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  •  Microsoft SA invests R40-million in SA agriculture sector 

    Microsoft South Africa has announced an investment of up to R40-million in South Africa’s agriculture sector, which is one of the country’s critical industries driving growth and job creation.

    The investment is aimed at driving sustainability in the sector for smallholder farmers, who form an important part of the agricultural workforce in the country. 

    Microsoft SA will partner with local tech companies to develop innovative solutions to challenges faced in the agricultural sector

    Over two million of these farmers help reduce poverty for local communities and establish food systems for South Africa and the wider southern African region. However, they face challenges that prevent them from becoming commercially viable, efficient, and sustainable.

    Lillian Barnard, Managing Director at Microsoft South Africa comments on the importance of smallholder farmers’ role in driving national economic growth.

    “There is no doubt that South Africa’s smallholder farmers have significant potential to drive growth and employment opportunities, as well as enable other sectors within the country to ultimately drive food security. This makes it critical to invest in the sector to address the challenges they face. Key challenges are a lack of infrastructure, access to competitive formal markets, production and business skills, funding and financial support to re-invest in their farming activities, and compliance with food safety regulations and legislation.” 

    The power of technology 

    The investment will be used to enable smallholder farmers to harness the power of technology to help improve the economic participation and contribution, efficiencies, viability, and sustainability of their farms. 

    It also aims to help meet broader South African National Development Plan goals. These goals include; creating job opportunities and facilitating skills development to attracting more women and young South Africans into key sectors such as agriculture.

    In order to roll out these technologies, Microsoft will be identifying and appointing established local tech companies to develop and implement high-impact solutions to the challenges the agricultural sector currently faces.

    A report by Research ICT Africa on ‘Paving the way towards digitalising agriculture in South Africa’ shows advanced technologies like the Internet of Things, remote sensing technologies, and unmanned aerial vehicles can transform the agricultural sector.

    In addition these tools can help to address South Africa’s food security challenges, create jobs, and address historical inequalities by reducing costs, conserving resources, optimising inputs and maximising outputs.

    “Our investment is aimed at making a real difference in one of South Africa’s most vital sectors by harnessing the power of technology. High-impact technological solutions will improve efficiencies in smallholder farming, lower the cost of production, improve access to local and international markets, improve compliance with legislation, and drive access to information, among others. By investing in the agriculture sector and unlocking the potential of technology to act as an enabler for growth and skills development, we are showing our commitment to driving sustainability and creating opportunities in one of South Africa’s most critical, job-creating industries,” concludes Barnard.

    Read more: Shift Fund reopens applications for funding
    Read more: Kenyan agritech startup Apollo Agriculture raises $6m round

    Featured image: Anaya Katlego via Unsplash

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  • 12 Female founded tech startups selected for elite mentorship program

    Twelve African female-founded tech startups have been selected for the inaugural The Future is Female Mentorship Program.

    Launching earlier this year, the program was founded by C.Moore Media, an independent PR agency located in New York. The agency specialises in US, UK, and African markets.

    Dedicated exclusively to African tech female founders, the mentorship program aims to equip the selected mentees with the insights into PR and communication fundamentals for tech startups from how to create and execute communication plans to how to leverage PR and communications to access a wider customer reach, attract investors and more.  

    With a reported 139 applications from 18 African countries, the program expanded the number of selected mentees from 10 to 12 due to the high caliber of entrants.

    The mentorship programme will take place over a four month period, equipping the selected mentees with an advanced skillset in PR and communications specifically for tech startups. 

    Claudine Moore MD and Founder of C. Moore Media International Public Relations and Adjunct Professor at New York University comments on the importance of supporting and growing female tech founded startups. 

    “We were delighted by the response to the program. African tech female founders are underserved and often overlooked when it comes to the distribution of investments and resources. We wanted to create a complimentary program dedicated exclusively to African tech female founders to support them in their entrepreneurial journey as tech startups.” 

    Here are the selected startups 

    South Africa based female tech startups 

    Uganda based female tech startups 

    Nigeria based female tech startups 

    Ghana and Tanzania based female tech startups 

    Once founders have completed this program, they will own insights into the fundamentals of PR and communications, and understand how to leverage this knowledge to gain visibility, grow their business, and build their brand. 

    The Future is Female Mentorship Program is a virtual program, and each mentee will participate in an exclusive group master class hosted by award-winning global and African PR expert Claudine Moore. 

    The group master class held in August is followed by three individual online one hour, one-on-one sessions from September to November. Each session is customized to the needs of each mentee and their business goals. The program is complimentary and led by Claudine Moore with participation from CMM team members and partners. 

    CMM and Claudine Moore have experience working with a cross-section of global, Africa-focused, and African brands, tech startups, and organizations providing a range of expertise including PR, media relations, messaging strategy, crisis communications, content creation, influencer marketing and more. 

    Organizations include global heritage brands such as Louis Vuitton and Johnson & Johnson, Africa-focused startups such as WorldRemit, AFEX, Nigeria, WorldCover, Konga and System One, and African brands such as Heirs Holdings, Transcorp, The Africa Channel, Arik Air, and the Tony Elumelu Foundation. 

    Read more: Winners of Lagos Urban Innovation Challenge announced
    Read more: SweepSouth receives investment from Futuregrowth

    Featured image: Claudine Moore MD and Founder of C. Moore Media International Public Relations and Adjunct Professor at New York University, Facebook 

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  • New early-stage Venture Capital Fund to back cohort companies launches

    South African based business accelerator, Grindstone has launched a new Venture Capital Fund, Grindstone Ventures, dedicated to providing early-stage equity funding to its cohorts of companies and alumni.

    Grindstone Accelerator is a structured entrepreneurship development programme that is jointly owned by leading venture capital fund manager Knife Capital and market access specialist Thinkroom Consulting.

    The programme assists South African SMEs with proven traction through an intensive year-long review of their strategies and provides them with the necessary support to build a foundation for growth to become investable, sustainable and exit-ready.

    Grindstone Ventures is an open-ended venture capital fund structure, set to invest up to R5-million per opportunity

    During the programme, key growth gaps are identified and addressed which can open up early-stage funding opportunities in order for these startups to accelerate market access.

    It must be noted that the availability of risk capital remains one of the main challenges to the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa.

    Andrea Bӧhmert, Partner at Knife Capital explains that the availability of risk capital is addressed throughout the programme.

    “Linking a funding vehicle to our Accelerator model complements the Knife Capital value chain approach where companies can be de-risked before raising follow-on capital from our Series A and later-stage funds. The Grindstone Programme is essentially a thorough due diligence exercise to identify the best opportunities – already narrowed down from hundreds of applications,” she adds.

    Venture Capital Fund

    Grindstone Ventures is an open-ended venture capital fund structure, set to invest up to R5-million per opportunity in scalable innovation-driven ventures – likely in co-investment arrangements with Angel Investors and Corporate VCs.

    Not only will the Venture Capital fund providing assistance and help small and medium enterprises grow but it also will facilitate the growth of a community of business leaders to help one another to grow their businesses.

    In essence, all future Grindstone Accelerator cohort companies will obtain a stake in Grindstone Ventures, thereby creating a vested interest in each other by a community of high-growth scale-ups

    “A few of our past Grindstone entrepreneurs have subsequently exited their businesses and became VC Investors with Knife Capital. We are now starting to teach our investee companies to think like investors early on – because we back them to succeed,” says Böhmert.

    Some of South Africa’s best scale-up companies have been through Grindstone, including radar startup iKubu; augmented reality animation & gaming company SeaMonster (see this story); online payment gateway Payfast; financial inclusion business Picsa; geospatial data analytics company Locstat  and on-demand grocery delivery service OneCart. Knife Capital invested in ticketing solutions provider Quicket and warehouse management software company Granite via its SARS Section 12J Venture Capital Company: KNF Ventures.

    Keet van Zyl, Partner at Knife Capital says the first Grindstone Ventures investments are imminent.

    “The initial capital contributions are from Knife Capital, Thinkroom and our programme partners, but encouragingly, past Grindstone cohort entrepreneurs are coming on board and respected Angel Investors in the SA startup ecosystem are looking to invest. We already identified the first investment opportunities.”

    The new Grindstone Accelerator cohorts 6 and 7 of ten companies each in Cape Town and Johannesburg are currently being finalised and will be announced soon.

    Read more: Sea Monster bags $1-million investment
    Read moreCape Town startup SweepSouth raises over R50m in new funding round
    Read more: Entrepreneur-driven Venture Capital Fund E4E Africa launches in SA

    Featured image:  Keet van Zyl and Andrea Bohmert at Grindstone ‘FIND-MAKE-GROW-REALISE’ workshop (Supplied)

    The post New early-stage Venture Capital Fund to back cohort companies launches appeared first on Ventureburn.

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  • Nigerian transport startup secures $300 000 investment

    Plentywaka has secured $300 000 in investment funding and plans to launch in Nigeria’s capital. 

     Plentywaka, the transport startup, has raised a $300,000 pre-seed investment led by EMFATOMicrotraction, and Niche Capital. The innovative startup will use the investment to continue to transform the transport system in Nigeria with improved mapping technology. 

     Plentywaka has secured $300 000 in investment funding and will expand its businesses across Nigeria

    The new funding will build on its customer experience with developments to the app’s mapping technology to provide more precise tracking for journeys. In addition to improving its services, users will have access to faster and simpler payment options for the various Plentywaka services aided by new partnerships with fintech platforms.

    In addition, the pre-seed funding will be used to help the startup expand its reach into Abuja and other Nigerian states. 

    Founded in September 2019, the startup has heralded success in its e-hailing bus service in Lagos and will be launching give routes and free travel for a week for users in Abuja. 

    A reported 70% of people in Nigeria’s capital rely on public transport due to the lack of a robust transport system and Plenywaka has tapped into this gap providing a much-needed and more reliable bus service to users in the city. 

    Since its inception, the startup up has reportedly gained over 40 000 customers, reaching a milestone of 100 000 rides after a mere six months. 

    A response to Covid-19 conditions 

     As a direct response to the challenges of COVID-19, the startup has also launched solution-driven services such as Logistics by Plentywaka and its Staff Bus Solutions. The new company’s success is attributed to solving the issues of movement with a hassle-free alternative that is steered by technology.

    Jonny Enagwolor, Managing Director and co-founder of Plentywaka comments on the investment acquired and their business expansion.

    “Securing investment and expanding into Abuja within our first year, in the midst of a pandemic speaks volumes of the demand for the service we provide. We are excited to have investment partners on board that see and believe in our vision. An efficient transport system is fundamental to the prosperity of any city and we believe safe, convenient, and comfortable travel should not just be for the few; but for everyone. Plentywaka in Abuja brings us closer to transforming transport in Nigeria, one state at a time.”

    The easy-to-use Plentywaka app, available on Google Playstore and IOS App store, requires just a two-step process to schedule a journey and book a seat for convenient movement around the city.

    With COVID-19 still a concern, commuters can expect all buses to be regularly fumigated, free hand sanitisers stocked on board, and a no-mask, no-entry policy, as part of the safety measures being implemented, in line with government regulations. 

    Additionally, the Waka Purse, the e-wallet payment feature on the Plentywaka app, removes the need to exchange cash on the buses, further eliminating the risk of transmission.

    Dayo Koleowo, Partner at Microtraction explains that as an investment partner, they believe that there is great potential for Plentywaka.

    “Plentywaka’s rapid growth since they launched Q3 last year has been tremendous so far. We are glad to be partnering with a very strong team that is passionate about providing convenience, safety, and comfort to everyday commuters. The distressful and uneasy experience by the majority of these commuters, especially in large cities is evident. We are backing the Plentywaka team to change that experience for commuters progressively by creating an efficient transport system”

    Searching for partners 

    Plentywaka is currently looking for partners to bring their vehicles on board to join the Plentywaka Vehicle Partnership scheme. 

    The startup is looking to work with individuals, corporates, and state governments to expand its technology and fleet to provide better transportation services. 

    Registering a vehicle on the free platform provides an opportunity to earn extra income, whilst also playing a role in advancing Nigeria’s transport system. To sign up, visit the website via www.plentywaka.com/partner, fill in your contact details, and select your preferred partnership option. 

    Read more: Entrepreneur-driven Venture Capital Fund E4E Africa launches in SA
    Read moreNew early-stage Venture Capital Fund to back cohort companies launches
    Read more: Shift Fund reopens applications for funding

    Featured image: Founders of Plentywaka (Supplied)

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  • Shift Fund reopens applications for funding 

     Enygma Ventures’ subfund Shift, has opened for the second round of funding for entrepreneurs and innovators in Africa who either have existing businesses or new business ideas.

    Successful graduates will then receive a $25 000 pre-seed equity investment.

    The Shift Fund launched in April this year and has been founded through a partnership between Enygma Ventures and Startup Circles.

    The new fund was founded in a response to the impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic and focuses on entrepreneurs and innovators in Southern Africa who are passionate about creating new solutions that address challenges facing Africa both during and after the pandemic. 

     Jacob Dusek, Enygma Ventures Cofounder explains why they have decided to create a second round of funding for possible applicants.

     “Our first call for applications to the Shift fund was incredibly successful – we received over 900 applications and the entrepreneurs selected have been participating in an acceleration programme with Startup Circles since June. Several of these entrepreneurs will receive pre-seed funding and two companies will receive seed funding this coming month.” 

    This second round of funding comes just as Women’s Month starts in South Africa.  

    As August is celebrated as women’s month. Lelemba Phiri, Operating Partner for Enygma Ventures is encouraging female entrepreneurs to apply for the second round of funding

     “We want to encourage more women entrepreneurs to apply to our Shift fund for we understand the challenges many women experience in accessing funds, support, and mentorship. We believe women hold the keys to unlocking Africa’s economic potential and we are committed to investing in our women.”

    How to apply 

    Entrepreneurs and innovators with existing businesses and those still at the idea stage are encouraged to apply here. Successful applications will go through a vetting process which will determine whether they will receive a scholarship or seed funding or both. 

    Established businesses that are selected will go into Enygma Ventures’ investor readiness programme to receive seed equity investment.

    Early-stage idea companies will receive a scholarship to Start up Circles’ acceleration programme. Successful graduates will then receive a $25 000 pre-seed equity investment. 

    For those not selected for fast-tracking, selected entrants will still be able to use the same resources from Startup Circles at regular rates.  

    Startup Circles, Africa’s number one online accelerator and startup school is an online platform that helps entrepreneurs quickly move from ideation to validation, to Startup, to becoming investor-ready. 

    Startup Circles works with mentors from all around the world who assist in facilitating moving quickly through ideation to validation to operation.

    Applications opened on 3 August 2020 and will close on 31 August 2020. 

    Startup Circles CEO Sandras Phiri comments on the entries from the first round of applications.

     “It is truly fantastic seeing the caliber of innovative ideas that entrepreneurs and innovators across the African continent are coming up with. The rate at which people are joining our community, engaging with us, our mentors, investors and with each other shows that Africa is fertile ground for incubating and launching new businesses that will, in due time, change the way people view and think about certain things.”

    Read more: New early-stage Venture Capital Fund to back cohort companies launches
    Read moreCape Town startup SweepSouth raises over R50m in new funding round
    Read more: Entrepreneur-driven Venture Capital Fund E4E Africa launches in SA

    Featured image: Supplied 

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