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Africa

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From Hotel Cleaner to “Afro-Chic” Luxury Hotel Owner

Souadou Niang is the owner of The Palms Luxury Boutique Hotel, a 5-star hotel located in Dakar, Senegal.

At the age of 18, Souadou moved from Senegal to New York to further her education. As she studied to earn a Bachelors degree, she also earned a living as a cleaning lady at a Ritz Carlton hotel located in Tysons Corner, VA.

 Palms Luxury Boutique Hotel in Dakar, Senegal.
Souadou Niang

“I arrived in the country where they tell you the sky is the limit. My vision was to be part of the hotel management,” she said during an interview with BBC.

After completeing her studies, Souadou returned home on a mission to prove that Senegal could have the same luxury accommodations as the hotel she had dedicated over a decade of her life to.

Souadou Niang

However, accomplishing that dream was easier said than done. “I only had answers such as ‘You won’t get far, ‘It’s not for women, ‘It is not for African women,’ and I had no guarantees in Dakar. I knocked on the door of several banks,” she said.”

The ambitious entrepreneur eventually met an investor who believed in her vision, and her goal of being a hotel owner in her home country came to reality.

Souadou Niang

In terms of visual presentation, The Palms rivals any other five-star hotel you can find anywjere else in the world. Furthermore, the hotel’s staff is 80 percent women, an ode to Souadou’s belief in the spirit and capabilities of African women.

Souadou Niang

“My dream is to conquer Africa, and why not the world. As the international hotel franchises in Africa, we should be able to adapt our Afro-chic boutique hotels in Western countries and show African women can run luxury boutique hotels with the same standards as the international hotels,” Souadou said.

Tony O. Lawson


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Meet Sangu Delle, one of Africa’s Most Successful Investors

Sangu Delle is a Ghanaian investor, entrepreneur, activist, and author. He has received several international accolades including being named Africa’s “Young Person of the Year”, a TEDGlobal Fellow, one of Forbes’ top 30 most promising entrepreneurs in Africa.

Sangu serves as CEO of Africa Health Holdings, an innovative company focused on building Africa’s healthcare future.

In November, African Health Holdings raised $18 million to expand its telemedicine service beyond Ghana to Nigeria and Kenya, and scale its network of health facilities.

He is also the Chairman of Golden Palm Investments (“GPI”); an investment holding and advisory company focused on building world class technology companies in Africa.

Via GPI, Sangu has been an early investor in several African tech startups including Andela and Flutterwave, two of only three West African companies valued at one billion U.S. dollars.

In this interview, Sangu and I discuss:

  • His journey from Ghana to the U.S. and back to Ghana.
  • Why he pivoted from investing in agriculture to focus exclusively on technology
  • What inspired his passion for building Africa’s healthcare future.
  • The importance of Africans and the Black diaspora collaborating on economic and social issues.
  • Advice for those interested in investing in startups based on the continent.

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Tony O. Lawson


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AMP Global, Empowering Creators and Giving a Voice to Music Fans Across the Continent

Three-time Emmy-nominated producer and host Derrick N. Ashong is the CEO and co-founder of AMP Global Technologies, the company behind the Take Back the Mic (TBTM) app, and The Mic: Africa, the first interactive TV format born on the continent.

This tech-enabled entertainment company helps content producers build a direct relationship with their audience and be rewarded for discovering and sharing trending content.

amp global

The “AMP-powered series”, Take Back the Mic: The World Cup of Hip Hop was the first 100% fan curated series to get an Emmy nod, becoming a back-to-back Emmy Finalist for Outstanding Interactive Programing and proving itself in the market with deep engagement, media impressions, and ROI across Mobile, Digital, TV, VR and Live media.

AMP Global also gives brands and media companies deep insight into global youth audiences.

amp global

In this interview with Lucia and Derrick, we discussed:

  • The inspiration behind “The Mic: Africa”, the first interactive TV format on the African continent
  • Why the Take Back the Mic app, is sometimes described as “Netflix meets Instagram.”
  • How the Take Back the Mic app empowers artists and creators.
  • How the pandemic influenced a key feature of the app, benefiting users.

Don’t forget to LIKE the video and SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel!

Watch all 5 episodes of “The Mic: Africa” Season 1 and download the Take Back the Mic app at www.takebackthemic.com.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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Black Inventors Create First Bio-Robotic Arm Operated by Brain Signals

A bio-robotic arm created by two Black inventors looks like it’s straight out of a science-fiction movie, but it’s actually not from the future.

David Gathu and Moses Kinyua, inventors from Nairobi, Kenya, have created a bio-robotic prosthetic arm that could change the lives of disabled Kenyans and the future of prosthetics entirely.

Their newest invention doesn’t break a world record; it sets it. Most prosthetic technology is powered by a person’s muscles. Equipped with sensors to detect the flexing of appropriate muscles, the bionic limb will act accordingly. Gathu and Kinyua’s prosthetic works differently. Instead of listening for muscle signals, it listens for brain signals and is the first in the world to do so.

When the brain tells the prosthetic to do something, those signals are converted into an electric current by a NeuroNode biopotential headset receiver, a technology originally invented to assist individuals suffering from paralysis and speech loss. The electrical current is then redirected into the arm’s circuitry, giving the arm both mobility and direction.

The idea for the bio-robotic arm came to the inventors amid the pandemic when they began thinking of how to help their country deal with the devastating virus.

“When the virus hit our country, we decided to create a machine that could help us decontaminate surfaces. It can also be used in schools, restaurants, hospitals,” Kinyua explains, from his workshop in the city of Kikuyu, north of Nairobi.

Though Kenya’s response to the virus has been better than most, it’s easy for hospitals to get overwhelmed rather quickly and a bio-robotic arm can help speed up the disinfectant process, allowing the treating of patients to speed up simultaneously.

The sanitizing device within the arm, though still a prototype, oxidizes oxygen molecules to convert into ozone to be used as a disinfectant. Ozone has been proven to be highly effective in killing bacteria and inactivating viruses on surfaces and remains 50 times more effective and acts 3000 times faster than chlorine, which remains the most popular disinfectant.

Remarkably, the creation of this innovative device comes from humble beginnings. The bio- robotic arm was designed entirely from second-hand parts salvaged from any old, discarded electronics David Gathu and Moses Kinyua could find.

“At the moment, we use raw materials from other discarded appliances because we do not have neither the place nor the resources to obtain the necessary materials to mass-produce,” Kinyua remarks.

Though the two inventors don’t work in a state-of-the-art facility, the work they manage to do with salvaged material is indicative of how possible it is to change the lives of many without an expensive lab or tools.

Though the bio-robotic arm was initially created to help COVID-19 sanitization efforts, the young inventors’ technology can influence how prosthetics for the disabled are produced. The number of applications this technology could have is innumerable and can change how medical technology works in the future.

Tony O. Lawson


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Africa Focused Private Equity Firm Raises $900 Million

Development Partners International (DPI), a premier investment firm focused on Africa, today announced that African Development Partners III Fund (ADP III), has exceeded its US$800 million target, and is set to hold a final close at US$900 million, with an additional US$250m of dedicated co-investment capital. This brings a total of US$1.15 billion for investments on the continent. The fundraising establishes ADP III as one of the largest funds dedicated to investing global capital in Africa.

ADP III will invest in established and growing companies in industries that benefit from Africa’s fast-growing middle class and the increasing digital transformation of the continent. All investments have the highest standards of impact and environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) work. In doing this work DPI is using its proprietary DPI Management System (“DPIMS”) toolkit to deliver impact in line with 10 of the UN Sustainable Development goals, as well as driving the highest standards of ESG.

Runa Alam, co-founder and Chief Executive of DPI commented: “Africa remains an exciting investment destination with positive demographics, rising adoption of technology, and rising consumer and business spending. Against this backdrop, DPI has continued to generate top quartile returns by leveraging our team’s deep-rooted local expertise across the African continent.

“As we look towards the future with our ADP III fund, we will focus on innovation-driven companies leading the digital transformation of the economies in which they operate. In addition, our deep integration of impact and ESG initiatives in the investment life cycle has been widely recognised and ensures we are known as a trusted partner.”

ADP III secured capital from a broad range of leading pension and sovereign wealth funds, development finance institutions, endowment and foundations, insurance companies, fund-of-funds, asset managers, and impact investors. The global investor base represents 20 countries across North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. In addition to strong support from existing investors, DPI welcomed over 25 new LPs into its investor base. This is testament to DPI’s track record and ability to create institutional-grade investment opportunities in Africa, while continuing to deliver sustained environmental and economic impact.

Joanne Yoo, Managing Director at DPI, said, “The strong support for ADP III validates our strategic focus, creative approach and investment discipline. We are grateful for the trust that our investors have placed in DPI, and we are confident that our talented team will continue to deliver competitive returns and impact.”

ADP III has made four investments to date, including:

  • Channel VAS, a leading global fintech business providing mobile financial services;
  • SICAM, a leading Tunisian tomato producer, in one of the largest private equity transactions undertaken in the country;
  • Kelix Bio, a biopharmaceutical platform broadening access to speciality generic drugs across Africa; and
  • MNT-Halan, Egypt’s leading fintech ecosystem.

Additionally, DPI has a significant pipeline of investment opportunities across the continent, focused on key sectors of the economy such as financial services, healthcare, agri-business, education, and telecom infrastructure.

DPI places an emphasis on promoting best in class standards in ESG through its investments, with the aim of creating institutionalised high-performing companies at exit. Working with its portfolio companies, DPI seeks to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals by implementing its proprietary Impact and ESG Management System based on three key impact themes: Job Quality, Climate Change, and Gender Balance.

ADP III was the first African fund signatory to the Operating Principles for Impact Management (“Impact Principles”), an international market standard for impact investing and the first to be granted 2x Flagship Fund status, as part of the 2x Challenge, a gender-lens initiative.

PJT Park Hill acted as advisor and placement agent for ADP III, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP served as legal adviser for the Fund.

Tony O. Lawson


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Meet The CEO of Flutterwave, Nigeria’s Billion Dollar Startup

Launched in 2016 as a Nigerian and U.S.-based payments company with offices in Lagos and San Francisco, Flutterwave builds payments infrastructure that connects Africa to the global economy.

Flutterwave is also one of only four unicorns ($1 billion+ startups) in Africa. Two other unicorns are located in Nigeria—and one in Egypt.

We caught up with Flutterwave founder and CEO, Olugbenga “GB “Agboola to find out more about his company and its future plans.

flutterwave
Flutterwave Founder and CEO, Olugbenga “GB “Agboola

What inspired you to start Flutterwave?

We started Flutterwave due to the fragmented nature of payments in Africa— there were multiple ways of making and receiving payments within countries but cross-border payments remained a hassle. This made it difficult for individuals like myself or businesses to make or receive international payments in Africa. 

It was easier for me to send and receive money from the UK than to do the same from Lagos to Nairobi. We saw an opportunity to address this problem and worked with a group of passionate Engineers, Bankers, Designers, Builders, and Marketers to build Flutterwave, to simplify payments for endless possibilities.  

Today, we support international payments for over 34 countries and process payments across 150 currencies. We have over 300,000 businesses using our solutions to receive money from their customers and continue on their growth journey. 

During the lockdown, you helped set up digital storefronts for over 20,000 of your clients. Why was it important for you even though e-commerce isn’t part of your core business?

This was our own way of helping our customers cushion the impact of the pandemic. The lockdowns in 2020 meant that businesses that earlier depended on making physical sales were all out of revenue opportunities. We built out this solution to enable them to continue selling while they were at home. 

Flutterwave has over 25,000 businesses across Africa— some selling skincare, beauty products, others selling shoes and fashion items, etc on the Flutterwave Store. It’s interesting to note how small businesses are currently using the solutions and the huge opportunity this has for the future. 

Here are a few ways small businesses are using the solution. This barbecue Business—Smoked Barbecue in a Box offers home delivery with the support of Flutterwave Store. This cocktail company—Big Fish Cocktail offers unique drinks sold over the Flutterwave Store.  

flutterwave

What are some of your plans to offer payment services to US-based clients and companies?

We are excited for the opportunity to offer Flutterwave’s payment infrastructure to US-based clients and companies.  Currently, we are already working with merchants such as Uber, Netflix, and Microsoft on their expansion across Africa.  And, we have started talking to many other US-based merchants that have growth ambitions across the continent.  

We also have several strategic partnerships that will help us expand the services that we can offer to our merchant base and look forward to launching those in the near future for our US merchants.

What are your thoughts on the importance of African Americans being more involved in the African startup scene as founders and/or investors? 

First is the massive economic benefits and opportunities for African Americans to access the widely untapped trillion dollar economic opportunities both in Africa and in the US. By 2030, Africa will have 1.7 billion people and a combined consumer and business spending of 6.7 trillion U.S. dollars (Brookings). The continent is creating a new development path and harnessing the potential of its people and resources. 

Secondly is the socio-economic benefit. The African-American community can play a huge part in the prosperity of the continent by starting up or investing in businesses that will bring socio-economic change and employ more people on the continent. Advancing US-Africa trade, investment, and technology in Africa would unlock massive economic growth and increased prosperity for both regions.

flutterwave
Team Flutterwave

What future plans do you have that involve cryptocurrency?

We support our customers and help them in countries where they are compliant with the regulations. We are excited to explore diverse use cases of our solutions across the world and across various sectors in compliance with regulations guiding such sectors and countries. Our future plans include working with all stakeholders to better understand and use the technology in a way that protects the consumers.      

What advice do you have for those in the Diaspora that are interested in entering the rapidly growing tech startup space in Nigeria?

Just do it! Through skill share, knowledge share, and investments in the tech ecosystem, the African diaspora can help unlock some of the continent’s full potential. The best time to invest in Africa was a few years back.

The second best time is now. The continent is on the fast track in building cutting edge technologies across healthcare, payments, logistics, e-commerce and the market is readily available.

The regulators are also learning fast and catching up with the speedy innovations on the continent. Africa is rich in talent; the diaspora should consider looking inward for talents that can help build, run and scale their businesses. 

 

Tony O. Lawson


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South African Payment Platform Yoco Raises $83M For Expansion

You’ve probably heard the phrase “small business is the backbone of the economy” before, and for good reason: it is true. Small businesses employ a huge percentage of workers around the globe.

But in countries like South Africa, where more payments are going digital and more customers are looking to swipe their debit and credit cards, smaller businesses still largely do not accept digital payments, potentially missing out on customers accustomed to not carrying any cash.

The fintech company Yoco has decided to tackle this problem head on, using its portable card machines as a way for small businesses and merchants to accept digital payments in person.

yoco

Yoco’s Strategy

Yoco’s strategy to gain a foothold in the industry is twofold: the company aims to be the most recognizable brand in the market and to make the adoption of their portable card machines as seamless as possible for their customers.

And this strategy appears to be working, as the company boasts that it is adding up to 500 merchants a day and has processed over $1 billion in payments, and growing. The company is carving out a market for itself and building a reputation in the process.

$83 Million In Funding

It’s no wonder that Yoco was able to raise $83 million from the Dragoneer Investment Group, a major investor in Chime and Square as well. This makes Yoco the most valuable startup in all of South Africa.

It has raised the most funding of any startup in South Africa and is only third across the entire continent. Yoco plans to use this investment to deliver new products to their customers, such as QR payments and a peer to peer money transfer. As they grow and add new features, they are only cementing their market dominance.

Expanding To New Regions

Yoco is looking past South Africa for growth: The startup is looking at rapidly expanding throughout all of Africa and into the Middle East. This provides an excellent growth opportunity as many merchants throughout these regions are still dealing mostly with cash at the moment but are interacting with customers who are increasingly going digital.

And with word that the company is hiring former employees from Paypal and Uber, Yoco is poised to reach exciting new heights in the fintech sector.

 

Written by Johnny T. Ross


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Former President Barack Obama joins NBA Africa as strategic partner and minority owner

The National Basketball Association (NBA)  announced yesterday that former President Barack Obama has joined NBA Africa as a strategic partner.

President Obama will help advance the league’s social responsibility efforts across the continent, including programs and partnerships that support greater gender equality and economic inclusion.

In this capacity, President Obama will have a minority equity stake in the new venture, which over time he intends to use to fund Obama Foundation youth and leadership programs across Africa.

“The NBA has always been a great ambassador for the United States—using the game to create deeper connections around the world, and in Africa, basketball has the power to promote opportunity, wellness, equality, and empowerment across the continent,” said President Barack Obama.  “By investing in communities, promoting gender equality, and cultivating the love of the game of basketball, I believe that NBA Africa can make a difference for so many of Africa’s young people.  I’ve been impressed by the league’s commitment to Africa, including the leadership shown by so many African players who want to give back to their own countries and communities.  That’s why I’m proud to join the team at NBA Africa and look forward to a partnership that benefits the youth of so many countries.”

“We are honored that President Obama has become a strategic partner in NBA Africa and will support our wide-ranging efforts to grow the game of basketball on the continent,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “In addition to his well-documented love for basketball, President Obama has a firm belief in Africa’s potential and the enormous growth opportunities that exist through sports.  NBA Africa will benefit tremendously from his engagement.”

“We have ambitious growth plans for NBA Africa and having President Obama join our efforts is a recognition that through sport, Africa can take its rightful place on the world stage,” said NBA Africa CEO Victor Williams.  “We look forward to working with President Obama and our strategic investors to use basketball as an economic growth engine across the continent and as a platform to improve the health and wellness of one of the world’s youngest and fastest-growing populations.”


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Jetstream Raises $3 Million to Improve African Cross-border Trade

Jetstream, a Ghanaian technology-driven logistics company, just landed $3 million in seed funding to solve one of Africa’s biggest problems: the lack of coordination at its ports.

“These are exactly the types of problems that technology solves,” said Miishe Addy, cofounder of Jetstream.

Addy founded the startup with Solomon Torgbor in 2018 to help African businesses by aggregating private sector logistics providers at the ports and borders of Africa, and then bringing them online. This way, companies could have better visuals and control over their cross-border supply chains.

“We are different from a more siloed freight management system because we are leveraging financing…so that shipments can be tracked every step of the way. We are bringing many of the local providers online for the first time,” Addy mused.

Since Africa increased its share of international exports from 80% to 90% between 2000 and 2017, there’s been a growing demand for the continent to be less commodity-dependent and diversify its exports.

Africa needs to revitalize its notoriously slow and costly ports to create more opportunities and encourage intracontinental trade. For Ghanaian native Torgbor, Ghana is the perfect place to plant Jetstream’s roots. The West African country can be a thriving hub for intercontinental trade as it’s home to the largest container terminal in West and Central Africa, Port Tema.

Jetstream isn’t just making waves in the world of commerce, however. Data suggests that women-led startups in Africa attract as little as 15% of the total VC investments available in the continent. Addy hopes that Jetstream’s win will lead to more women leaders being funded.

Technology and data are at the forefront of Jetstream’s business model, and according to Addy, these two elements might bring the future that Jetstream envisions to life.

“We see a future where trade running on Jetstream’s digital rails has a powerful competitive edge on logistics. Jetstream is to cross-border logistics what Flutterwave is to fintech in Africa.”

 

Written by Reese Williams


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Africa Focused Flutterwave Now Valued at Over $1 Billion after $170 Million Investment

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave is a payment processing company that makes it easier to do business across the Continent by allowing users to make international payments in their own currencies.

Yesterday, the San Fransico based company announced that it has secured $170 million from a group of international investors as part of a successful Series C round.

flutterwave
Flutterwave Ceo and co-founder, Olugbenga Agboola
The round was led by growth-equity firms Avenir Growth Capital and Tiger Global Management with participation from new and existing investors. The fundraise brings the total investment in Flutterwave to $225 million and values the company at $1 billion.
flutterwave
Flutterwave Co-founder, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji

“We may consider the possibility of listing in New York or a possible dual listing in New York and Nigeria,” Flutterwave’s CEO and co-founder Olugbenga Agboola told Reuters on Tuesday.

This latest investment, made a year after Flutterwave announced a partnership with Visa and Worldpay, highlights the growing interest in the booming payments market in Africa.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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