’d mix up some colored powder and water until a dough or batter formed, put it in a mold, pop it in the oven, and before you knew it — ding! A disgusting treat. Foundry Lab, a New-Zealand based startup with backing from Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck, has figured out how to do something similar, except instead of chemicals and an “oven,” it’s metals and a microwave.

The company, which emerged from stealth on Monday with an $8 million Series A raise, is using “literally a microwave, but on steroids” to cast metal parts much quicker than metal 3D printing, according to David Moodie, founder and CEO of Foundry.

“It’s super easy for the user; they literally take the mold, throw in the cold metal powder or metal ingots, put it in the microwave, press the button and walk away,” Moodie told TechCrunch. “It even dings when it’s done. As easy as heating up a microwave dinner.”

(Foundry’s microwave has also been used to cook a typical New Zealand meat pie. It took only a few seconds and didn’t taste fantastic, according to Moodie.)

Typical casting systems like investment casting, 3D printing and die-casting take anywhere from one to six weeks to produce. Foundry says it has been able to turn around brake shoes for cars in under eight hours using molds that had been 3D printed using computer-aided design (CAD) molds and a giant microwave. The startup is currently working with zinc and aluminum, but has done some successful stainless steel trials and wants to move onto other metals like copper and brass in the future.

While Foundry’s tech has future applications in manufacturing industries where metal 3D printing can’t reach, the near-term goal is to help car manufacturing R&D teams develop production-identical, functional metal parts that can be used for testing and prototyping before committing to mass production.

“One of the companies we’re talking to is making up to 600 prototype cars before one reaches the market, so they’ll keep changing and keep iterating on it, and that can get expensive really quickly,” Moodie said, adding that tooling costs could be upwards of $50,000 to $100,000.

Moodie says before starting Foundry, he ran an industrial design consultancy business, designing products for mass manufacture. He felt frustrated that authorities would consistently reject patent applications because they were made with parts produced by 3D printers or CNC machines, and therefore, potentially made with the wrong physical structures.

“So I did the Kiwi thing and went to the shed and lucked my way into a system that worked,” he said, noting that much of his experimenting was done using standard microwaves during New Zealand’s latest lockdown, during which time Moodie couldn’t get into his workshop. “What we’re trying to solve is actual castings, trying to simulate a die casting but doing it fast and cheaply. If you machine to a tool to do a die casting, it’s typically three to six months to get that back.”

It’s still early days for Foundry. The company only has a couple of its very large microwaves out for trial with potential customers at the moment, but it will use the Series A funding, which came from Australian VC Blackbird, to get production-ready by the end of 2023.

Part of the funding will go toward hiring more staff. The company has grown quickly over the past few months, up from six staffers when it first started fundraising to 17 full-time employees now. The goal is to make it to around 35 over the coming months, a task that’s been difficult with New Zealand’s strict pandemic-related border closures.

“The whole border close thing is starting to hit us now,” said Moodie. “The country’s got two microwave experts, and they both have jobs. That’s been particularly difficult. So we’re trying to get someone to come across and help us.”

New Zealand is beginning to open up internally, with Auckland coming out of lockdown this week and the city borders opening up to the rest of the country in mid-December. Unless the new omicron variant holds things up, the country is expected to start inviting vaccinated travelers back starting April 30, 2022, giving Foundry and other New Zealand startups the chance to hire talent from abroad.

Even though Foundry is working out of New Zealand, it’s targeting markets in the United States and Europe. The company’s long game is to continue to work on the microwaves and get them to a point where they can produce the quantities needed for mass production.

Quick-commerce startup YallaMarket eyes Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year after U.A.E expansion

YallaMarket, a Dubai-based quick-commerce startup, is planning to expand within the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), and to enter Saudi Arabia and Qatar next year, to tap the appetite for speedy and convenient grocery shopping.

The startup, which was formally launched last month, is expanding in the U.A.E cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai by setting up an additional 100 dark stores to offer 15-minute delivery services. Dark stores are order fulfillment centers for online retail outlets. These stores are inaccessible to customers but serve the important role of rapid order fulfillment. YallaMarket has two dark stores that are currently operational with plans to open two more in the next two weeks.

The instant delivery service will use the $2.3 million it has raised in the pre-seed round to fund expansion within the U.A.E. The round was co-led by Dubai Angel Investors and Wamda Capital, with the participation of a number of angel investors that focus on the Middle-East and North Africa (MENA). YallaMarket is planning to launch the production of ready-to-eat meals that will be available to order via the app, in the near future too.

The startup was founded by Dubai-based Russian entrepreneurs Leonid Dovbenko and Stanislav Seleznev, also founders of restaurant automatization services DocsinBox and Tawreed.

“We plan to use the majority of newly secured funding to boost our growth. The MENA region is actively developing…Our goal is to cover as much territory by on-demand fast delivery as possible,” said co-founder Dovbenko, who is also CEO of iiko Middle East, a cloud-based POS for restaurants.

The startup’s dark stores are located in residential areas that make it possible for delivery persons to collect orders within three minutes after purchase, and to deliver to several households on each trip. The company has its own delivery unit that uses e-scooters and bicycles. The average order of everyday goods bought through YallaMarket is $15 (55AED), with fruits, dairy and drinks leading in popularity.

YallaMarket makes a profit on each item it sells as it sources its inventory directly from brands or through large distributors.

“We see that the level of development of the e-grocery in the UAE is far from Russia, where express delivery services have achieved incredible success. Over the past few years, it has become clear that the dark-store model is supposed to replace classic convenience stores,” said Dovbenko.

As it gains more data on user habits, YallaMarket is now investing in product development by implementing a “behavior prediction system” to customize user experiences and offers based on their preferences to reduce the time spent when making orders.

The concept of the instant delivery business model (quick commerce) grew exponentially last year as the pandemic fueled the adoption of online grocery shopping according to a Coresight Research report. The report says that “permanent gains” are expected as consumers continue shopping online even after the pandemic.

Fast and reliable delivery and availability continue to be some of the most important factors when shopping online, as noted by a majority of consumers surveyed in a recent PwC study. The study expects online shopping to continue to gain ground as people continue to work from home, and as they adopt new habits like shopping online. The report ranked grocery spending as the category which consumers expect their spending to increase followed by takeaway food.

Upbound nabs $60M to grow its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management project

Companies today want to avoid the lock-in they faced in the past with a single vendor. As a result, they are hedging their bets with a multi-cloud strategy, but this creates a new problem around finding a single tool for managing it all. That’s where Upbound comes in with its open source Crossplane multi-cloud management tool.

It’s a big problem, and up until now, companies have relied on the cloud vendors themselves to manage each one separately. While some solutions like Google Anthos and Red Hat OpenShift have come along, there was a lack of open source tooling until Upbound released Crossplane in May 2020.

Investors recognized the need identified by Upbound and rewarded the company with a $60 million Series B to help build the open source project while looking to grow the commercial version of the product. Altimeter Capital led the round with participation from GV, Intel Capital and Telstra Ventures.

Upbound founder and CEO Bassam Tabbara said that while the market has attempted to find a solution to this management challenge, he believes that his company is the first to build an open source community with the hope of developing this single management console and single API to manage across cloud tools.

“There’s been a lot of efforts around trying to build a single point of control. None of them have attacked this problem from a community perspective, creating a universal control plane that enables that in [a] community, while [building] the convergence around it,” he said.

“I think of Crossplane as the first to get to a point where we actually now have a convergence effect around a single universal cloud API. This has never happened before. It’s truly the first time that we’ve gotten to one. You can go to Crossplane right now and you get one declarative API that can be used to address all cloud resources and infrastructure sources across all vendors.”

Tabbara points out that the project is fully cloud-native and is managed under the umbrella of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which manages Kubernetes and other key open source cloud-native technologies.

He said that Crossplane allows users to pick and choose the cloud vendors they want to use — whether cloud infrastructure vendors like AWS, Microsoft and Google or cloud-native tooling like Elastic, Confluent, Databricks and Snowflake — and manage all of that from a single API.

The company has grown and helped nurture the open source project and developed a commercial product in parallel called Upbound (like the company), which customers can install themselves in their cloud of choice or use a SaaS version that Upbound will manage for them.

It’s not only catching on with users. Tabbara said he has also been seeing major vendors like AWS, Azure, Equinix and IBM building integrations for Crossplane. He believes this is key, and it’s similar to the dynamic we saw in 2017 when the major cloud players began to rally around Kubernetes and the CNCF.

“It’s truly to the point where there is now a real convergence effect around Crossplane, not unlike the convergence effect that we saw around Kubernetes as a project, and not unlike the convergence we saw around Linux as a project,” he said.

It seems to be a project and a commercial vision with tremendous potential, one that investors see as a pivotal piece of the cloud puzzle and are willing to pour in significant capital to help build. If Upbound can execute on this vision, it may be onto something truly transformative, but only time will tell if they can make that happen.

Particular Audience takes in $7.5M to give retailers way to take on Amazon

Being in control of customer data is one of the ways retailers, like Amazon, Spotify and Netflix, are able to tap into consumer behavior and create customized experiences whenever a user logs in.

Those are some of the reasons Amazon, in particular, is poised to grab 50% of the U.S. e-commerce market this year, and why Sydney-based Particular Audience wants to break down the data silos going on within e-commerce to give any retailer a chance to gather similar data on their customers to personalize experiences.

Particular Audience provides product discovery tools for retailers that are powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. In fact, the company wants to go further and offer personalization based on anonymity and without compromising personal data, CEO James Taylor told TechCrunch.

Taylor launched Particular Audience in 2019 after taking a few years to work out the technology. The global pandemic threw a wrench in some plans, with Taylor and a handful of executives taking a pay cut so as to not have to let any employees go. However, with the e-commerce industry growing over the past 18 months, the company was able to get back to where it was, he said.

The company has now amassed a real-time data set on product search, sales, pricing and availability from across the internet, from its browser plugin SimilarInc.com, which gathers the data from its online shopper community without tracking or cookies. Retailers can analyze that data to tell them, for example, how better to promote high-margin or overstocked items.

“Data IP is the current frontier,” he said. “It is data that is going to improve predictions to personalize inventory and reduce waste while also helping with supply chain management. The goal is to create website data visibility that would benefit all of the other merchants other than Amazon.”

To continue developing its technology, the company secured $7.5 million in Series A funding in a round led by Equity Venture Partners and that included existing investors Carthona Capital and a group of angel investors. This latest investment gives the company $9.5 million in total funding raised to date, which includes $1.3 million in seed funding raised in 2019.

Particular Audience

How Particular Audience works on a website. Image Credits: Particular Audience

Particular Audience is working with approximately 100 websites currently. In addition to Sydney, the company also has an office in London. Europe makes up more than 50% of Particular Audience’s global revenue, and the new funding enables the company to open a new office in Amsterdam next year.

North America is also a growth territory for the company, where it has already opened an office in Vancouver, with plans to open a New York office in 2022 as well. The company has 60 employees, up from 20 last year, and Taylor expects to add 40 more in the next year, including rounding out its leadership team with a head of product.

The funding will also be invested into building out an API-first product suite and retail media platform so retailers can gain a revenue stream from cost per clicks. Meanwhile, the company saw 460% year over year in revenue growth and expects to hit $100 million in gross merchandise value through its products this year, up 19 times in the last two years, Taylor said.

As part of the investment, Daniel Szekely, partner at Equity Venture Partners, will join the board.

“Personalization of the internet is a critical frontier for e-commerce retailers, and in a world of growing online shopping options and diminishing consumer attention spans, delivering an experience that meets individual consumers’ needs is absolutely critical,” he said in a written statement. “James and his outstanding team have tackled this issue in a novel way, and the important need for their solution has been made obvious as the business gets pulled into multiple geographies. We’re thrilled to back them in their Series A and know this is just the beginning of the journey.”

 

Robotics startup FJDynamics raises $70M to make manual labor easier

FJDynamics, founded by DJI’s former chief scientist Wu Di, just closed a Series B round of $70 million as it advances its goal to empower workers in the harshest environment with robotic technologies.

When I asked Wu what’s special about his company’s farming robots, he gave an answer that would make any publicist sweat: “I don’t think our technology is that special.” The startup’s vision, he said, is to make useful and affordable robots for the most labor-intensive industries.

“You can have the most advanced AI algorithms,” he continued, “But if the technology doesn’t work on the production line or the farm, because you don’t have any industry experience, then how does your technology benefit people?”

The technologies that Wu worked on before FJDynamics were cutting-edge in every sense. At DJI, he served as the chief scientist and oversaw the drone giant’s acquisition of the 180-year-old Swedish format camera maker Victor Hasselblad AB in 2017. Before returning to China, he spent a decade in Sweden, during which he earned a PhD in domain-specific processor design. He also worked as a vice principal at fabless semiconductor company Coresonic AB and a director at the Swedish luxury sports car maker Koenigsegg AB.

“After seeing all these first-class technologies, it’s a stretch to say we [FJDynamics] are a high-tech company,” said the founder, who donned a slightly faded checkered shirt and a pair of thin-rimmed glasses on the morning of our interview.

We were sitting in a makeshift meeting room, a partition comprising a few desks separated from the rest of the open-plan office by movable walls. The company, located in Shenzhen’s bustling tech hub Shenzhen, was fast expanding and approaching 1,000 employees.

Wu Di, founder and CEO of FJDynamics

In 2019, Wu left DJI to start FJDynamics. The company set out with a focus on agricultural robots, building tools like unmanned lawnmowers, orchard sprayers and feed pushing machines. It has since ventured into other fields that depend heavily on manual work, such as construction and manufacturing.

As Beijing invokes a digital upgrade in the country’s traditional industries, Chinese companies like FJDynamics are in hot demand by investors. FJDynamics itself has attracted a rank of heavyweight financiers, including Tencent and state-owned automaker Dongfeng Asset Management. DJI had a stake in the company early on but has since sold off its shares.

It declined to name its sole investor in its latest Series B round and only said it is a major internet firm in China. The funding, the company said, will allow it to “grow its suite of robotics automation technology across agriculture, facility management, construction and gardening, along with supporting the increasing demand of the company’s ESG product offerings in over 60 countries.”

Over the years, a handful of engineers have left DJI to set up their own shops or join others’ fledgling projects. Portable battery maker EcoFlow, hairdryer Zuvi, electric toothbrush brand Evowera are among the most high-profile ones. For Wu, what drove him away from a prestigious position at the world’s largest drone company was a sense of disconnection he felt making “luxury” hardware.

“If you look at how robotic technology is being applied, there are a lot of companies using drones and autonomous vehicles. But the majority of people on earth aren’t benefiting from it.”

“Agriculture, construction, gardening… Work conditions in these sectors are physically demanding and there are still a lot of us doing this kind of job. The question is how we use robotic technology to improve their work environment, and that doesn’t mean simply replacing them with robots,” said the founder.

Image Credits: FJDynamics’ cow feed pusher, printed with the logo of Sveaverken, a Swedish farming company it acquired

One of FJDynamics’ popular products is the automated feed pusher. To produce high-quality milk, cows need to be fed about ten times throughout the day. The routine requires farms to have staff on-site 24 hours. A farm with 500 cows, for example, needs about three grass feeders to take shifts. But in poorer countries, farms can’t afford to have as many workers and staff could be out tending to the cows all day even in the coldest season.

FJDynamics aims to make farmers’ work easier. Its vision-guided feeder, which costs about 20,000 euros each, can feed up to 500 cows a day. In 2019, it acquired the 110-year-old Swedish farming company Sveaverken, which has helped put the Chinese firm’s feed pushing robots to work.

“I never talk about technology to my customers. The farmer is more interested in whether my product can help improve the crop yield,” said Wu. “Every farmer is an economist.”

Because of the company’s vision in “making tech affordable”, margins are “modest” and the management is vigilant about operational costs.

At the moment, about 40% of the startup’s sales happen outside China across some 60 countries. Many Chinese companies expanding overseas are increasingly cagey about their origin, fearing hostility against anything labeled “Chinese”. Wu takes a more proactive approach.

“Even though I’ve lived in Europe for ten years, I can’t rip off my skin. I don’t think that’s important — whether it’s a Chinese, American or Swedish entrepreneur… As long as you build great products and bring benefits to my customers, there will be users.”

Data compliance is especially key to a company’s global expansion. FJDynamics provides the hardware and software while its local partners help deploy the “system” using the data. Microsoft Azure is its main cloud partner outside China to allow “elastic deployment while meeting data privacy requirements such as GDPR.”

“Our culture is that we don’t want the data,” Wu said.

Unlike smartphones or drones that require sophisticated processors, FJDynamics’ products use relatively simple chips that could be found in China, so the firm is likely immune from the recent supply chain disruptions, the founder reckoned.

While Wu may not be working on the most advanced technology anymore, he looks for ways to impart his knowledge. When he’s not developing the next farming robot, he lectures at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen.

“I live a simple life that focuses on two things — product [FJDynamics] and education,” the founder said. “I’ve seen a lot and realized that money can’t change you or make you happier. So you need a simple goal, and achieving the simple goal makes your life happier.”

India’s Slice becomes unicorn with $220M funding from Tiger Global, Insight Partners and Advent

Rajan Bajaj, founder of fintech Slice, chimed in on a Twitter thread earlier this year and wondered aloud what he needs to do to turn his startup into a unicorn before he turns 30.

At just 28, Bajaj has figured it out.

Slice, which was valued at under $200 million in a financing round in June this year, has joined the unicorn club with a fresh $220 million fundraise, the startup said on Monday.

Tiger Global and Insight Partners co-led the Bangalore-based startup’s Series B round. Private equity firm Advent International’s Sunley House Capital, Moore Strategic Ventures, Anfa, and existing investors Gunosy, Blume Ventures, and 8i also participated in the round.

TechCrunch reported early last month that Tiger Global and Insight Global were in talks to back Slice. A source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch that the round could grow further to $250 million.

Slice has established itself as one of the market leading card-issuing firms in India. The startup offers a number of cards that are aimed at tech-savvy, young professionals in the country.

Image credits: Slice

And it’s a huge market.

Despite nearly a billion Indians having a bank account, only a tiny fraction of this population is covered by the South Asian nation’s young credit rating system. As we have outlined in the past, Indian banks heavily rely on archaic methodologies to determine an individual’s creditworthiness and whether they deserve a credit card. Their conclusion: it’s too risky to give a credit card or even a loan to most Indians.

Slice is tackling this by using its own underwriting system. Such is the confidence it has in its underwriting system that in September this year, it launched a card with $27 limit to tap into the nation’s 200 million population. In an interview with TechCrunch, Bajaj (pictured above) said the new card is gaining fast traction, but declined to share any figures.

The startup offers its customers a range of features such as the ability to pay the bill in three interest free instalments and access to discounts on purchase with scores of brands. Slice says it is issuing over 200,000 cards each month. With this, it has become the third largest card issuer in India after two banks, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Slice has built a product that customers love, which we expect will result in continued growth and market share gains,” said Alex Cook, a partner at Tiger Global, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Rajan and the team as they expand access to credit and deliver best-in-class customer experience.”

On the business front, the startup is clocking an annual revenue runrate of over $60 million, according to the source quoted above. The source requested anonymity as the details are private.

 

This is a developing story. More to follow…

Astroscale raises $109M for its on-orbit services technology

Japanese space startup Astroscale has raised $109 million in a new Series F round of financing, brining the company’s total funding raised to date to $300 million. The company specializes in on-orbit servicing technology, designed to help reduce the amount of debris that exists in operating orbital altitudes, and also to extend the life of existing satellites as a means of making orbital businesses more sustainable.

This new funding, led by Japan’s THE FUND and including participation from investors including Seraphim Space, brings Astroscale’s total funding to $300 million. The startup’s CEO and founder Nobu Okada said in a press release that the new funds will help them scale and “dramatically accelerate [their] ability to make on-orbit servicing routine by 2030.”

It’s been a big year for Astroscale (Okada will be joining us on stage at TC Sessions: Space 2021 this year, by the way), with a successful tech demo of its end-of-life services product in August. The company still has a second part of that mission coming up before year’s end, and it’s also progressing with its plan to demonstrate orbital debris removal for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in a mission set for early next year.

Astroscale last raised $51 million in October 2020, the same year in which it acquired Effective Space Solutions, a company focused on servicing the large geostationary satellites that provide some key communications infrastructure on Earth.

Perfeggt brings in first capital to shell out plant-based egg alternative

Sales of plant-based alternatives, like dairy and meat, are surging in the global market, and Perfeggt wants to do the same for the egg.

The Berlin-based foodtech company is poised to debut its chicken-less egg product in the first quarter of 2022 in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Today, the company announced it raised $2.8 million in its first funding round to aid the initial launch and then expand further in Europe later in 2022.

Backers in the round include EVIG Group, Stray Dog Capital, E2JDJ, Tet Ventures, Good Seed Ventures, Sustainable Food Ventures and Shio Capital.

Perfeggt CEO Tanja Bogumil co-founded the company, which is part of Lovely Day Foods GmbH, earlier this year with Gary Lin, EVIG’s founder and CEO, and Bernd Becker, who was a long-time head of R&D for Rügenwalder Mühle, a German vegetarian and vegan meat maker.

Bernd Becker, Gary Lin, Tanja Bogumil v.l.n.r. Perfeggt

Perfeggt co-founders, from left, Bernd Becker, Gary Lin and Tanja Bogumil. Image Credits: Patrycia Lukaszewicz

“I really believe we deserve better food,” Bogumil told TechCrunch. “My mother’s family is from an agriculture background in small-scale farming, so I have always been conscious of where the food we eat comes from. I turned vegetarian at 12 when my uncle brought me to a slaughterhouse to show me that the sausages I ate were not made the right way. I didn’t fully get what was happening there, but it didn’t feel right or humane.”

Unlike dairy, where there is already sustainability, she believes the egg is still largely untapped. Sure, there are companies making similar plant-based alternatives, like Simply Eggless and Just Eat, which raised $200 million earlier in the summer, but worldwide, more than 1.3 trillion eggs are produced annually, meaning there is room to grow, and applications are versatile, Bogumil said.

Perfeggt’s first plant-based egg product is a protein-rich liquid alternative made from fava beans. It can be prepared as a scrambled egg or omelet in the pan. The company will initially be launching its product with food service organizations.

As with all food, taste is king, and with this product, the co-founders worked to create similar mouth feel, sensory, flavors and textures — all elements that Bogumil says are needed to get people to switch to a plant-based equivalent.

“This is something we spent time on figuring out,” she added. “Our product is built around the fava bean, which is very suited to mimic functionality required for these applications.”

To do this, Perfeggt’s R&D site in Emsland, Germany works closely with Wageningen University & Research, known for its life sciences research, to test plant-based protein sources and their combinations that come closest to the nutritional and functional properties of animal products.

The new funding enables the company to build out its team at its headquarters and R&D facility. The company is currently hiring for food scientists, marketing and R&D.

Meanwhile, Bogumil believes that more companies coming into the egg alternative space will help Perfeggt’s mission to shift people to plant-based foods.

“This is not a one-winner-takes-all market,” she said. “We have never in history seen alternative proteins be so close to the mainstream market. Clearly that is reflected in the capital markets, and not just for developing niche markets, but for the future of food.”

“We are incredibly impressed by the team’s rapid technological progress in developing next-generation alternative proteins and finding solutions that improve human, planetary and animal health,” Stephanie Dorsey, founding partner at E2JDJ, added in a written statement. “The egg market is a massive opportunity and this is just the beginning.”

Rensource-spinoff Sabi closes $6M bridge round, expands B2B retail platform outside Nigeria

Nigeria’s informal trade sector, worth over $244 billion, has more than 40 million micro, small and medium businesses.

Most of these businesses operated offline until a few years ago when startups brought about digitization by providing infrastructure and a gamut of e-commerce and financial services.

One-year-old Sabi — a spinoff from Rensource, an African energy company that offers power-as-a-service to customers — is the latest startup to raise funds to serve the informal sector. The company confirmed to TechCrunch that it has raised a $6 million bridge round led by pan-African VC firm CRE Ventures.

Sabi’s bridge round is coming a year after closing a $2 million seed round from CRE Ventures, Jaango Capital, Atlantica Ventures and Waarde Capital.

Ademola Adesina and Anu Adasolum have been at the helm of Rensource since the company started in 2015; Adesina as founder and CEO and Adasolum, COO.

By providing these small and medium businesses with power, the team at Rensource began to look into other pain points these SMEs had and find ways to add value beyond energy provision.

With the pandemic halting Rensource’s business, the team had time to develop this concept which became Sabi in October 2020.

Adasolum leads Sabi’s efforts as founder and CEO following the company’s branch out in March, while Adesina holds a co-founder and director role. 

Sabi is an attempt at platforming the informal sector and African trade via various online and offline channels. This means that Sabi tries to complement the middlemen (mainly distributors) in the B2B e-commerce retail chain rather than replace them, a model familiar with other prominent B2B e-commerce retail startups such as Sokowatch, MaxAB TradeDepot and Twiga.

“We’re not trying to be, you know, a tech-enabled digital distributor. We’re not trying to disintermediate a market full of hyper-specialization where one of the defining characteristics of the informal sector is you have all these middlemen and agents performing a very narrow role,” Adesina said to TechCrunch.

We think that specialization is important for the sector to work properly — whether it’s aggregation, making a sale, knowing the customer especially well, all these middlemen play a key role. And the way we deal with them is we give them a set of tools and an infrastructure they can run their business on to make it more optimized.”

Sabi caters to the needs of manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers and classifies all of them as merchants.

The company operates an asset-light model and doesn’t own vehicles, warehouses or goods. But it provides visibility into these assets across the entire value chain from the demand and supply side and controls on a single platform.

Running this model exempts Sabi from the constraints a typical B2B e-commerce retail platform might face when acting as a distributor for manufacturers to retailers.

Sabi

Anu Adasolum (Founder and CEO, Sabi)

For instance, asset-heavy platforms can’t move goods from two different suppliers in the same truck or use the same salespeople when distributing goods from different suppliers to retailers. On the other hand, Sabi doesn’t have such constraints, so whereas other platforms try to standardize operations around goods offtake, Sabi concentrates on offtake monitoring.

“We focus our processes, policies and monitoring around understanding the different types of users and monitoring how the third parties we work with are serving them,” said CEO Adasolum.

“As a result, the net experience of each off-taker is different and it works more for their particular business type. So I’m not going to go to a business that is used to working a particular way and change it but instead offer several other channels that they’re more comfortable with through our platform.”

These channels include offline agents, call centres, merchant partners, supplier centres and mobile app. Each stakeholder can access tools around inventory management, sales, tracking, digital invoices, analytics on the platform.

“We’re starting with what makes them comfortable, not what we think is best,” the CEO added. 

Merchants on Sabi deal with FMCG goods and products in other sectors such as agriculture, electronics and chemicals. The category-agnostic platform is home to more than 175,000 merchants who have made B2B transactions totalling over $200 million annualized GMV run rate. And more than 10,000 agents serve these merchants on Sabi’s network.

Sabi makes money by taking a transaction fee when any merchants perform any sale on the marketplace. The company also earns a margin for providing financing to them.

Adesina said in Q1 2022, Sabi plans to roll out a subscription model where agents will pay a monthly fee to access a reseller model.

Also in Sabi’s pipeline is providing manufacturers with visibility and data-backed insights and direct engagement down the value chain.

Growing an average of 40% month on month in Nigeria, Sabi intends to replicate its rapid growth in other African countries Kenya and South Africa.

The company opened shop in Kenya last month and just made a few hires in South Africa, intending to go live early next year. Another round of funding, a Series A, might close in time to fuel the company’s expansion into both countries, Adesina said.

Pardon Makumbe, co-founder and managing partner of CRE Venture Capital, in a statement emphasizing why his firm doubled down on its investment under a year said, “Sabi’s online and offline approach to serving informal businesses, combined with the quality of its platform and service provider curation, has clearly taken root in Nigeria. The company is on track to be one of the fastest-growing African companies of 2021 and is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Sabi’s growth, in addition to market demand, comes from the background of its founders. Before Sabi and Rensource, CEO Adasolum worked at Jumia, where she was in charge of offline sales for some African countries: Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.

She has also performed commercial operations and merchant acquisition roles for the African e-commerce giant. Adesina too has vast experience working with multinationals such as the Capricorn Investment Group, the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan.

Adesina is confident that the digitization of offline processes for B2B e-commerce retail will continue despite questions about why many players exist in the space. And he believes as more startups come into the market, more venture capital will follow.

Sabi’s monthly GMV numbers is one reason the co-founder has this conviction. Right now, the company claims to be on the verge of processing about $12 million monthly GMV.

While Jumia, Africa’s biggest e-commerce player, records this volume on average after five years in operation, it has taken Sabi less than a year to achieve this feat which can be attributed to the size of the country’s informal B2B e-commerce retail market.

“The kind of data we’re seeing now in terms of like real-time visibility into whether people like this product or that product, that stuff is gonna accrue and grow exponentially over the next a few years,” the co-founder said.

“And then I think that the same way one saw in China in the late 90s the kind of hyper digitalization of what was a very informal economy, I see that happening faster in Africa than most people realize. I think it’s something people don’t realize how quickly it’s going to happen.”