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Kenya’s fintech Kwara lands $4 Million in seed round from Breega, SoftBank to build neobank for credit unions

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The Kenyan fintech Kwara was launched in 2019 to help credit unions (savings and credit cooperatives societies, SACCOs) in the East African country shift to digital platforms by providing them with its proprietary Back-end-as-a-service (BaaS) software.

The startup’s trajectory has been steep, as its clientele shot up from two to 50 in just over two years. This is as it became clearer to the country’s cooperative credit-unions that they needed more technology to remain competitive.

Kwara is now moving a step further to build the next-generation neobank that will give credit-union members access to instant loans and third-party services such as insurance, as the start-up moves to offer end-to-end solutions to its clients.

The startup has raised $4 million in a seed round to build a neobank app that will enable individuals to sign-up with their preferred credit unions to access various financial services.

“We want to make credit unions as efficient as they can be by giving their members the kind of neobank experiences they wish to have,” Kwara co-founder and CEO, Cynthia Wandia told TechCrunch.

This is expected to open up new borderless avenues for the lending institutions to sign up new members and help credit-unions shift away from tedious paper-based systems and the need for elaborate brick-and-mortar branches. Members using the app, which is set for launch mid next year, will be able to track their personal financial flows from the app too.

The beta version of the app has been tested for feasibility, with an uptake of between 60% and 90%, Kwara co-founder and COO, David Hwan said.

“The app gives power to the members, who have the ability to view and download their financial statements, apply for loans and make repayments. By giving power to the members, we are extending the freedom that credit unions need to focus on their core business or more value-added tasks,” said Hwan.

Kwara is building a neobank for credit unions.

Kwara said that its existing clients have experienced a membership growth of over 19% year on year, three times the global average, as the loan base of credit unions using its technologies went up 46%, about five times the national average. On its platform, Kwara supported $40 million in transactions between credit unions and their members.

Credit unions leveraging technology also boast member confidence and trust, which, in turn, yield new sign-ups. Wandia said that Kwara is helping them to run a modern banking business since with the right support they are banks waiting to happen.

“Right from the start, we decided to give our clients something that they could use to become a bank.”

“I think that’s made a big difference in a short amount of time in terms of building up the credibility on the product side because we were able to come to the table with a product that just out of the gate could run a bank, which is unusual, because normally that type of stuff is completely out of their price range,” she said.

Kwara has over the last year entered South Africa and Philippines, as the demand for its services grew beyond Kenya. It hopes to triple the number of credit unions using its software to 150 by the end of 2022. The startup currently serves 60,000 Sacco members but is also looking to cross the 100,000 mark by the end of next year. The startup’s goal is to serve 1 billion people by 2030.

Wandia said that from the onset, it was clear that Kwara would expand beyond Kenya as they quickly discovered that most credit unions, especially those in emerging markets, had not caught the wave of technology.

Kwara has also started forging alliances with companies, to offer third party services on its app. The startup recently partnered with Lami Technologies, a Kenyan-based digital insurance company, to make accessible a wide range of insurance products including health, property, business and life covers on the app. This is as the startup continues to perfect its app in readiness for a full launch next year.

The seed round was led by Breega VC firm, with participation of SoftBank Vision Fund Emerge, Finca Ventures, New General Market Partners, Globivest and Do Good Invest. Other investors include Rabacap, Launch Africa, Norrsken Impact Accelerator, Future Africa, Samurai Incubate, DOB Equity and fintech angels.

“Over the years, we’ve seen an increasing interest in how to build wealth through community, as well as a shift in consumer preferences towards digital-first banking. Kwara’s unique approach is a catalyst for a new way of retail banking through digital-first credit unions,” said Breega’s founding partner, Ben Marrel.

Credit unions are usually formed by people with a common interest or members of an industry, like farmers or teachers, who buy shares in the institution, save money and take loans. They are popular in Kenya owing to their low-interest rate loans and ease in accessing credit when compared to conventional banks. About 175 credit unions are licensed in Kenya to serve nearly 4.1 million members countrywide — a vast majority remain unlicensed.

According to Kenya’s monetary authority, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), the total assets of licensed credit unions grew 13.5% last year to reach $5.6 billion. Member deposits and the appetite for loans also continued to grow but they also became vulnerable to cyber attacks due to their weak technology. The regulator recommended that they shift to better technologies to protect member deposits, solutions that Kwara is now providing.

“We are building the infrastructure and rails for the credit unions and their members to connect to everything that’s already out there,” Hwan said.

Source: Tech

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Dashworks is a search engine for your company’s sprawling internal knowledge

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As a company grows, the amount of important information employees need to keep track of inevitably grows right along with it. And, as your tech stack gets more complicated, that information ends up split up across more places — buried in Slack threads, tucked into Jira tickets, pushed as files on Dropbox, etc.

Dashworks is a startup aiming to be the go-to place for all of that internal knowledge. Part landing page and part search engine, it hooks into dozens of different enterprise services and gives you one hub to find what you need.

On the landing page front, Dashworks is built to be your work laptop’s homepage. It’s got support for broadcasting company wide announcements, building out FAQs, and sharing bookmarks for the things you often need and can never find — your handbooks, your OKRs, your org charts, etc.

More impressive, though, is its cross-tool search. With backgrounds in natural language processing at companies like Facebook and Cresta, co-founders Prasad Kawthekar and Praty Sharma are building a tool that allow you to ask Dashworks questions and have them answered from the knowledge it’s gathered across all of those aforementioned Slack threads, or Jira tickets, or Dropbox files. It’ll give you a search results page of relevant files across the services you’ve hooked in — but if it thinks it knows the answer to your question, it’ll just bubble that answer right to the top of the page, Google Snippets style.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Right now Dashworks can hook into over 30 different popular services, including Airtable, Asana, Confluence, Dropbox, Gmail, Google Drive, Intercom, Jira, Notion, Slack, Salesforce, Trello, and a whole bunch more — with more on the way, prioritized by demand.

Giving another company access to all of those services and the knowledge within might be unsettling — something the Dashworks team seems quite aware of. Kawthekar tells me that their product is SOC-2 certified, that all respective data is wiped from their servers if you choose to disconnect a service, and that, for teams that are equipped to host the tool themselves, they offer a fully on-prem version.

This week Dashworks is announcing that it raised a $4M round led by Point72 ventures, backed by South Park Commons, Combine Fund, Garuda Ventures, GOAT Capital, Unpopular Ventures, and Starling Ventures. Also backing the round is a number of angels, including Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear and Gusto co-founders Josh Reeves and Tomer London. The company was also a part of Y Combinator’s W20 class.

Image Credits: Dashworks

Source: Tech

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Daily Crunch: Google will offer G Suite legacy edition users a ‘no-cost option’

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To get a roundup of TechCrunch’s biggest and most important stories delivered to your inbox every day at 3 p.m. PST, subscribe here.

Hello and welcome to Daily Crunch for January 28, 2022! It’s nearly blizzard o’clock where I am, so please enjoy the following newsletter as my final missive before hunkering down. In happier and better news, TechCrunch Early Stage is coming up in just a few months and not only am I hype about it, I’ll hopefully be there IRL. See you soon! – Alex

The TechCrunch Top 3

  • Google invests up to $1B in Airtel: With a $700 million investment and $300 million in “multi-year commercial agreements” with Airtel, and Indian telco, Google has made its second major bet on Indian infra. Recall that Google also put money into Jio, another Indian telco. The deal underscores the importance of the country in the future of technology revenues.
  • What’s ahead for Europe: On the heels of news that European startups had an outsized 2021 when it came to fundraising, TechCrunch explored what’s ahead for the continent. Some expect a slowdown from peak activity, while others anticipate further acceleration. Regardless of which perspective you favor, European venture investment is expected to remain elevated for some time to come.
  • Zapp raises $200M: And speaking of European startups, Zapp, the U.K.-based quick-convenience delivery startup, just raised a massive Series B. The company previously raised $100 million, meaning that this round was big in absolute and comparative terms. As we see some consolidation in the fast-delivery space, this deal caught our eye.

Startups/VC

  • Are charter cities the future for African tech growth? TechCrunch’s Tage Kene-Okafor has a great piece up on the site noting that “African cities have the fastest global urban growth rate,” which is leading to overcrowding. Some folks think that “charter cities offer a solution.” Special economic zones of all types have been tried before – will they offer African tech a faster route forward?
  • Personalized learning is hot: Our in-house edtech expert Natasah Mascarenhas has a great piece out today on personalized learning startups – Learnfully, Wayfinder, Empowerly, and others – that are taking the lessons of remote schooling to heart and working to make products that work better for our kids. It’s an encouraging, fascinating story.
  • Rise wants to remake team calendaring: There is no shortage of apps in the market to help individuals and teams work together. But we might not need as many as we have. That’s why Rise is making me think. The team calendaring app just raised a few million, and could replace a few tools that myself and friends use. I wonder if the solution to the Tool Overload of 2022 is tools that do less, intentionally.
  • Canvas wants non-tech folks to be able to squeeze answers from data: Developers are in short supply, so no-code tools that allow folks who don’t sling code to do their own building are blowing up. Similarly, a general dearth of data science talent in the market is creating space for tools like Canvas, which “is going all in with a spreadsheet-like interface for non-technical teams to access the information they need without bothering data teams,” TechCrunch reports.
  • Zigbang buys Samsung IoT business: The IoT promises of yesteryear are coming true, and not. Samsara recently went public on the back of its IoT business. That was a win for the category. That Zigbang, a South Korean proptech startup, is buying Samsung’s IoT unit feels slightly less bullish.
  • Series F-tw? Once upon a time I would have mocked a Series F as indication that the company in question had failed to go public. But that was then. Today Series Fs are not that rare. Indian B2B marketplace Moglix just raised one, which doubled its valuation to $2.6 billion. Tiger co-led the $250 million round.

And if you are looking down the barrel of a blizzard, TechCrunch’s Equity podcast has your downtime covered. Enjoy!

European, North American edtech startups see funding triple in 2021

Image Credits: Bet_Noire (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Pre-pandemic, VCs were notoriously reluctant to invest in education-related companies. Today, edtech startups are seeing higher average deal sizes, more seed and pre-seed funding from non-VC investors, and an influx of generalists.

According to Rhys Spence, head of research at Brighteye Ventures, funding for edtech startups based in Europe and North America trebled over the last year.

“Exciting companies are spawning across geographies and verticals, and even generalist investors are building conviction that the sector is capable of producing the same kind of outsized returns generated in fintech, healthtech and other sectors,” writes Spence.

(TechCrunch+ is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Big Tech Inc.

  • Northern Light Venture Capital’s He Huang says the Chinese robotics market is overheated: Per the investor, robotics in China is “riddled with speculation and overvalued companies,” calling the situation a bubble. It’s worth noting that China’s central government is working to retool where its tech investment dollars flow.
  • Robinhood goes down, back up: This morning, in the wake of the company’s lackluster earnings report, TechCrunch dug through why Robinhood’s stock sold off in after-hours, pre-market, and early trading sessions yesterday and today. And then Robinhood turned around and gained ample ground during the rest of the day. It’s a weird market moment, but good news for the U.S. fintech all the same.
  • Google to allow legacy G Suite users to move to free accounts: After angering techies still using the “G Suite legacy free edition” by announcing that it was ending the program and requiring payment, the search giant has decided to ”offer more options to existing users,” TechCrunch reports. Somewhere inside of Google, a business decision just met the market and was flipped on its head. Makes you wonder who is calling the shots over there, and if they previously worked for McKinsey.

TechCrunch Experts

Image Credits: SEAN GLADWELL / Getty Images

TechCrunch wants you to recommend growth marketers who have expertise in SEO, social, content writing and more! If you’re a growth marketer, pass this survey along to your clients; we’d like to hear about why they loved working with you.

Source: Tech

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3 experiments for early-stage founders seeking product-market fit

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At Human Ventures, we have a fund for pre-seed and seed-stage investments, a venture studio and an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program.

Through this work, we’ve discovered a lot about how different founders fulfill their journey of customer discovery and product-market fit. One of the largest challenges for pre-seed and seed stage founders is determining where to start: There are a million things to do. What should you do at each stage?

We interviewed three founders from our portfolio, all of whom ran discovery experiments to find their product-market fit at different stages of their company’s development.

Here’s what they had to share:

Pre-MVP/customer discovery phase: Tiny Organics

Tiny Organics is a plant-based baby and toddler food company on a mission to shape childrens’ palates so they’ll choose and love vegetables from their earliest days. The company raised $11 million in their Series A in 2021 and is growing at over 500% annually.

Founders Sofia Laurell and Betsy Fore joined our venture studio as EIRs and went through a six-week discovery sprint. As Sofia explains, they knew they wanted to build something to make parents’ lives easier and threw a lot of initial ideas at the wall from the Finnish baby box 2.0 (Sofia is Finnish) to an easier way to create Instagrammable baby pictures.

They went through multiple exercises to test the viability of new parents’ most pressing and urgent needs:

  • Conduct a “Start with Why” exercise
  • Define the “Jobs to be Done”
  • Create a lean canvas for each (viable) concept
  • Define the user journeys
  • Conduct user surveys using platforms like pollfish.com and 1Q (instant survey tool)
  • Identify and define their customer personas
  • Conduct customer interviews and synthesize them
  • Construct concept prototypes

They also met prospective customers, conducting a focus group of 10-15 moms. When the founders asked them to text them what they were feeding their children along with pictures for a week, they realized the lack of healthy finger foods in the market, thus sparking the idea for Tiny Organics.

Source: Tech

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