API fintech startup, Mono, has announced a raise of $2 million in seed funding. This is just coming 2 months after it got selected into Y Combinator and netted $125,000 in funding.
The new investment is to enhance its operations as it diversifies into another sector of the Nigerian economy: the Internet Economy. Mono is barely a year old since it was founded by Abdulhamid Hassan and Prakhar Singh in August 2020.
Although it currently helps businesses access the banking details of their users with the user’s consent, the goal for Mono is much bigger than facilitating financial transactions. Founder, Abdulhamid said, “We’re thinking of how we can power the internet economy with data that isn’t necessarily financial data.”
“For instance, think about open data for telcos. Imagine where you can move your data from one telco to another instead of getting a new SIM card and making a fresh registration. That’s where I see the market going, at least for us at Mono.”
This latest funding round was participated in by Kuda Bank’s co-founder and CEO, Babs Ogundeyi; Entree Capital and The Continent Venture Partners’ Gbenga Oyebode. Verod Capital’s Eric Idiahi and New York’s Lateral Capital also took part in the funding round. Entree Capital participated in Kuda Bank’s $10 million seed raise 6 months ago.
In less than a year, Mono has raised funds in 3 rounds. The first was a pre-seed round of $500,000 that was raised to scale the adoption of its API in the fintech industry. Next came the $125,000 from Y Combinator and the latest is the $2 million which brings all the investments received to a total of $2.625 million.
Mono talked about expanding to Ghana and Kenya after raising its $500,000 round in September 2020. While that did not materialize since then, Hassan says it is now on the front burner and will be kickstarted in June with a number of customers like GTBank, Fidelity Bank and the mobile money service arm of MTN Ghana.
He explained that “Our expansion is mostly inspired by our customers looking to expand to other markets, same with some of our products. We work with our customers to give them the right tools to build new experiences for their customers.”
Already, more than 100 fintechs use Mono’s API to access customers’ financial information. Some of these include money lending companies like Aella Credit, Carbon, Renmoney and Credpal. In the 9 months of its existence, it has connected over 100,000 financial accounts for its fintech users as well as analyzed more than 66 million financial transactions.
With its new focus on improving the internet economy and its latest cash injection, Mono will be strengthening its identity data offerings and its API for fintech as well as deliver new software for telcos and businesses in other verticals.
MicroStrategy Completes $500M Offering of 6.125% Senior Secured Notes Due 2028
The software company, MicroStrategy has completed its $500 million offerings of secured notes, according to a statement. The company said it plans to use the proceeds, which it estimates at $488 million — after discounts, commissions and expenses — to buy more bitcoin.
The aggregate principal amount of the notes sold in the offering was $500 million and the notes bear interest at an annual rate of 6.125%. The notes were sold in a private offering to qualified institutional buyers in reliance on Rule 144A under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended (the “Securities Act”) and to persons outside of the United States in compliance with Regulation S under the Securities Act.
The offering was of secured notes due 2028. MicroStrategy intends to use the net proceeds from the sale of the notes to acquire additional bitcoin.
The company currently holds 92,079 bitcoin, which is under the purview of its newly formed subsidiary MacroStrategy. The price of bitcoin is currently $40,700, suggesting that MicroStrategy will be able to buy around 11,990 more bitcoin, taking it well above the 100,000 marks.
MicroStrategy announced this latest offering on June 7, initially planning to raise $400 million before it was upped to $500 million. According to reports, the company had more than $1.6 billion worth of orders for the notes, “including interest from a large number of hedge funds.”
Nexford University Lands $10.8M Pre-Series A to Scale its Flexible Remote Learning Platform
Two profound problems face the higher education sector globally — affordability and relevance. Whether you live in Africa, Europe, or the U.S., a major reason why people don’t go to university or college or even drop out because they cannot afford tuition fees. On the other hand, relevance shows the huge gap between what traditional universities teach and what global employers actually look for. It’s not a secret that universities focus a bit too much on theory.
Over the past few years, there has been the emergence of a number of alternative credential providers trying to provide students with the necessary skills to earn and make a living. Nexford University is one of such platforms, and today, it has a closed $10.8 million pre-Series A funding round.
Dubai-based VC Global Ventures led the new round. Other investors include Future Africa’s new thematic fund (focused on education), angel investors, and family offices. Unnamed VCs from 10 countries, including the U.S., U.K., France, Dubai, Switzerland, Qatar, Nigeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, also took part.
To date, Nexford has raised $15.3 million, following the first tranche of $4.5 million in seed funding raised two years ago.
“That way, you get the best of both worlds,” CEO Al Tarzi said to TechCrunch. “You get practical skills that you can put to work immediately or for your future career while actively keeping a job. So the whole experience is designed as a learning as a service model.”
Nexford Unversity lets students study at their own pace. Once they apply and get admitted into either a degree program or a course program, they choose how fast or slow they want the program to be.
The CEO says whatever students learn on the platform is directly applicable to their jobs. Currently, Nexford offers undergraduate degrees in business administration; 360° marketing; AI & automation; building a tech startup; business analytics; business in emerging markets; digital transformation; e-commerce; and product management. Its graduate degrees are business administration, advanced AI, e-commerce, hyperconnectivity, sustainability, and world business.
Nexford’s tuition structure is very different from traditional universities because it’s modelled monthly. Its accredited degrees cost between $3,000 to $4,000 paid in monthly instalments. In Nigeria, for instance, an MBA costs about $160 a month, while a bachelor degree costs $80 a month. But the catch for the monthly instalment structure means the faster a learner graduates, the less they pay.
What’s it like learning with Nexford University?
Nexford University doesn’t offer standardized and theoretical tests or assignments as most traditional universities do. Al Tarzi says the company employs what he calls a competency-based education model where students prove mastery by working on practical projects.
For instance, a student working on an accounting course will most likely need to create a P&L statement, analyze balance sheets and identify where the error is to correct it. The platform then gives the student different scenarios showing companies with different revenues and expense levels. The task? To analyse and extract certain ratios to help make sense of which company is profitable and the other unit economics involved.
Though Nexford plays in the edtech space, Al Tarzi doesn’t think the company is an edtech company. As a licensed and accredited online university, Nexford has a huge amount of automation across the organization and provides students with support from faculty and career advisors.
After offering degrees, Nexford puts on its placement hats by fixing its graduates with partner employers.
There’s a big shortage of jobs in Nigeria, and despite the high unemployment, it’s actually difficult to find extremely qualified entry-level graduates. So Nexford has carried out several partnerships where employers sponsor their employees or soon-to-be employees for upskilling and rescaling purposes.
An illustration is with Sterling Bank, a local bank in the country. Most Nigerian banks have yearly routines where they hire graduates and put them on weeks-long training programs. Sterling Bank employs any candidate it feels did great after the capital intensive (eight weeks in most cases) programs.
So what Nexford has done is to partner with Sterling to fund the tuition for high school leavers. When these students go through Nexford’s programs for the first year, they begin to get part-time placements at Sterling. Upon graduation, they get a job in the bank.
“That saves Sterling the training cost and our tuition fee is almost equal to the training that they provided for students. Also, students start paying back once they get placed, so it’s a win-win.”
Nexford University has learners from 70 countries, with Nigeria its biggest market yet. Nexford also has blue-chip partnerships with Microsoft, LinkedIn Learning, and IBM to provide access to tools, courses and programmes to improve the learning experience.
One of the major gains of this learning experience is how it prepares people for remote jobs. Nexford is bullish on its virtual skills grid, where people will get jobs remotely regardless of their location on the platform.
“Across Sub Saharan Africa by the year 2026, there’s gonna be a shortage of about 100 million university seats as a result of huge growth in youth population not met by growth and supply. Even if you want to build universities fast, you wouldn’t be able to meet the demand. And that spirals down to the job market. We don’t think the local economy will produce enough jobs in Nigeria, for instance. But we want to enable people to get remote jobs across the world and not necessarily have to migrate.”
Last year, Nexford’s revenues grew by 300%. This year, the company hopes to triple the size of its enrollment from last year, the CEO said.
Nexford is big on designing students’ curriculum based on analysis of what their employer needs. Al Tarzi tells me that the company always follow the Big Data approach, asking themselves, “how do we find out what employers worldwide are looking for and keep our curriculum alive and relevant?”
“We develop proprietary technology that enables us to analyze job vacancies as well as several other data sources; use AI to understand how those data sets and build a curriculum based on those findings. So, in short, we start with the end in mind,” he answers.
The company is keen on improving its technology regardless. It wants to analyse skills more accurately and automate more functions to enhance user experience. That’s what the funding will be used for in addition to fuelling its regional expansion plans (particularly in Asia) and investing in growth and product development. Per the latter, the online university says it will be launching partner programs with more employers globally to facilitate both placement and upskilling and rescaling.
Merging both worlds of tech and the traditional university model is no easy feat. The former is about efficiency, user-centricity, product, among others. The latter embodies rigidity and continues to lag behind fast-paced innovation. And while there’s been a boom in edtech, most startups try to circumvent the industry’s bureaucracy by launching an app or a MOOC. Nexford’s model of running a degree-granting, licensed, accredited, and regulated university is more challenging but in it lies so much opportunity.
Iyin Aboyeji, Future Africa general partner CEO, understands this. It’s one reason why the company is the first investment out of Future Africa’s soon-to-be-launched fund focused on the future of learning and why he believes the company is a game-changer for higher education in Africa.
“During the pandemic, while many universities in Nigeria were shut down due to labour disputes, Nexford was already delivering an innovative and affordable new model of online higher education designed for a skills-based economy.”
For general partner at Global Ventures Noor Sweid, Nexford University is redressing the mismatch between the supply of talent and the demands of today’s digital economy. “We are thrilled to partner with Fadl and the Nexford team on their journey toward expanding access to universal quality higher education in emerging markets,” she said.
SEC Sets June 30 For Crowdfunding Platforms Registration
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has directed all existing investment crowdfunding portals/digital commodities investment platforms to note the requirements and eligibility criteria for raising funds through and/or operating a Crowdfunding Portal and comply with the registration requirements or cease operations by June 30.
This was contained in a notice released by the commission on Wednesday in Abuja
According to the SEC, the rules governing crowdfunding business in Nigeria came into effect on January 21, 2021, which was part of efforts by the commission to ensure investor protection while encouraging innovation in the conduct of securities business.
“In line with the transitional provisions of the rules, all persons/entities operating an investment crowdfunding portal/digital commodities investment platform prior to the commencement of the rules were expected to restructure all operations in accordance with the requirements of the rules and apply for registration not later than 90 days from the effective date.
“While the transitional period elapsed on April 21, 2021, the commission hereby directs all existing investment crowdfunding portals/digital commodities investment platforms to note the requirements and eligibility criteria for raising funds through and/or operating a Crowdfunding Portal and comply with the registration requirements or cease operations by June 30, 2021, failing which the operations of such platform would be categorized as illegal and attract regulatory sanction as stipulated in the Rules,” it said.
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