Introduction – Reality Check
If you know me by now, you probably would have noticed that I have cautious excitement about Nigeria’s tech space. I have seen interesting, not so interesting and unimpressive business propositions. I believe that there are real problems to solve, but we are turning a blind eye to a lot of them.
And I know why! It is not exciting to solve hard problems. That’s why most startups want to enable online payment just for the few who are willing or able to pay online, rather than help that farmer in Taraba pay for fertilizers and receive payments from his offtakers.
This farmer does not use a smartphone; Smile, Swift and Spectranet do not find those locations viable. Also, the farmer does not have a bank account, let alone a debit card. He doesn’t understand OTP, but he has to participate in commerce in a certain way. That is a real (hard) problem to solve. You can’t solve that from Lagos and Abuja – not from your newly refurbished office in Yaba. These types of problems require grit!
There are a lot of such problems. How do you ensure that Alhaji Bashir takes health insurance for his immediate family? Or how do you open an online market for Mama Risi in Balogun market? These are really big problems to solve and they are not for small children.
I am not in any way saying that the challenges faced in making online payments have been fully solved; I am saying that there are other real problems to solve.
In selecting my startups, one major question I asked is, “What problem is the startup solving?” Is it a real problem or tech for tech’s sake? Is it a need-to-have or a nice-to-have (painkiller or multivitamin)? I need to know if it is a great idea on paper, but very tricky to implement. I will like to find out, whether the market is ready for the product or if the product is way ahead of its time.
Additionally, I will like to find out how large the potential target market is. And more importantly, do I believe that the team can execute in this market?
In no particular order, here are my startups to watch in 2018.
Farmcrowdy is an agritech platform that gives Nigerians the opportunity to participate in agriculture by selecting the kinds of farms they want to sponsor (fund). The sponsorship is then used to secure the land, engage the farmer, plant the seeds, insure the farm produce, complete the full farming cycle, sell the harvest and then pay the farm sponsor a previously agreed return on their sponsorship. While this farm process is ongoing, the farm sponsors are able to keep track of the full-cycle by getting updates through texts, pictures and videos.
Upon completion of the cycle, the farm produce is sold and everyone who participated in the process (the sponsor, the farmer and FarmCrowdy) gets paid.
Thrive Agric has a similar business model to Farm Crowdy. The major difference is that FarmCrowdy works with existing farmers, while Thrive Agric creates its own farm. Their job is to get into a community, negotiate land from the community and get locals to farm it on behalf of the sponsors.
Another reason I love Thrive Agric is that the founders were farmers first before technology came in. So they have unique insights into how farmers work and the challenges involved.
Thrive Agric is a recent graduate of the Ventures Platform 2nd Cohorts.
LifeBank is a platform that makes blood available when and where it is needed in Nigeria to save lives. They mobilise blood donations, take inventory of all blood available in the country, and deliver blood in the right condition to the points of need.
LifeBank seats in the medical supplies value chain. Through its App, it helps coordinate blood donation to blood banks and also helps hospitals in sourcing blood or other medical supplies. The technology and logistics company is based in Lagos, and incubated at Co-Creation Hub in Yaba. As at January 2017, the company has helped deliver over 2000 pints of blood to patients across the state.
The founder, Temie Giwa-Tubosun, has over 10 years of work experience in global health, and has worked as a Global Health Fellow at the United Nations Development Project Millennium Village in Ruhiira, Uganda; she has worked for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department for International Development (DFID) in Switzerland and Nigeria respectively, as well as in the Ministry of Works in the Lagos state government as an operations manager. I believe that she has the capacity to upscale the business in 2018.
Mines.io provides a credit scoring and loan application platform designed to provide access to formal credit. The company’s platform uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze multiple data sources and cost-effectively predicts default risk as well as offers an end-to-end platform to apply for loans through mobile, enabling both banked and un-banked consumers to receive instant loan approvals.
“Through mobile” – that, for me is the differentiator. Mines.io is able to analyse customers’ mobile behavior (banking history, and spending patterns) to determine credit worthiness, and you don’t have to download an App! This opens up over 100m Nigerians to their platform rather than being limited to only a few who use smartphones.
The team behind the business has also proven to be elite. Ekechi Nwokah has a Ph.D in computer engineering, Kunle Olukotun has a Ph.D in computer engineering from the University of Michigan, Arvind Sujeeth received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University and Abi Adeoti received his M.B.A. from Pepperdine University. The interesting thing about the team is that its members are not inexperienced; they understand the problem and are able to solve it using technology.
dot Learn uses proprietary video compression technology to deliver low-bandwidth online courses in Africa. This technology allows edtech businesses to provide video content for their students at much lower bandwidth costs without compromising the video quality.
The market size for this business transcends Nigeria. It includes all emerging and frontier markets where internet speed is slow or where users cannot afford to stream educational content because of the cost attached to video streaming.
I love the approach because dot Learn is not building a consumer product. Their target is simple – Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy etc. All these companies want to drive engagement in emerging markets; however, internet is not readily available. Hence, they will require dot Learn to help “compress” the videos so that the consumers will be able to watch without recourse to data.
dot Learn will only earn from the video content providers.
The team behind the company is elite. Samrat Bhattacharyya has an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), while Tunde Alawode had his Ph.D from the same university. They have sufficient relationships to access the biggest providers of educational videos.
dot Learn was at the TechCrunch Battlefield Nairobi in 2017.
I believe these companies will make strong impressions this year. Watch out!
DEAL: Tomato Jos secures over N1.8billion series A funding
Tomato Jos secured Series A round funding through a consortium of investment firms
The local production of tomato paste in the country received a huge boost when Tomato Jos, an African agricultural production company, secured Series A round funding of EUR 3.9 million (N1.83 billion) through a consortium of investment firms, who are focused on providing support for small and growing businesses in Africa.
This series A funding is to help position Tomato Jos to further improve the lives and incomes of smallholder farmers and increase the sustainability and stability of food supply in Nigeria.
The funding round was led by Goodwell Investments, through its West Africa partner, Aliyheia Capital with participation from Acumen Capital Partners and VestedWorld.
Tomato Jos was founded by Mira Mehta in 2014 with the vision to create and retain local value add to the tomato value chain, reduce post-harvest losses, and improve the lives of smallholder farmers. Since its inception, Tomato Jos has focused on securing its supply chain through primary production.
The secured EUR 3.9 million Series A funding boosts the transition to its next stage of growth i.e. the processing and distribution of tomato products. The agricultural firm will work with thousands of smallholder farmers on over 2,600 hectares of land, putting more than $1 million of direct income into the local economy each year
According to the founder and CEO of Tomato Jos, Mira Mehta, ‘’Processing has always been the plan for Tomato Jos, but to get there, we spent a long five years working only on farming and primary production to make sure that we had a really solid foundation in place’’.
‘’Everyone at the company is extremely excited to take this big step forward into the world of food processing and value-add production’’.
Although Nigeria is the second-largest producer of tomatoes in Africa, farming inefficiencies create a demand-supply gap resulting in Nigeria also being one of the biggest importers of tomato paste in the world.
A partner at Alitheia, Mobola da-Silva, ‘’Tomato Jos has chosen the right market, business model, and management to succeed as a truly inclusive business within this management. As an agro-processing company that sources from local smallholder farmers and provides access to finance in the form of farming inputs to farmers, Tomato Jos is a good fit for uMunyhu’s inclusive strategy of investing in agribusiness’’.
Tomato Jos, through its initiatives and connecting local farmers to domestic consumers, has helped smallholder farmers’ average yield to grow by over 340% from 5 to 22 metric tons per hectare, while their average income increased by 455%.
CrossBoundary provided advisory support to this transaction through USAID’s INVEST program, funded by USAID Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Missions in support of the US Government’s Prosper Africa initiative.
The MD of Acumen Capital Partners said, ‘’Acumen Capital Partners is thrilled to join Tomato Jos’ Investors to help the company continue to develop a world-class vertically integrated tomato processing operation in Nigeria. Tomato Jos is positioned not only to locally produce tomato paste, which is mainly imported into Nigeria but to help Nigerian smallholder farmers increase their income by increasing their yield by 3-4x’’.
This is a huge boost to the country achieving self-sufficiency in tomato paste production as although Nigeria is one of the biggest producers of tomato in the continent, it is still one of the largest importers of tomato paste in the world.
It can also be recalled that in February 2020, Dangote Tomato Processing Company officially resumed the production of tomato paste after initial hiccups and suspension of operations. This was due to the inadequacy of raw materials.
FG grants new MSMEs 80% discount on NAFDAC registration
“It is quite clear that the President is committed to supporting existing MSMEs and encouraging the rise of new ones, as a sure way energizing and sustaining our economy through these times.” –Osinbajo
The Federal Government has announced that new Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) will access National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registration of their products at an 80% discount, over the next 6 months.
Eligibility: This concession covers MSMEs that are into production of foods, drugs, and related consumables.
Vice President and Head of the Economic Sustainability Committee, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, announced this on his Instagram handle on Friday night.
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Starting today, our MSMEs can now process the registration of their products with NAFDAC from the comfort of their homes, and at an 80% discounted rate over a period of six months. This is thanks to NAFDAC's e-Registration assistance for MSMEs through the Automated Product Administration and Monitoring System (NAPAMS). . Also, in recognition of the current economic challenges, we also commissioned additional NAFDAC palliatives for Micro/Small businesses, which includes zero tariffs for the first 200 micro and small businesses to register on the e-platform, and waiver on administrative charges for overdue/late renewal of expired licenses of products for a period 90 days. . It is quite clear that the President is committed to supporting existing MSMEs and encouraging the rise of new ones, as a sure way energizing and sustaining our economy through these times. . We reserve special commendation to the DG of NAFDAC and her team for this thoughtful and strategic response to the devastation that the COvid 19 pandemic has caused to businesses, especially MSMEs.
“Of importance to government response, therefore, was not just to find a way of giving succour and assistance to existing MSMEs, but also ensuring that there is practical and active palliatives to new MSMEs so that the growth of the sector is not discouraged by the current economic trauma,” he said.
The new businesses will also be able to process product registration remotely, using the NAFDAC’s e-Registration assistance for MSMEs through the Automated Product Administration and Monitoring System NAPAMS.
Other palliatives: As an added incentive, the first 200 micro and small businesses to register on the e-platforms will be allowed to do it at no cost – zero tariffs.
In view of current economic challenges faced by businesses due to the pandemic, the government has also authorised NAFDAC to grant waiver on administrative charges for overdue/late renewal of expired licenses of products for a period 90 days.
“It is quite clear that the President is committed to supporting existing MSMEs and encouraging the rise of new ones, as a sure way energizing and sustaining our economy through these times” Osinbajo noted.
He thanked the Director General of NAFDAC and the team for their thoughtful and strategic response to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, especially on small businesses in Nigeria.
The Vice President also assured business owners that the government of Nigeria and its regulatory agencies are “prepared to back MSMEs and businesses that are prepared for the innovative and interesting times that lie ahead of us.”
Steps SMEs must take to survive post COVID-19
As the business owners try to hedge their businesses with investments, they must look out for risks, returns on investments, time-frame of investments, and background of the issuers
For every Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that want to survive the coronavirus pandemic, it is essential for them to source raw materials locally, Ugodre Obi-Chukwu, the founder of Nairametrics, has advised.
This is particularly essential as the foreign exchange will remain volatile for a long while after the pandemic, affecting businesses that depend on imported materials for their productions.
Ugodre suggested this while speaking during an Instagram live session with Ore Ajayi of United Capital Plc, themed “Hedging your business with the right investments post-COVID-19.”
According to Ugodre, the volatility of the foreign exchange could lead to increased costs of productions for businesses, making it even more difficult for them to retain their market share in an economy that is battling a COVID-19 induced depression.
“Before COVID-19, we were in a difficult position as a country. Government revenue was down. Oil prices had started falling from late 2019. We had an economy where the government could not fund the budget and had to resort to borrowing,” he explained.
Ugodre suggested that the purchase of foreign exchange could be explored, but investment in dollar assets, foreign stocks and bonds would be better options to help businesses cushion the impact of rising inflation and depreciation of the naira. Ugodre, however, placed a caveat:
“While keeping a healthy mix of dollar and naira assets, try not to buy foreign exchange above 20% premium of the official price. This gives you enough room to protect your funds and reduce risks.”
Renegotiate loans and stay liquid
As things get tougher in post-COVID-19, it will become expedient for businesses to stay liquid and set aside some funds for emergencies.
Ugodre advised SMEs to consider renegotiating loan repayment terms with bank partners so that the facilities are not repaid at the expense of staying afloat.
He also suggested that SMEs could approach commercial banks, or the Bank of Industry for loans to keep them afloat, at reduced interest rates.
Use tech-driven investment platforms
At a time when the world is gravitating towards technology, SMEs must consider tech-driven investment platforms to run and manage their investments.
Responding to the question of platforms to explore, Ore Ajayi, the session host, noted that SMEs and individual investors have to move from looking for walk-in investment platforms and explore digitally-driven platforms.
“You must leverage technology for your investment needs. Platforms such as Invest now, which is powered by United Capital, could be a great one to leverage on at this time,” he said.
Investments to look out for
Ugodre emphasized also that as the business owners try to hedge their businesses with investments, they must look out for risks, returns on investments, time-frame of investments, and background of the issuers.
“Tread carefully in your investments. Picture the world 10 years from now, and imagine what businesses would look like then. Let that guide your investments. Those who identify this are those who will win,” he stated.