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WeChat puts R50m into startups

WeChat Africa plans to invest 50 million Rand in tech startups in Africa, to support local entrepreneurs and technology innovations.

WeChat Africa will identify promising tech startups, via an application and selection process, and support their speedy entrance into the market using the WeChat platform.  Access to markets was listed as one of the biggest inhibitors to growth for African tech-enabled businesses in the recent Emerging Companies survey conducted by PWC and Silicon Cape.

To coordinate the initiative, tech strategy practice firm, Batstone, has been appointed by WeChat Africa to source and coordinate early stage investment opportunities among tech startups in Africa.

Brett Loubser, head of WeChat Africa says, “Our fund aims to provide financial support to businesses so that they can effectively get on the WeChat platform.  This will include technical integration and communications tactics across the Naspers’ stable and other suited channels.”

Since the success of partnerships with startups such as Money4Jam, PicUp and Order In, WeChat’s growth strategy has increasingly focused on integrating with early stage businesses whose models strategically fit with, and clearly demonstrate, the power of the platform and its positioning in the market.

In addition, the rapid access to a national audience becomes much easier once a business has integrated with the WeChat platform – this helps to bridge the gap between the tech startups and their customers.

“We have been working with Batstone since mid-2014 and in that time have come to trust their purpose-led approach to understanding and supporting tech businesses.  This approach, coupled with their networks, means our partnership is well placed to identify and vet the best possible investment opportunities for WeChat.” says Loubser.

This program will focus on selecting tech-enabled businesses that have initial market validation as well as a viable product and could clearly benefit from WeChat’s technology platform and the accompanying access to potential consumers.

“Our experience in the past two years has demonstrated that many companies have huge potential but are unable to communicate what they do clearly,” says Alexandra Fraser, Head of Batstone Ventures. “We don’t want to miss the chance to work with smart businesses just because they can’t succinctly tell us what they can do in an online form so our process will include a face-to-face workshop element to mitigate this risk.”

In addition to identifying potential partners for WeChat Africa, Batstone will provide strategic consulting services to effectively support these businesses through their growth phases and entrances to the market.

Applications via Batstone’s website (www.batstones.com/wechat) will open in mid January 2016. Selection will be based on a mix of online application and a series of purpose workshops.

“This fund fits beautifully into the local VC landscape,” says Fraser.  She concludes: “Our sense is that it complements many of the existing funds and investment strategies in the market. Ideally we, and WeChat Africa, can partner with great businesses as well as VC funds looking for a platform with large market reach to test their investments’ potential.”

Africa News

Africa gets broadband boost

ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.

Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.

Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.

ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.

At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”

Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”

ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.

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Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.

AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.

The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.

‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”

The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.

‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.

The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”

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