Bluechip, an African systems integrator with partners like Microsoft and Oracle, is expanding to Europe

It’s not often you hear about African tech companies expanding into Europe. Some examples include fintechs Lidya and Korapay in Eastern Europe and the U.K., respectively. In the latest development, Bluechip Technologies, an African enterprise company that partners with international OEMs like Microsoft and Oracle and provides data warehousing solutions and enterprise applications to banks, telcos and insurance firms, is announcing its European launch. 

The Nigeria-based systems integrator said the strategic expansion positions it as a “new competitive entrant in the EU market offering data warehousing and analytics products as well as highly experienced senior data engineers from its Nigeria team as consultants for European firms.” 

Olumide Soyombo, one of Nigeria’s high-profile angel investors who launched a fund Voltron Capital last year, started Bluechip Technologies in 2008 with Kazeem Tewogbade. The company specializes in data warehousing, analytics and enterprise systems for banks and telcos. Having launched with a ₦5 million (~$30,000 at the time) seed investment from Soyombo’s father, Bluechip Technologies has grown to employ nearly 200 consultants and expanded across other African markets such as Kenya, DRC Congo, Zambia and Ghana. Some of its clients have pan-African and global reach, including FirstBank, MTN, 9mobile, Lafarge, GTBank and Access Bank. 

Bluechip’s data warehouse product collates data from disparate sources, translating them into information that gets businesses to understand trends such as customer lifetime value, churn and business analytics on gathered data. Telcos also use its simplex voucher management system to create airtime vouchers. 

With its recently launched Primo Academy, a pipeline six-month program of data professionals (sort of like an Andela-esque model) for itself, local and international partners, Bluechip Technologies is also one of the few African tech companies focusing on training and placing data professionals. 

According to Soyombo, the post-pandemic trend in remote working, a critical shortage of tech talent and an increase in demand for managing data more efficiently present a great opportunity for his company to deliver specialized services in Europe (recent research projects the region’s big data and business analytics market size to hit $105 billion+ by 2027). Also, the company, having delivered–in partnership with international OEMs–a range of enterprise tech infrastructure solutions in the African market, thinks it can do the same in Europe and plans to target the telco and banking sector from its Ireland base. 

“We built this core enterprise business application for banks and telcos and the talent pool to address these needs. The whole play here is to be that systems integrator provider to the EU market. The pandemic has accelerated the need for that global flat workspace, and how to place those engineers while working with our partners like Oracle and Microsoft, and to do this cheaper than India or Eastern Europe,” said Soyombo. 

Richard Lewis will lead the European expansion as CEO of Bluechip EU Subsidiary. He was the CEO of Business Logic Systems, a Bluechip partner based in the U.K. In 2017, Business Logic was acquired by Ireland-based Evolving Systems, a provider of software for connected mobile devices to over 100 network operators across 60+ countries; Lewis was the company’s senior vice president of global sales until this year. His experience will prove vital in placing Bluechip’s data engineers and IP-packaged products (including its newly launched customer data management and cash management solutions) with European partners.

“Richard has a good feel of the market. He has seen some of the initial requirements from customers that can make him say, “hey, if this is how what you’re paying for a developer in India, we can give you an equally quality developer for 20-30% less this price. And that’s the target that we’re pursuing,” Soyombo said.

Richard Lewis (CEO, Bluechip Technologies EU)

Bluechip’s growth over the past decade has almost mirrored the development of the African tech ecosystem and similar businesses in the same time frame despite the company not being venture-backed (its business is such that VC money isn’t necessarily required to scale). For instance, when Andela launched in 2014, it only had physical hubs in Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to source, vet, and train engineers to be part of remote teams for international companies. However, after going fully remote, the unicorn saw a 750% increase in applicants outside Africa as it expanded to over 80 countries. 

Ultimately, Bluechip, which operates the Andela-esque model for one of its services, plans to become a legacy multinational information technology services and consulting company like India’s Tata Consulting and Tech Mahindra. In 2014, the company clocked about $5 million in revenue. Last year, it generated almost $50 million. With its pan-African and global expansion plans, Soyombo predicts that the company’s revenues might hit $250 million in five years. “We want to try it out on the EU market and see how it works. The plan is also to expand further elsewhere like French-speaking Africa and possibly North America,” said the co-founder and investor.

Telecom operators in India warn people of coronavirus outbreak, share tips

Telecom operators in India have started to warn users of Covid-19 spread after more than three dozen cases have been detected in the nation.

Subscribers of Reliance Jio, Airtel, and state-run BSNL were greeted with a warning in Hindi and English when they attempted to make a phone call on Sunday.

“Always protect your face with a handkerchief or tissue while coughing or sneezing. Regularly clean hands with soap. Avoid touching your face, eyes, or nose. If someone has cough, fever, or breathlessness maintain one metre distance. If needed, visit your nearest health centre immediately,” the pre-recorded message said.

Vodafone, the top telecom operator in India, is in the process of implementing the warning message, while Airtel is looking to broaden the reach of its alert, people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch. The initiative is being overseen by the nation’s ministries of health and telecommunications.

The coronavirus outbreak, which has made severe impact in many industries worldwide, is beginning to disrupt several businesses and livelihoods in India as well. Solar companies, and manufacturing and pharmaceutical firms, all of which source materials from China, are looking at the government for help.

To date, 43 cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the nation, three of whom have recovered fully.

A handful of firms have also advised their employees to work from home, in line with recent actions of several American giants. Financial services startup Paytm urged its employees in Noida and Gurgaon last week to not come to the office after one of the employees was tested positive with the new virus.

Chennai-headquartered cloud services firm Zoho told all its employees to work from home out of abundance of caution. IT conglomerate Tech Mahindra has made a similar push.

Virtual product placement is coming for TV and movies and Ryff has raised cash to put it there

In a world where ad rates are declining for traditional broadcast media, the corporations responsible for making the fictions that millions devour daily need to find a new business model.

Subscription services are on the rise — with every major broadcaster launching an on-demand service — and so are ad-supported video streaming services to replace the traditional networks.

But there’s another holy grail of the advertising industry, long thought to be too technologically difficult to achieve, that may finally be within reach. It’s the on-demand product placement of branded goods in a video, and it’s the technology that Ryff has been developing since it was founded in early 2018.

Product placement is an increasingly big business in the U.S. raking in some $11.44 billion in 2019, according to data collected by Statista. That figure is up from $4.75 billion in 2012. The same report indicated that roughly 49% of Americans took action after seeing product placement in media.

The effectiveness of product placement has even been proven by researchers from Indiana University and Emory University. They found that “prominent product placement embedded in television programming does have a net positive impact on online conversations and web traffic for the brand.”

And while streaming services enjoy the dollars their subscribers are throwing at them, they’re also looking at ways to diversify their revenue streams. Netflix and Hulu are both expanding their product marketing divisions and analysts like those from Forrester Research predict that product placement will be a huge moneymaker for the company as traditional ad rates decline.

There are companies that handle product placement already. Startups like Branded Entertainment Network, which works with brands and producers to place real brands into contextually relevant scenes in movies and television, and Mirriad, which adds branded billboards to scenes, are working to bring more money to platforms and producers.

Ryff takes the technology to the next level, using computer vision, machine learning, and rendering technologies to identify objects in a scene and replace them with branded products that can be tailored based on customer data.

“The infusion of SVOD/streaming platforms into the market, combined with platforms like Netflix that are unsuccessfully trying to grow their subscriber base will force those same platforms to explore and embrace alternative revenue streams,” said Marlon Nichols, Managing General Partner at MaC Venture Capital, and a new director on the Ryff board. “In addition, consumers on paid platforms do not want their content consumption interrupted by ads. As such, product placement will be an important growth channel and Ryff’s new marketplace and unique technology set it up to be the unequivocal growth market leader.” 

To continue its technology development and ramp up sales and marketing the company has raised $5 million in financing. According to Crunchbase, Ryff had previously raised $3.6 million from investors including a subsidiary of the Mahindra Group and undisclosed investors. The new financing came from Valor Siren Ventures, MaC Venture Capital, Moneta Ventures and Vulcan Capital.

“Ryff’s offering is well-timed with the rapidly increasing demand for solutions that extend the reach of a brand’s content and drive business results,” said Uday Ghare, vice president for media and entertainment at Tech Mahindra, in a statement at the time of the company’s investment. “We believe the market will continue to see a shift of brand dollars to both content marketing and programmatic advertising as brands increase their reliance on content-centric programs and look to scale those efforts.”

Ryff’s ads can be tailored to the viewer’s taste, the platform on which video is being distributed, the geography of the broadcast, the date and time of the broadcast and a broader demographic profile, according to the company. Basically it’s like adwords for videos.

In a blog post writing about the rationale behind his investment firm’s capital commitment to the company, Marlon Nichols of MaC Ventures wrote:

Imagine a future where an IP owner can maximize the value of its content by putting in on the Ryff marketplace, where that content will be mapped for dozens if not hundreds of product placement opportunities and be layered with restrictions that comply with creative needs . Those opportunities will be ranked and priced by their effectiveness to drive marketing goals for brands. Brands can bid on in-video placement opportunities that fit their marketing strategies and budgets. 3D brand assets can be uploaded and inserted dynamically into content right before the moment of video delivery

Ryff’s first disclosed partnership is with the “reality” television producer Endemol Shine. 

“Ryff successfully takes the concept of product placement, the only advertising format that can’t be skipped by the viewer, and delivers a scalable and adaptable advertising solution that can be applied to any content, at any time and in any market,” said Roy Taylor, founder and CEO of Ryffm, in a statement. “The result benefits all – content free from annoying distractions, audience-specific brand placement and delivering a new means towards monetizing video assets.”