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Ivorian e-commerce startup ANKA, formerly Afrikrea, raises $6.2M pre-Series A

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Ivorian e-commerce startup ANKA, formerly Afrikrea, raises $6.2M pre-Series A

A study by McKinsey & Company on general e-commerce activities in Africa says consumer spending will reach over $2 trillion in the next three years. Much of this spending falls under the importation of products, primarily influenced by consumer demand and the positioning of major e-commerce platforms in Africa.

Afrikrea, an Ivorian startup founded in 2016, is one of the few platforms facilitating product exports. It has raised a $6.2 million pre-Series A round while rebranding to ANKA, the SaaS platform it launched for sellers in partnership with DHL and Visa in April last year.

Moulaye Taboure launched Afrikrea with Kadry Diallo and Luc B. Perussault Diallo as a marketplace for Africa-based and -inspired fashion, clothing, accessories, arts and crafts. Last year, Afrikrea said it served more than 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries and buyers from 170 countries.

After some research, the founders noticed that these sellers also engaged with other channels, such as websites or social media. To them, it made sense to build another platform — ANKA — where merchants, with an omnichannel dashboard, can monitor their sales and inventory across all these channels: Afrikrea, social media and websites.

Other features like a customizable online storefront, payment links, and access to various payment methods and logistics added to the platform’s appeal to Afrikrea merchants. The appeal extended to the company itself, resulting in a name change despite the marketplace recording 250% year-on-year growth since launch.

“The main goal behind that is to reflect our much larger purpose and mission now. And also much larger product offering as we are going to serve not only people in fashion but in every industry where anyone wants to export African products,” CEO Taboure told TechCrunch in an interview.

Afrikrea is now one of the features on the ANKA website. Others include a customized online storefront (like Shopify), which is linked to sellers’ social media platforms and marketplace channels (such as Stripe, Gumroad or PayPal); access to shipping products with DHL; and receiving payments in various currencies (including a buy now, pay later option).

“So wherever you sell, on social media, Afrikrea marketplace, or your website, all of it ends up in one dashboard,” the CEO said. “You can manage all of your orders and one wallet to get paid and withdraw your money easily.”

ANKA is free to use when sellers fill up their product catalogs or generate payment links. However, once sellers decide to start using the software to accept payments or make a sale, they pay €10 (~$12) to access the service monthly. Also, sellers pay €10 (~$12) upfront for the platform’s shipping or website hosting services.

Taboure told TechCrunch that about 40% of its over 13,000 subscribers do not use the marketplace. To them, ANKA serves to generate payment links to use on other channels or fulfill orders from other channels. He said the company is building out a mobile application to make the process smoother.

Having engulfed Afrikrea’s merchant base, ANKA has sellers from 47 out of Africa’s 54 countries. ANKA also mentioned that more than 80% of its sellers are women, who have grown their revenue by 50% on average since joining the ANKA community.

The platform also records over 700,000 visits from its buyers who have transacted over $35 million on the platform. In a statement, ANKA said these buyers come from 174 countries, the majority based in Europe and North America. According to Taboure, the buyers are mainly from France and the U.S; they account for 90% of ANKA’s sales.

This past decade, the growth of e-commerce in Africa has been spearheaded by companies like Jumia, Takealot and Mall4Africa. In 2015, MallforAfrica struck a partnership with DHL and launched DHL Africa eShop with the logistics giant four years later.

But recent struggles from currency devaluation to investor pullout have forced the startup to take an extended hiatus (although it claims to be restrategizing), raising fresh questions on the viability of some e-commerce models in Africa. But Taboure believes his company is protected from such events because it serves the market the other way round.

“Most e-commerce tried so far has been Africans trying to buy outside. And yes, when you do that, you have currency and logistics issues that are completely different. We are the opposite. We are trying to have Africans earn in foreign currency. So if I were, to be honest, it’s almost like we operate in two different worlds,” he said.

“We are probably one of the few startups that are trying not just to make Africans spend their money or buy more things. We actually want to help them earn money globally and create value on the global stage. Ideally, this way, we contribute to solidifying our economies in much more than one way.”

In an interview TechCrunch had with the chief executive last year, he touted ANKA as the largest e-commerce exporter startup on the continent, claiming it ships over 10 tons of cargo per month from Africa. These sorts of numbers make investors’ mouths water — in ANKA’s case, e-commerce heavyweights like Joseph Tsai.

The Alibaba executive and billionaire participated in the round alongside BESTSELLER Foundation, whose chairman is one of the largest shareholders in both ASOS and Zalando.

French VC and Africa-focused impact firm Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P) led the round. In a statement, its co-CEO, Sebastien Boye, said I&P invested in ANKA because the company is at the heart of his firm’s strategy: talented and ambitious founders, significant growth, value creation and a compelling impact thesis.

Other investors include VestedWorld, Enigmo, Groupe Prunay, Rising Tide Africa and SAVIU Ventures, the lead investor in ANKA’s seed round. In total, the company, which LoftyInc Capital and other local investors back, has raised $8.1 million.

“We’re pretty happy to have some VCs in the round, but also having entrepreneurs that already did what we did. That’s something that we’re very proud about and very intentional in building the round is we focused on having the best people at the table to help us grow.”

The company said the pre-Series A round will help it build out its SaaS mobile infrastructure and further product development. ANKA also plans to hire talent across tech, finance, sales and marketing to join its 30-person team across four continents.

Source: Tech

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Baidu’s electric car brand Jidu closes $400M Series A round

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Once an industry with long development cycles, the automotive space is being upended by China’s tech giants. One can hardly keep up with all the new electric vehicle brands that come out of the country nowadays. Jidu, an electric carmaking company founded by Baidu and its Chinese auto partner Geely only a year ago, said Wednesday it has banked nearly $400 million in a Series A funding round.

The new injection, bankrolled by Baidu and Geely, which owns Volvo, is a boost to the $300 million initiation capital that Jidu closed last March. The proceeds will speed up Jidu’s R&D and mass production process and allow it to showcase its first concept “robocar” — which it classifies as an automotive robot rather than a car — at the Beijing auto show in April. The mass-produced version of the robocar will launch in 2023.

Jidu’s chief executive Xia Yiping previously headed the connected car unit of Fiat Chrysler in the APAC region and co-founded Mobike, the Chinese bike-sharing pioneer acquired by Meituan in 2018.

The rate at which Jidu has moved forward is remarkable but could easily attract skeptics who question its tech’s viability. The speedy cycle, the carmaker explained, is thanks to its strategy of using a simulated prototype car to develop its smart cockpit and autonomous driving systems, rather than testing individual hardware parts in a mass-produced vehicle.

The carmaker said in as short as nine months, it has “tested and proven” the safety and reliability of its Level 4 (autonomous driving without human interaction in most circumstances) capabilities for urban and highway roads.

The EV startup is also putting a big emphasis on branding and fan community, something its competitor Nio is known for. In December, it started recruiting car lovers to join its “Jidu Union” to geek out about cars at online and offline events.

Moving forward, Jidu will be hiring and training talent specializing in autonomous driving, smart cockpits, smart manufacturing and other related technologies.

Source: Tech

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Resilience raises $45 million for its cancer care startup

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French startup Resilience announced yesterday that it has raised a $45 million (€40 million) Series A round led by Cathay Innovation. The startup wants to improve the treatment journey when you’re diagnosed with cancer so that you live a healthier and longer life.

In addition to Cathay Innovation, existing investor Singular is also participating. Other funds are joining the round, such as Exor Seeds, Picus Capital and Seaya Ventures. Finally some healthcare investors are rounding up the round — Fondation Santé Service, MACSF, Ramsay Santé and Vivalto Ventures.

I already profiled Resilience in March 2021 so I encourage you to read my previous article to learn more about the company. Co-founded by two serial entrepreneurs, Céline Lazorthes and Jonathan Benhamou, the company wants to help both patients and caregivers when it comes to cancer care.

On the patient side, Resilience helps you measure, understand and deal with the effects and side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Users can track various data points in the app and find content and information about their illness.

But Resilience isn’t just an app that you use at home. It is also a software-as-a-service solution for hospitals so that they can better personalize their treatments. Resilience has been founded in partnership with Gustave Roussy, one of the leading cancer research institutes in the world.

Practitioners will be able to take advantage of all the data that patients have gathered from the app. This way, cancer treatment facilities understand the patient better and can adapt their care more quickly. Resilience has acquired Betterise to gain a head start when it comes to data-driven cancer care.

The long-term vision is even more ambitious than that. If you talk with a caregiver working for a cancer treatment facility, they’ll tell you they never have enough time.

And it’s even more difficult to keep track of new treatments that are becoming more and more specialized. Resilience doesn’t want to replace doctors. But it wants to help them overcome blindspots.

The result should be better care for patients, as well as more support through the Resilience app. Cancer care is a long and painful process, so anything that can improve this process is a good thing.

Source: Tech

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PQShield raises $20M for its quantum-ready, future-proof cryptographic security solutions

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Quantum computing promises to unlock a new wave of processing power for the most complex calculations, but that could prove to be just as harmful as it is helpful: security specialists warn that malicious hackers will be able to use quantum machines to break through today’s standards in cryptography and encryption. Today, a startup called PQShield that is working on “future-proof” cryptographic products — software and hardware solutions that not only keep data secure today, but also secure in anticipation of a computationally more sophisticated tomorrow — is announcing some funding as it finds some significant traction for its approach.

The startup, spun out of the research labs at Oxford, has raised $20 million, a Series A that it will be using to continue its research and, in conjunction with partners and customers, product development. The startup is already staffed with an impressive number of PhDs and other researchers across the UK (its base remains in Oxford), the U.S., France and the Netherlands, but it will also be using the funds to recruit more talent to the team.

Addition, the investment firm founded by Lee Fixel, is leading this round with Oxford Science Enterprises (formerly known as OSI) and Crane also participating. The latter two are previous backers from PQShield’s $7 million seed round in 2020.

If machine learning is shaping up to be one of the more popular (and perhaps most obvious) applications for quantum computing, security is perhaps that theme’s most ominous leitmotif.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. identified the risks of using quantum computing for malicious security intent some eight years ago and has been receiving research submissions globally in search of coming up with some standards to counteract that threat. (PQShield is one of the contributors.) Based on signals from other government bodies like the Department of Homeland Security — coupled with a memo from the White House just earlier this month mandating that the government’s intelligence and defense services make the switch to “quantum-resistant” algorithms in 180 days — it looks like the standards process will be completed this year, getting the wheels in motion for companies that are building solutions to address all this.

“One memo can change everything,” PQShield’s CEO and founder Ali El Kaafarani said in an interview.

PQShield (the PQ stands for “post-quantum”) has been working with governments, OEMs and others that are part of the customer base for this technology — adopting it to secure their systems, or building components that will be going into products that will secure their data, or in some cases, both. Its customers includes both private and public organizations impacted by the threat. Bosch is one OEM name that it has disclosed, and El Kaafarani said more will be revealed when PQShield announces its first commercially available solutions. (Other sectors it’s working with include automotive OEM, industrial IoT, and technology consulting, it says.)

PQShield’s solutions, meanwhile, are currently coming in three formats. There is a system on a chip that is designed to sit on hardware like smartcards or processors. It also is making software by way of a cryptographic SDK that can be integrated into mobile and server apps and technologies used to process data or run security operations. And thirdly, in a new addition since it raised its seed round, it’s making a toolkit aimed at communications companies designed specifically to secure messaging services. This latter is perhaps the one that might most immediately touch the consumer market, which has been fertile ground for malicious hackers, and has increasingly become a focus for regulators and ordinary people concerned about how and where their data gets used.

All of these, El Kaafarani said, are designed to work together, or separately as needed by a would-be customer, with the key being that what it is building now can be used today, as well as in a quantum computing future.

The idea of a “quantum threat” might sound remote to most people, considering that we’re still some years away from quantum computing becoming a commercial, scalable industry, but the reality is that malicious hackers have been collecting data that will help them “solve” current cryptographic keys using those machines for years at this point. Some of this data has been publicly shown off, and much has not. All of this has been leading, El Kaafarani noted, to an “inflection point where people are now ready to think about the next phase of public key infrastructure,” which he summed up in layman’s terms as the difference between “math that is still easy to solve, and math that will still be very difficult to solve, even on a quantum computer,” due to particular combinations of math problems and aspects of complexity theory.

Quantum computing, even at its still largely nascent stage, has been fueling a lot of startup and big-tech activity. Atom Computing (which designs quantum computing systems) and Terra Quantum (building quantum-computing-as-a-service, given the likely high cost of these machines) each raised $60 million earlier this month. Intel, IBM and Amazon are among those that have making significant investments in quantum servers and processors for years now. There are others also working specifically on quantum security.

In that context, PQShield groundbreaking role in helping develop standards, and its existing network of customers and partners, spells a clear opportunity and promise for investors:

“Thanks to an industry-leading team, decades of combined experience and a best-in-class product offering, PQShield has quickly emerged as a front runner and true authority in post-quantum cryptography for hardware and software, a field with enormous market potential,” said Fixel in a statement. “PQShield is already helping to define the future of information security, and we are excited to support their ongoing growth.”

Source: Tech

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