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SA start-ups get Catalyst boost

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Two South African companies are included in a cohort of six African start-ups selected by a global fintech accelerator, Catalyst Fund, which is investing R226-million into a global programme.

The Fund, managed by BFA Global and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), recently announced a new £12-million GBP ($15 million USD) commitment from UK aid and J.P. Morgan to advance financial inclusion for underserved people across the world. Over the next three years, it will support the growth of 30 additional startups across five key emerging markets for fintech innovation: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Mexico. 

Its latest cohort includes:

  • Pesakit – Kenya-based app for mobile money agents 
  • Kwara – Kenya-based online and mobile banking platform for Savings + Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs)
  • Cowrywise – savings and investment tool targeted toward Nigerian youth 
  • Meerkat – South Africa-based debt counseling and savings product 
  • Farmart – India-based digital credit platform for farmers 
  • Spoon – South Africa-based savings and credit offering for women-owned, subsistence enterprises 

The two South African companies both include savings products, but approach financial inclusion from different perspectives.

Spoon Money (www.spoonmoney.com) is a savings and credit offering for women-owned subsistence enterprises. It is an impact-driven commercial enterprise that capitalises credit-worthy group saving and credit schemes (i.e. stokvels) in order to support their financial growth, and bolster economic activity in informal communities.

Meerkat (www.meerkat.co.za) is a “new-generation financial wellness business” committed to making a difference in the financial lives of customers. Their vision is to help the customer do more with their money through simple solutions, with savings at the heart. They help customers gradually reduce their reliance on debt and improve their financial health. They say they’ve changed thousands of lives through their professional and confidential debt counselling service that can be conducted over the phone. They’re currently putting together the finishing touches to their simple savings solution and funeral plan, which will launch early 2020.

“We’re thrilled to enter the next phase of this journey, building on lessons learned over the last four years, to position ourselves as the best partners for innovators building affordable, accessible and appropriate solutions designed to improve the financial health of underserved populations in emerging markets,” said Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro. “The additional support from UK aid and continued support from J.P. Morgan will enable us to deepen our local footprints and ecosystem development role in each of our key markets, as well as welcome new partners that can support our mission.”

Catalyst Fund is focusing on specific markets because of their vibrant fintech industries, which house a significant number of early-stage startups across Africa, Latin America and Asia, and because of the need to address critical challenges faced by local underserved consumers.

This new commitment will enable the program to apply lessons learned from accelerating startups in emerging markets over the past four years and focus on:

  • Providing critical pre-seed capital and bespoke venture building support;
  • Broadening the pool of investors who receive 1:1 connections with Catalyst Fund companies;
  • Accelerating the innovation ecosystems in each market to improve startups’ access to capital, corporate partnerships and talent; and
  • Sharing best practices toolkits, learnings and insights with the global fintech community to spur innovation across markets.

“With the support of UK aid, Catalyst Fund is connecting more fintech start-ups in emerging African markets with expertise and investment from the UK and around the world,” said UK Minister for Africa Andrew Stephenson. “This innovative work is crucial to changing the lives of people around the world by providing access to basic services like pensions, lending and health care.”

 “Financial inclusion is the cornerstone of resilient communities and households,” said Carol Lake, head of international markets philanthropy at J.P. Morgan. “As part of our $125 million global commitment to financial health, we are supporting the development and growth of innovative fintech solutions that can help underserved people across the world save, reduce their debt and improve their lives.”

 Catalyst Fund was created in 2016 with support from J.P. Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to support entrepreneurs building solutions that improve the financial health of underserved communities. It is supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty. 

To date, Catalyst Fund has accelerated 25 fintech startups, who have so far raised over 10 times the amount of grant capital they received and are serving over 1.2-million customers globally. Based on learnings so far, in the next phase Catalyst Fund will focus more on businesses that are building solutions that go beyond financial access and inclusion, to improve the overall financial health of underserved consumers.

“Catalyst Fund is itself an innovative example of collaboration across sectors and assets,” said Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “We are proud to be a part of an initiative that combines mentoring from impact investors, grant capital from committed donors and advisory services from expert consulting firm BFA Global.”

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