The Africa SMME Tech Report

Issue No. 5. Africa-Middle East small business tech news for 1 June 2021. This edition features Chipper Cash, Telkom Business, zVendo, and more...

Chipper Cash Is Latest Inductee to Africa’s Growing Tech Unicorn Club

Chipper Cash, the Kenyan-American cross-border payments fintech backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has raised a $100 million Series C round giving the company a billion-dollar-plus valuation, according to TechCrunch.

The latest round, led by U.S.-based VC SVB Capital, brings ChipperCash’s total funding raised since its 2018 launch to US$152.2 million.

Chipper Cash is a cross-border peer to peer payments platform. It also provides virtual credit cards and a checkout tool that allows merchants to accept both local and cross border payments and payments through social media platforms. Chipper Cash also offers tools for investing in stocks and cryptocurrency.

This new development adds to the growing pace of unicorn-level valuations for African (mostly fintech) and Middle Eastern startups. Just last week we reported on OPay’s $400 million funding round at a $1.5 billion valuation. Others in the club include Flutterwave, Fawry, Interswitch, and Jumia. OPay is based in Nigeria but funded almost entirely by Chinese investors.

It’s notable how new most of these unicorns are. The oldest of the group are Interswitch (2002) and Fawry (2008). The remaining companies were founded within the past five years.

It hasn’t even been six months since Chipper’s last raise. In November 2020, the African cross-border fintech startup raised $30 million Series B led by Ribbit Capital and Jeff Bezos fund Bezos Expeditions.

Speaking of tech unicorns, this article in CTECH points out that Israel has more of these mythical creatures than all of Europe combined. It rattles off 11 notable Israeli unicorns just in the fintech space, including Fundbox, Next Insurance, Payoneer, and others.

The CTECH also quantifies what we all are feeling. That so far at least, 2021 has been a pretty unicorn happy year.

“During the first quarter of this year, 121 unicorns, companies valued at over $1 billion, were born globally. That is compared to 159 during the whole of 2020. While at the end of 2019, there were just 400 unicorn companies in the world, today, there are more than 600.”

One takeaway from all this? Once upon a time, it was a big deal for an individual to become a millionaire (in dollars). Now that milestone barely elicits a yawn. The notion of the unicorn is verging on becoming just as ordinary. At least at a global level.

Yet for Africa, the growing pace of unicorn production has practical value. Several guests on the BIG5D podcast, for example, have remarked that the presence of more large, successful exits and unicorn-level valuations is making it easier for early-stage startups to raise money.

And as startups scale up and achieve large exits, their African founders will themselves become investors. This also benefits Africa’s startup ecosystem.

AzamPay CEO Firas Ahmad makes this point in Episode 16 of the podcast.

“I really hope to see some exits for some African founders such that they can build their own VCs internally because the best VC is the one that lives the product that you're trying to build,” Firas said.

In Episode 17, Tori Samples, the co-founder of blockchain-based digital wallet startup Leaf Global Fintech, described the emergence of African unicorns as a rising tide that lifts all boats. But she acknowledged there are still major challenges involved in raising money as an Africa-based startup.

“The network effect [from unicorns] means we all grow, which is positive. So I am very, very excited about that. And to see more investment capital coming to the continent,” Tori said. “But there are still significant disparities. Particularly when you look at native founders and when you look at female founders. So there are still a lot of structural challenges.”

So which company will be the AME region’s next unicorn?


Is zVendo the ‘Shopify of the Middle East’?

zVendo is a platform that allows businesses without in-house developers to launch a fully functioning online store. The company was founded in 2018 and has just secured a pre-Series A round from Mobica and Gratus Holding. The company also raised a seed round in March 2021 led by EFG EV Fintech. None of the funding amounts were disclosed.

The company targets companies from small merchants to larger enterprises. The common denominator is they want a turnkey solution that doesn’t require a developer. zVendfo has a SaaS-based pricing model ranging from free to a platinum version for LE4499 (US$287). We presume the pricing is monthly. The free version takes a 5% commission on sales, while the platinum version is commission-free.

One of zVendo’s new investors made the inevitable comparison to a certain global eCommerce powerhouse.

"We only invest in businesses with leading technology and a promising future, and zVendo has both. We see zVendo as the Shopify of the Middle East, having great potential in the region,” said Bishoy Azmy, Founder of Gratus Holding and CEO of ACGC.

zVendo will likely use the funds to build out its platform and expand geographically.

The company’s founder has a very clear ambition for the company.

“With the new partnership with Mobica and Gratus, we aim to become the most advanced E-commerce platform provider in the region by end of 2021," said zVendo Founder and CTO, Sameh Abdel-Fattah.


Telkom Expands SMME Product Offers with Zoho, BlackFog SaaS Partnerships

South Africa’s Telkom Business is on a mission to become a full-stack solution for small businesses, helping them use digital tools to get online, acquire customers, and become more productive. The company also appears to have ambitions to be a key player in South Africa’s estimated R10.4 billion Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market.

Telkom has recently added two pieces to the stack via partnerships with all- in-one business software company Zoho (Out-of-Box Software) and data security player BlackFog (Out-of-the-Box Secure), according to to a report in StartupAfrica.

Telkom is offering the Zoho suite (including CRM, finance, marketing, HR) on a self-purchase basis through its online marketplace, as the screen capture above shows. The BlackFog security products do not yet appear to be live on the Telkom business marketplace.

“We will go out of our way to bring to SMMEs those solutions that help them on their journey in a way that is convenient, cost effective and speaks to the modern trends of technological developments,” said Telkom Business CEO Lunga Siyo.

Siyo added that getting to that full stack solution requires an oppeness to partnerships. And that means understanding what Telkom is good at (e.g., connectivity) and parterning where it lacks the pieces needed to complete the full-stack puzzle.

“Over and above the connectivity resources that we have, which is to help businesses to get connected, we then also had to build or strategically partner with parties that will give us access to a portfolio of products and solutions that help the other levers, being helping businesses to get customers and get productive,” he said.

In addition to its expanding SaaS offeairng, Telkom has also launched Yep!, which is an online marketplace that allows South African small businesses to be discovered in an online marketplace. Yep! is in a sense a modern take on the old Yellow Pages directory, which is also one of Telkom’s legacy businesses.


In Case You Missed It….

Recent features from the Africa SMME Tech Report

More Action in MENA BNPL Market

The battle lines are being drawn in the MENA region’s rapidly growing buy now, pay later market now that two local players have received major international investments.

First, we had Saudi-based Tamara, which raised a $110 million debt and equity round in April led by UK-based Checkout.com. Although reported as a Series A round, our understanding is that Checkout.com may have acquired a majority stake in Tamara in the transaction.

Now, this week we learned that Australia’s Zip will acquire UAE-based Spotii.

Read more

Is Another African Unicorn Rising?

The Chinese-backed, Nigeria-based fintech OPay is reported to be on the verge of securing up to US$400 million in new funding at a US$1.5 billion valuation. This reporting comes from the U.S.-based financial newsletter The Information.

This funding, if it materializes, would make OPay the newest member of the African Unicorn Club. It’s an unofficial club whose membership is becoming less exclusive. Other African unicorns include Flutterwave, Fawry, Interswitch, and Jumia. All of them Fintechs or eCommerce platforms.

Read more


The BIG5D Podcast: Recent Episodes

The BIG5D Podcast features engaging interviews with the business leaders building the small business digital transformation toolset in Africa-Middle East.

We’re always looking for great new guests who bring a fresh product, process, or perspective to the SMME technology space. We’re always ready to discuss sponsorship with companies that want to reach our selective audience of the region’s C-suite execs, startup founders, investors, and thought leaders.

To discuss any of the above, please contact us at Charles@bigfivedigital.org.

Episode 17: Tori Samples, Leaf Global Fintech

This week’s podcast features an interview with Tori SamplesShe is the co-founder and CTO of Leaf Global Fintech. Founded in 2017, Leaf is leveraging blockchain technology to offer a digital wallet to underserved populations in Africa. Notably, refugees, migrant workers, and small traders operating across borders. 

The company is based in Kigali and operates in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. 

We got right into it with Tori on some of the tougher questions that come up when you’re talking to the founder of an impact-driven business. 

For example, Can you scale a business that is built on a mission to help people rather than a mission to make money? And are investors energized by the idea, or do they scoff at the idealism? Her view is it’s not an either/or, but an and. You can do well by doing good. But she also acknowledged some perception battles, particularly in securing investor capital.

Listen to the Podcast


Episode 16: Firas Ahmad, AzamPay

Episode16 features an interview originally aired at our virtual BigFive Small Business Fintech Summit. Firas Ahmad is the Co-founder and Group CEO of AzamPay, a payments platform based in East Africa that is a division of Azam Group, a major East African industrial conglomerate.

Firas is a deep thinker about fintech in Africa and our conversation centered around his views on mobile money

Firas argues that the success of mobile money on the continent is also in some respects a curse because there isn’t sufficient incentive to innovate. And the lack of continuous innovation threatens to hold back on the development of fintech in Africa.

Listen to the Podcast


Upcoming Events

The BigFive Summit

16-18 May 2022
Workshop 17
Cape Town, South Africa

Stay tuned for more information. Questions? Write to us at info@bigfivedfigital.org.


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