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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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Fund Raising

Autochek Secures $13.1M Funding to Scale Across Africa

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Automotive and Fintech company, Autochek has raised $13.1 Million in seed funding to expand its operations across Africa. 

Participants in its latest funding round include existing investors such as Golden Palm Investments, Enza Capital, Lateral Capital, TLcom Capital, and 4DX Ventures. First-time investors such as Mobility 54 Investment SAS, the venture capital arm of Toyota Tshusho, and ASK Capital also participated in the round.

Recall that last year, Autochek raised $3.4 Million in pre-seed funding to grow its markets in Nigeria and Ghana. That round also saw TLcom Capital, 4DX Ventures, and Golden Palm Investments in participation. The funding came months after Autochek acquired marketplaces Cheki Ghana and Cheki Nigeria from one of Africa’s largest classifieds Group, ROAM Africa. The company continued its expansion by acquiring Cheki Kenya and Cheki Uganda to expand into East Africa. The company also partnered with CFAO Group to bring its marketplace into the Francophone region.

Cheki was launched in 2010 as an online car classified for dealers, importers, and private sellers in Nigeria. The startup, headquartered in Lagos, expanded operations to Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In 2017, Cheki got acquired by ROAM and joined a list of online marketplaces and classifieds in its network like Jobberman.

Autochek is currently present in five African countries, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Uganda and according to reports, the company has set its sights northwards and southward on the continent towards the second-largest and third-largest economies in Africa, South Africa, and Egypt.

Autochek is an automotive/fintech company that was founded by the co-founder and chief executive of Jiji subsidiary Cars45, Etop Ikpe. Autochek’s platform operates a marketplace-driven model and has a focus on financing and after-sales. The company generates revenue through fees charged on customer transactions and commissions paid by dealers and service shops on the platform, the company also has financing partnerships with banks.

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Nigerian Agri-tech Procurement Platform, Vendease Secures $3.2M Seed Round To Expand Operations

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Vendease, a Nigerian agri-tech startup that allows restaurants and hotels to order food supplies directly from farms and food manufacturers at the best price, has raised US$3.2 million in a seed round to expand operations.

The seed round was led by San Francisco-based venture capital firm Global Founders Capital. Others are local investors and early backers such as Paga CEO Tayo Oviosu, Remita CEO John Obaro, and Magic Fund.  Y Combinator participants like Hustle Fund, Liquid 2 Ventures, Hack VC and Soma Capital also invested in the startup.

Vendease was founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu and Wale Oyepeju in January 2020 to help solve food supply chain problems by digitising procurement processes, storage operations and logistics. A flexible payment system was integrated to facilitate transactions on the platform.

Earlier this year, Vendease was part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 cohort and has developed mobile and web apps that allow food businesses to place orders for food supplies, manage inventories, track expenses and gain access to their credit facilities with a buy now pay later service.

In achieving this, Vendease has built a network of farmers and food manufacturers to foster a solid food supply on its platform, speed up delivery and ascertain the quality of food production.

In September, Vendease reported to have delivered approximately 100,000 metric tonnes of food and plans to expand its capacities with the $3.2 million seed round.

Mr. Tunde Kara, Cofounder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Vendease said, “the rising food inflation coupled with effects of COVID-19 across Africa has positioned Vendease to scale up food systems by digitising end-to-end processes from farm to table. We currently operate out of Lagos, Ibadan and Abuja, but this funding will act as a buoy for us, as we scale our solution to other cities across the continent,”

Mr. Kara further explained that the company has created a predictive analysis and storage system that will help businesses predict future food prices, store food in advance and peg their prices for any duration depending on the food category.

This process, according to the CEO, has saved businesses on the platform a lot of money and human capital. He said, “when we compare market prices to what users buy on our platform, we’ve approximately saved them about $480,000 in the last nine months, cutting a lot of unnecessary expenses from their general costs — savings that can go into other things in terms of expansion and growth.”

Mr. Kara says the company hopes to 10x this number in the next 12 to 18 months. “Proactively, in our small way, we are helping to grow the GDP for the food businesses both on the farmers and vendor side of the marketplace.” He said.

The CEO said Vendease will use the newly raised $3.2 million to expand its operations to other cities and countries before the end of the first quarter of 2022. In addition, the funding would allow Vendease to continue to build out its technology stack, as well as secure partnerships with some payment platforms and banks to deepen its financial products, especially its buy now and pay later.

Don Stalter, the managing partner of Global Founders Capital, said it was the quality of the team that attracted his firm to Vendease. He said, “as a backer of one of Africa’s very first unicorns, Jumia, we’ve seen a great deal of talent in the market – and Tunde and the Vendease team are best in class both in EMEA and globally. Their laser focus and rapid growth are unprecedented, and there’s a massive opportunity ahead,” he said.

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The Africa Blockchain Center (The ABC) Raises a 7x Figure Seed Investment from Next Chymia Consulting HK Limited

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The Africa Blockchain Center (The ABC), a Kenyan startup focused on building technology capacity and offering blockchain solutions to key sectors announced today that it has raised a $ 7x figure investment from Next Chymia Consulting HK Limited, an Asian based company that provides blockchain solutions, consultancy services and training to global entities.

Founded in September 2021, The Africa Blockchain Center’s mandate is to propel Africa into the adoption of 4IR (fourth industrial revolution) technologies by building capacity in blockchain programming and catalyzing industry readiness; offering solutions to enterprises seeking to explore the technology, and incubating blockchain startups.

This investment will help The ABC set up structures across 6 markets in Africa including Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa and build a community of blockchain stakeholders for knowledge sharing and best practice guidelines.

The Founder of The Africa Blockchain Center Irene Kiwia said “we understand the potential that blockchain has in solving some of the challenges that are facing Africa and we believe that we can use our disruptive nature as a continent to create value for ourselves through the adoption of the technology. However, there is a massive capacity gap that we must fill to accelerate this. We aim to train 10,000 blockchain programmers, 5000 business leaders and executives on blockchain readiness, incubate 50 blockchain startups and launch robust solutions for the market in the next 2 years.”

The ABC aims to demystify blockchain technology and create platforms where the industry can learn, run research programs (R&D), launch blockchain solutions and access blockchain as a service for various applications across industries and sectors.

“The African continent has a massive untapped appetite to understand, learn and experiment with decentralized technologies. This, coupled with the opportunities that the market presents in applying blockchain technology in key sectors like finance, agriculture, health and general governance makes the center a timely intervention.” Further stated Kiwia.

The ABC is an Adanian Labs startup, the Pan African smart technologies venture studio with a mission to build, nurture and scale 300 impact driven tech startups across Africa.

The CEO of Adanian Labs John Kamara said “We are extremely proud to see such progress with our startups. We pride ourselves in providing the right environment, tools and resources to support startups and help them build scalable solutions. The ABC is very timely as Africa is exploring the potential for smart technologies in support of its 4IR efforts. Adanian Labs will continue to work with the Africa Blockchain Center and support its roll out across the continent.”

The female economy is at the center of The ABC’s mission. The ABC will have a special gender lens to ensure that women are an integral part of this transformation.

The CEO of Next Chymia Consulting HK Limited Kenji Sasaki said “We are delighted to support and partner with The ABC, their model is groundbreaking on how they want to scale blockchain technology in Africa, and we have confidence in the team. We are aligned in vision as well as our commitment to building blockchain capacity and providing blockchain solutions to key industries. We want to champion good governance for blockchain and we see the appetite and gap in Africa where this cutting-edge technology can solve some of the inequality issues that will catapult the economic growth of the continent.”

Driven by the desire to train African Blockchain engineers to solve African problems, the center aspire to create a space for collaboration where multi-industry stakeholders from development partners, civil societies, entrepreneurs, academia, government, private sectors, and all industry sector players can harness the common good of decentralized technologies in enhancing health, agriculture, education, good governance, financial independence and general economic growth.

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