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The Pan-Africa Digital Freight Provider, MVX Secures $1.3M Investment to Boost Operations

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MVX, a Nigerian digital freight booking and management platform announced its $1.3 million seed round to bolster operations activities.

Tonye Membere-Otaji thought about the idea for MVX in 2016. Having worked in the maritime industry (running his family business and in a professional capacity building apps and websites for companies), Membere-Otaji was intrigued by how no online marketplace for vessels existed.

“I decided to figure out how to solve that problem of finding vessels because there were too many intermediaries, which made processes difficult,” he told TechCrunch. However, a few issues relating to not having the right team to build out the product stalled the company’s progress. In 2019, Membere-Otaji finally launched the company with CTO Tobi Amusan after securing a $100,000 pre-seed investment from Oui Capital, a pan-African VC firm.

The company was called MVXchange at first. Its business model revolved around providing a support vessel booking platform that matched vessel chartering requests made by operators with available Offshore Support Vessels (OSVs).

But in March 2020, the company made a sharp pivot and tweaked its model. CEO Membere-Otaji cites uncertainty of oil prices and the pandemic as reasons behind the decision.

“We couldn’t see ourselves doing vessel chartering for the long term because the demand for fossil fuels will definitely reduce over the next few decades. We wanted to do something scalable, something that was impactful, and something that we could be proud of in the next 20 years,” he added.

What followed was the launch of MVXtransit, a digital freight booking platform, helping cargo owners find deals on moving containers across Nigeria. This April, the company launched MVXpay, a finance and payment solution to provide trade finance for freight operators. However, both offerings are now rolled into one: MVX.

According to the CEO, MVX wants to make freight shipping and trade finance easier for African businesses by bringing booking and deployment processes online. The startup has expanded beyond Nigeria and claims that merchants from the West African country, as well as Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Rwanda, can use its platform to move freight in and out of their countries.

MVX charges a commission for the services provided, including trucking, warehousing, shipping, and cargo stuffing.

“We make it easy and convenient for businesses. Instead of trying to do everything themselves, which can be chaotic and cause distraction from their core businesses, we handle everything because we have all these service providers in one platform. So as shippers work with us, MVX works with like seven to 10 other service providers,” said Membere-Otaji.

However, what stands out for MVX, according to Membere-Otaji, is that the company also sees itself as a trade finance company.

The concept brings together the best of both worlds of fintech and trade. So the way it works is that with merchants looking to move shipments from Africa to the U.S. or China, some lack adequate capital to pay for freight or supply. With MVX, they can proceed to request credit. MVX passes it over to its financial partners, who lend to the consumers if they meet the minimum requirement. Next, MVX takes care of the shipment and delivers it abroad. Once the transaction is done, the merchant pays back, with all partners taking commissions.

“Our job really is to empower trade in Africa, and freight is a means to that. From every step involved in that process, from providing trade and finance to warehousing to payments processing, we want to play in all that space. There aren’t a lot of companies with that trading finance element doing that like us. And also, we see a huge potential in the offline market. Right now, the reason why we have this problem is that transactions are offline. Our strategy in capturing offline markets is also key.”

MVX has recorded more than 300 shipments this year but plans to end with 1,500. Per revenue and traction, the CEO claims the company has surpassed its 2020 numbers.

MVX raised money for its seed round from Africa-focused firms Kepple Africa, The Continent Venture Partners, Founders Factory, Launch Africa, and Capital Oak. Some angel investors in the U.S., Japan, Nigeria, and South Africa also participated. The two-year-old startup will use the investment to scale its operations, hire staff and improve its technology. MVX is also talking to investors to raise more money, most likely debt, for its trade financing product.

In a statement, Satoshi Shinada, general partner at Kepple Africa, said, “The trade sector in Africa is one that we believe is ripe for disruption. MVX is building a game-changing technology and platform to revolutionize how businesses in Africa move shipment and trade around the world.”

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Fund Raising

Nigerian Energy Startup Secures $2M Investment From Shell-Owned Fund

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Nigerian startup Infibranches Technologies, which helps solar energy providers manage their operations and receive payments, has secured US$2 million funding from All On, an impact investment company backed by oil major Shell.

Founded in 2019, the Lagos-based Infibranches has developed two flagship products – OmniBranches and Green Energy Plug – that help companies with large distribution networks, particularly solar home system distributors and mini-grid developers, manage their operations.

OmniBranches is a management platform with features that include agent hierarchy management, commission tracking, transaction records, transaction analytics, and profile management, while Green Energy Plug is a single point of integration for payments and other financial services for service providers in the Nigerian renewable energy sector.

So far the company has served over one million customers and processed over US$120 million in transactions, and the US$2 million All On investment will be used to support the next stage of its growth by financing inventory, agent acquisition, and product and technology development, as well as providing working capital for Infibranches’ plans to distribute solar home systems for households and commercial users across Nigeria, with a special focus in the Niger Delta.

“Through this investment, Infibranches plans to speed up customer acquisition in its current markets. This will also improve existing products like Omnibranches, which has served over a million customers and introduce new products and services to address energy distribution issues,” said chief executive officer (CEO) Olusola Owoyemi.

Dr Wiebe Boer, chief executive of All On, commended Infibrances for its innovative business model that solves payments and collections problems solar system distributors and mini-grid developers face across Nigeria.

“This partnership merges fintech and renewables in a way we haven’t seen in Nigeria before and will enable tens of thousands of new electricity connections,” he said.

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

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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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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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