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API Fintech Okra Raises $3.5M To Expand Its Data Infrastructure Across Nigeria

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Okra Cofounders

Today, Nigeria’s API fintech Start-up, Okra the first to gain mainstream attention, is announcing that it has closed a seed round of $3.5 million. This was after it closed a $1 million pre-seed in 2020.

U.S.-based Susa Ventures led this latest tranche of investment. Other investors include TLcom Capital (the sole investor from its $1 million pre-seed round in 2020), newly joined Accenture Ventures, and some angel investors. In total, Okra has raised $4.5 million in two rounds and the company will use the investment to expand its data infrastructure across Nigeria.

Okra describes itself as an API “super-connector” that creates a secure portal and process to exchange real-time financial information between customers, applications and banks.

Okra was founded in June 2019 by Fara Ashiru Jituboh and David Peterside. Since its launch in January 2020, Okra has aggressively pushed by connecting to all banks in Nigeria and even claims to have a 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime.

Its business model provides integrations to developers and businesses into existing banking services and takes commissions off subsequent transactions. These integrations include accounts authorization, balance, identity, income, payments and transactions. Per partners (developers and businesses), they are well over 100 with some big names like Access Bank, Aella, Interswitch and uLesson.

Ashiru Jituboh tells TechCrunch that besides making APIs, Okra is in the business of selling “digital first-experiences and transformation”.

“We are building an open finance infrastructure that enables developers and businesses to offer digital-first experiences and financial products,” she said. “We’re at a point where businesses are realizing that digital transformation is one of the most conversation happening in most boardrooms. So for us, we’re essentially just making tools and services needed to achieve digital transformation at scale with our APIs.”

The company says it has recorded an average month-on-month API call growth of 281 percent. Okra has also analyzed more than 20 million transactions; last month, it analyzed 27.5 percent of this figure at over 5.5 million transaction lines.

“I think it’s a good indicator that we’re on the right trajectory in terms of traction,” COO Peterside added.

According to Peterside, Okra is preparing for unforeseen circumstances by taking the initiative and engaging with the regulators in its space. Since 2018 when the EU released the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to deal with data protection and violations resulting from it, most African countries have mirrored these laws for their region. In Nigeria, there’s the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR), and due to its similarities with the GDPR, Peterside believes Okra has nothing to worry about — at least for now.

“In terms of what the law says, I think the fine print is clear not just in Nigeria but globally, so how we operate as a business is straightforward. But in terms of what we think, the regulators whether they make the necessary decisions… we can’t really speak about that but generally, the laws and global standards are clear,” he said.

If the company succeeds in keeping harmful regulations at bay, it can grow at whatever pace it wants. However, a bane that might threaten this pace is hiring, according to the CEO. “The one challenge I’ll say we face has to be hiring,” Ashiru Jituboh said.

“We want to ensure that we’re solving our customers’ problems as fast as possible and give the clients the support they need. We want to make sure our hiring speed is the same as the speed of our growth and I think being able to raise capital is one of the solvers of that problem… making sure we’re bringing great talent and building a great team,” she added.

Ashiru Jituboh understands the need for great engineering talent because of her engineering-heavy background. Before starting Okra with Peterside, she worked with JP Morgan, Fidelity Investments and Daimler Mercedes Benz. At Okra, she doubles as the chief executive and CTO, staking a claim as one of the most promising founders in Africa’s male-dominated fintech scene.

Omobola Johnson, a senior partner at TLcom Capital, maintains that these qualities and Okra’s proposition made the company its first fintech investment. It was more than enough to convince the firm to follow up in this round.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Okra as they enable developers across the African continent to transform digital financial services,” general partner at Susa, Seth Berman said. “We’re blown away by the quality of Okra’s team, the pace of development and the excitement from the customers building on their API.”

As part of a Fortune Global 500 company, Accenture Ventures has invested in more than 30 startups. However, Okra is the first Black-founded startup in its portfolio. Tom Lounibos, the firm’s president and managing director, said the reason behind the investment stems from partnering with Okra to bring open finance to Africa, the caliber of founders and their technology.

“For us, if we’re building an API infrastructure for the continent, we thought Accenture would be a really good partner because we’re essentially building an API which is a technology-based infrastructure,” said the CEO.

Besides, the investors will be pivotal to the company’s hiring and imminent pan-African expansion plans to Kenya and South Africa, where Okra is currently in beta.

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Fund Raising

Releaf Secures $4.2M in Seed Funding Plans To Drive Industrialisation of Food Processing in Africa

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Releaf-Investors King

Nigerian agritech start-up, Releaf, has just announced a $2.7 million seed funding led by Samurai Incubate Africa, Future Africa and Consonance Investment Managers with participation from Stephen Pagliuca, Chairman of Bain Capital and Justin Kan (Twitch).

In addition to the seed round, Releaf also secured $1.5 million in grants from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) and USAID.

The seed funding will enable the development of industrial food processing technology in Nigeria’s smallholder-driven Oil Palm sector, while the grant will enable Releaf to provide working capital and other value-added services for smallholders and small-scale processors. Grant funding will support the training, recruitment and retention of more women and youth in Nigeria’s Oil Palm sector by creating both digital and technical jobs.

Nigeria’s oil palm industry is dominated by smallholder farmers, with 80 percent of the local market share. However, production rates are low because many still rely on inefficient processes for de-shelling, including the use of rocks and inappropriate hardware. These ineffective processes also lead to low-quality palm kernels, largely unfit as input for high-quality vegetable oil manufacturing. As a result, food factories are unable to purchase these raw materials and operate significantly under capacity. On average, food factories have 3X more installed capacity than utilisation, which impacts the cost of food and further investment into processing capacity.

Releaf acts as a bridge between smallholder farmers and food manufacturing companies with its proprietary patent-pending machinery, Kraken. Kraken can process any quality of palm nut into premium quality (95 percent purity) inputs for food factories. Releaf’s software connects the start-up to more than 2,000 smallholder farmers, ensuring consistent, large-scale supply. While palm kernel oil production is not foreign to Nigeria, Releaf’s technology and scale mean it can process 500 tonnes of palm nuts per week. The software offerings also allow the start-up to receive inbound supply requests from farmers via USSD, provide working capital financing, and collect proprietary data on supply availability.

Speaking about the new funding, Ikenna Nzewi, CEO and co-founder of Releaf, said, “our mandate is to industrialise Africa’s food processing industry. This round of funding enables us to develop and prove our technology with smallholder farmers in the oil palm sector. Given Nigerians spend ~60 percent of their income on food and Africa’s population is set to increase by 100,000 people per day over the next three decades, we’re presented with an incredible opportunity to feed more people, reduce consumer costs, and supply the fastest-growing food market in the world. Releaf is committed to harnessing technology to accelerate the economic wealth of rural, agrarian societies throughout the Continent. We firmly believe that a robust real economy is the foundation for long-lasting and shared prosperity for Africans and are excited to deepen partnerships with like-minded organisations, governments, and firms.”

Rena Yoneyama, Managing Partner at Samurai Incubate Africa who led the round, commented, “Releaf’s novel approach to operating within the value chain with proprietary technology set it aside from many agritech startups we have spoken about to. We believe the firm’s thesis on decentralizing food processing would strongly match Africa’s economic development landscape for the next few decades. Ikenna and Uzo are the perfect founders to disrupt this market in Nigeria and beyond. We are thrilled to back them as they innovate in providing both agro-processing and financial services to rural communities and farmers.”

Iyin Aboyeji, General Partner at Future Africa noted, “more than 50% of the goods in supermarkets globally contain glycerine – an extract made from palm oil – a cash crop that is passed down from generation to generation. The team at Releaf is building the agro-allied industry of the future from the ground up, starting with palm oil which they have developed a novel technology to aggregate, deshell and process into critical ingredients like vegetable oil and glycerine. Future Africa is delighted to back Releaf to build the future of modern agriculture.”

Dr. Nneka Enwonwu, Country Relationship Manager, from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE), said, “We are thrilled to partner with Releaf on their mission to improve efficiency and profitability for farmers and food factories in Africa. The founders’ vision and the team’s enthusiasm gave us confidence that Releaf will deliver real value for rural communities and create digital/technical jobs for women and youth. We are looking forward to their results and success over the coming years and continuing to support their work.”

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54gene closes $25M Series B to Advance Global Drug Discovery Capabilities

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54gene Lab

African genomics startup 54gene has secured $25M in a Series B round, led by Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund. The round also included participation from Adjuvant Capital, KdT Ventures, Plexo Capital, Endeavor Capital, Ingressive Capital and others. This round brings the company’s total investment to date to more than $45M since being founded in 2019.

The new capital raised will be deployed to expand 54gene’s capabilities in sequencing, target identification and validation, and precision medicine clinical trials enabling drug discovery in Africa for both Africans and the global population. The new capital will also enable the company to begin its expansion across the African continent.

Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong, CEO, 54gene, commented: “It’s truly incredible to witness the impact of African scientists in global research, and it is critical to global health that this continues. We want to scale our contribution to global drug discovery by extensively developing life science capabilities on the continent, and this additional capital will catalyse our endeavours.”

Dr Ene-Obong continued: “In this round, we have brought in partners that keep us true to our mission of equalising healthcare and who can help us replicate our success throughout Africa. We believe the world will benefit from an African global drug discovery company that leverages the deep insights found in genomics research in diverse populations and ensures true equity for the African population. It’s exciting to see our company shift into the next gear as it targets becoming one of the top global companies in genomics research.”

54gene will also be expanding its genomics and molecular diagnostics division across Africa, ensuring that African patients get access to accurate diagnostics and enabling the application of precision medicine in the clinical setting throughout the continent. To lead this new business unit, the company has brought in Michelle Ephraim as General Manager Diagnostics Pan-Africa. Michelle has held various sales leadership roles across Africa for Leica Biosystems, PerkinElmer, and Merck Millipore.

Yassine Oussaifi, Partner at Cathay AfricInvest, commented: “As a pioneer in genomics and precision medicine in Nigeria, 54gene has built a unique health technology platform leveraging African resources to unlock scientific discoveries for the benefit of African and global communities. At Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, we’re dedicated to backing innovative, inclusive solutions that connect African technology and research with global innovation ecosystems to help them scale. 54gene works across drug discovery, molecular diagnostics and clinical trials, boosting access and affordability of various healthcare solutions that will positively impact worldwide. We look forward to working with the 54gene team on their development on the continent and beyond.”

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Agricorp Raises $17.5M To Boost Africa Food System

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Agricorp-Investors King

Nigerian startup Agricorp, which is utilizing technology in a bid to become the largest spices exporter on the continent, has raised US$17.5 million in Series A funding to help it increase its production capacity to 7,000 metric tonnes.

Founded in 2018 by Kenneth Obiajulu and Wale Omotimirin, Agricorp has so far supported over 5,000 smallholder farmers with inputs and training on good agronomic practices and built a 0.5MT/hour spice processing plant in Kaduna that produces value-added products for the export market.

The startup has developed proprietary technology, Farmbase, that registers, aggregates, and pays farmers for produce sold. In a market where farmers are largely undocumented and unbanked, Agricorp collates data that can help provide detailed analysis for stakeholders to make informed agricultural decisions and also helps with traceability of all farmer activities from the need for farm input to disbursement to sales of products and, eventually, payment. Financial institutions can also use this information to provide loans, credit facilities, and insurance to interested parties.

It is now seeking greater scale and impact and has therefore raised a US$17.5 million Series A round. The Nigeria-based Vami led the funding round with US$11.5 million in equity, while One Capital LLC and AFEX provided working capital financing for the company.

The funding will be used to expand Agricorp’s spices processing capacity to hit 7,000MT per annum, set up regional sales operations in South Africa and East Africa, acquire certifications for food safety and hygiene, increase staff strength to meet growing demand, and improve marketing efforts.

“We believe that by increasing our capacity to 7,000MT, we will maximise the potential to boost Nigeria’s forex earnings through export, contribute our quota to improving the Nigerian GDP from agriculture, and serve as a worthy model to African youths who aspire to be agribusiness owners. We want to show them it is possible and very rewarding as well,” said Obiajulu, Agricorp’s chief executive officer (CEO).

AgriCorp’s founders raised US$330,000 in seed capital back in 2018 to get the company started, and One Capital has previously invested an undisclosed amount in convertible notes to help it scale operations. The company has also raised several debt notes to meet its working capital requirements for buying raw materials from farmers within its network.

Since its launch – less than 3 years – the company has supported over 5,000 smallholder farmers. The company also says it has grown its revenue by over 585% to service global clients in the food processing and pharmaceutical industry.

Obiajulu, who is also the co-founder of One Capital, said Agricorp was intentional about choosing the right funding partners for this round.

“We wanted strategic partners that would allow us to grow our business and impact, not just see us as a portfolio in their investment mix.” He added.

According to Lead Investors, Vami Nigeria, they led the funding round because they saw in the startup a clear growth path, strong social impact, solid financials, and global collaborations with key partners. Most importantly, “the unrivaled depth of knowledge, passion, and resilience of the Agricorp team.”

“We have transacted with Agricorp on several occasions and have seen the business grow over time. Now, we are committed to providing the working capital they require, through our investment arm, to scale their operations at any level,” Samirah Ade-Adebiyi, Managing Director at AFEX, said in a statement.

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