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Yesterday — June 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

Africa Roundup: DHL invests in MallforAfrica, Zipline launches in US, Novastar raises $200M

By Jake Bright

Events in May offered support to the thesis that Africa can incubate tech with global application.

Two startups that developed their business models on the continent — MallforAfrica and Zipline — were tapped by international interests.

DHL acquired a minority stake in Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce company that grew out of MallforAfrica.com — a Nigerian digital-retail startup.

Link Commerce offers a white-label solution for doing online-sales in emerging markets.

Retailers can plug into the company’s platform to create a web-based storefront that manages payments and logistics.

Nigerian Chris Folayan founded MallforAfrica in 2011 to bridge a gap in supply and demand for the continent’s consumer markets. While living in the U.S., Folayan noted a common practice among Africans — that of giving lists of goods to family members abroad to buy and bring home.

With MallforAfrica, Folayan aimed to allow people on the continent to purchase goods from global retailers directly online.

The e-commerce site went on to onboard more than 250 global retailers, and now employs 30 people at order processing facilities in Oregon and the U.K.

Folayan has elevated Link Commerce now as the lead company above MallforAfrica.com. He and DHL plan to extend the platform to emerging markets around the world and offer it to companies who want to wrap online stores, payments and logistics solution around their core business.

“Right now the focus is on Africa…but we’re taking this global,” Folayan said.

Another startup developed in Africa, Zipline, was tapped by U.S. healthcare provider Novant for drone delivery of critical medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The two announced a partnership whereby Zipline’s drones will make 32-mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s North Carolina emergency drone fulfillment center and the nonprofit’s medical center in Huntersville — where front-line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approval by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: The capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Image Credits: Novant Health

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life-saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19-related medication and lab samples.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which supported (and studied) the startup’s African operations back to 2016.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo, respectively — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

African startups have another $100 million in VC to pitch for after Novastar Ventures’ latest raise.

The Nairobi and Lagos-based investment group announced it has closed $108 million in new commitments to launch its Africa Fund II, which brings Novastar’s total capital to $200 million.

With the additional resources, the firm plans to make 12 to 14 investments across the continent, according to Managing Director Steve Beck .

On-demand mobility powered by electric and solar is coming to Africa.

Vaya Africa, a ride-hail mobility venture founded by Zimbabwean mogul Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe this week with plans to expand across the continent.

The South Africa-headquartered company is using Nissan Leaf EVs and has developed its own solar-powered charging stations. Vaya is finalizing partnerships to take its electric taxi services on the road to countries that could include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, Vaya Mobility CEO Dorothy Zimuto told TechCrunch.

The initiative comes as Africa’s on-demand mobility market has been in full swing for several years, with startups, investors and the larger ride-hail players aiming to bring movement of people and goods to digital platforms.

Uber and Bolt have been operating in Africa’s major economies since 2015, where there are also a number of local app-based taxi startups. Over the last year, there’s been some movement on the continent toward developing EVs for ride-hail and delivery use, primarily around motorcycles.

Beyond environmental benefits, Vaya highlights economic gains for passengers and drivers of shifting to electric in Africa’s taxi markets, where fuel costs compared to personal income is generally high for drivers.

Using solar panels to power the charging station network also helps Vaya’s new EV program overcome some of challenges in Africa’s electricity grid.

Vaya is exploring EV options for other on-demand transit applications — from mini-buses to Tuk Tuk taxis.

In more downbeat news in May, Africa-focused tech talent accelerator Andela had layoffs and salary reductions as a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, CEO Jeremy Johnson confirmed to TechCrunch.

The compensation and staff reductions of 135 bring Andela’s headcount down to 1,199 employees. None of Andela’s engineers were included in the layoffs.

Backed by $181 million in VC from investors that include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the startup’s client-base is comprised of more than 200 global companies that pay for the African developers Andela selects to work on projects.

There’s been a drop in the demand for Andela’s services, according to Johnson.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch  

African tech around the ‘net

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

Uber’s latest feature lets riders book by the hour and make multiple stops

By Kirsten Korosec

Uber is bringing a new feature to the U.S. that lets users book rides for $50 an hour and make multiple stops as the ride-hailing company tries to respond to changing consumer needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hourly booking feature, which is already available in a handful of international cities in Australia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, will launch in a dozen U.S. cities beginning Monday. The product will be available in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tacoma, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Uber said it expects to expand into other U.S. cities in the coming weeks.

Uber made the move in an effort to offer riders a more convenient way to get things done, and to provide an additional earnings opportunity for drivers as we move forward in this ‘new normal,’ Niraj Patel, director of rider operations at Uber said in a statement.

Riders who want to use the new feature start by selecting “hourly” in the app and then entering their initial stop. Riders can see the $50 hourly rate at a glance and compare to other options before committing to the trip. The rider selects the expected hours and can enter in multiple stops — as many as three including the destination.Uber Hourly for Rider feature

Image Credits: Uber

There are limitations to the feature, including mileage. In some cities, the hourly booking feature only allows drivers to travel up to 40 miles. Trips that travel farther than the mileage limit will be charged to the rider at a per mile rate. The same rule applies to trips the run over the booked hour; riders will be charged per minute over the hour.

Hourly booking cannot be used to travel to or from airports and trips must be within a city service area. The $50 hourly rate excludes tolls and surcharges.

How Grab adapted after COVID-19 hit its ride-hailing business

By Catherine Shu

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft. Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing company, has also been impacted, but the company has adapted by quickly transitioning many of its ride-hailing drivers to its on-demand delivery verticals and expanding services needed by customers during social distancing measures.

The company told TechCrunch that its ride-hailing drivers saw their incomes decrease by about a double-digit percentage in April 2020, compared to October 2019, in line with a double-digit drop in gross merchandise volume for Grab’s ride-hailing business in some markets. Between March and April, more than 149,000 Grab ride-hailing drivers switched to performing on-demand deliveries. In some markets, the transition was done very quickly. For example, in Malaysia, 18,000 drivers moved to delivery in a single day. The platform also saw an influx of new driver requests, many from people who had been laid off or furloughed, as well as merchants who needed a new way to make income.

Russell Cohen, Grab’s regional head of operations, told Extra Crunch that to redeploy driver capacity to delivery verticals, the company worked with governments in its eight markets to understand how different COVID-19 responses, including stay-at-home orders, affected on-demand logistics. Anticipating shifts in consumer behavior, it also started adding new services that will continue after the pandemic.

Quickly moving driver capacity from ride-hailing to on-demand delivery

Grab currently has about nine million “micro-entrepreneurs,” or what it calls the drivers, delivery, merchants and agents on its platform. Cohen says the company began to see an effect on ride-hailing and transportation patterns in January and February as flights out of China, and air travel in general, began to decrease. Then COVID-19 started to have a material impact on its ride-hailing business in March, with a sharp drop after countries began implementing stay-at-home orders.

Tesla scouts head to Tulsa, Austin as hunt for Cybertruck gigafactory location nears end

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla officials visited two sites in Tulsa, Oklahoma this week to search for a location for its future and fifth gigafactory that will produce its all-electric Cybertruck and Model Y crossover, a source familiar with the situation told TechCrunch.

Company representatives also visited Austin. A final decision has not been made, but Austin and Tulsa are among the finalists, according to multiple sources. The AP also reported Tulsa and Austin as top picks for the gigafactory.

Tesla expects to make a decision as soon as next month, and “certainly within three months,” CEO Elon Musk said April 29 during the company’s first quarter earnings call.

Musk tweeted in March that Tesla was scouting locations for a so-called “Cybertruck Gigafactory.” Musk said, at the time, that the factory would be located in the central part of the U.S. and would be used to produce Model Y crossovers for the East Coast market as well as the cybertruck.

Not long after the tweets, TechCrunch learned that Tesla was eyeing Nashville and had been in talks with officials there. Tesla informed Nashville officials this week that the city is out of the running for its gigafactory location, according to one source.

An email was sent to Tesla requesting comment. The article will be updated if Tesla responds.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s office issued a statement neither confirms nor denies the talks.

“While I can not comment on potential projects, it is clear that Tesla and Tulsa were forged in the same spirit,” Bynum said in an emailed statement. “Both founded by pioneers who dreamt big and made it happen. Both trying to change the world with a new kind of energy. Both investing big in what matters most: people. Tulsa is a city that doesn’t stifle entrepreneurs – we revere them. And as Tesla continues to rapidly change transportation all around the world, I can’t imagine a better place for them to further that important work than Green Country.”

This next gigafactory, wherever it is located, will likely be larger and produce multiple products, CFO Zachary Kirkhorn said during the same April 29 call.

“That’s under a belief that there’s significant efficiencies by having as much as possible and similar product lines under the same roof and as much vertical integration as possible all in one facility,” Kirkhorn said.

Musk has referred to these as future plants as “tera” factories — a nod to terawatt, or more specifically a terawatt-hour of battery capacity. The company’s first “gigafactory” is in Sparks, Nevada. The massive structure, which has surpassed. 1.9 million square feet, is where Tesla produces battery packs and electric motors for its Model 3 vehicles. The company has a joint venture with Panasonic,  which is making the lithium-ion cells.

Tesla dubbed the Sparks plant a “gigafactory” because the company said at the time it would be capable of producing 35 gigawatt-hours per year of battery cells.

Tesla assembles its Model S, Model X and Model 3 vehicles in Fremont, Calif. at a factory that was once home to GM and Toyota’s New United Motor Manufacturing Inc (NUMMI) operation. Tesla acquired the factory in 2010. The first Model S was produced at the factory in June 2012.

“Gigafactory 2” in Buffalo, New York, is where Tesla produces solar cells and modules. The company’s third gigafactory is located in Shanghai, China and started producing the Model 3 late last year. The first deliveries began in early January.

Tesla is now preparing to build another factory near Berlin. Once complete, this German factory will produce the Model 3 and Model Y for the European market.

TechCrunch’s top 16 picks from Techstars April virtual demo days

By Jonathan Shieber

Like other accelerators, Techstars, a network of more than 40 corporate and geographically targeted startup bootcamps, has had to bring its marquee demo day events online.

Over the last two weeks of April, industry-focused accelerators working with startups building businesses around mobility technologies (broadly) and the future of the home joined programs in Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Berlin, Boston, Boulder and Chicago to present their cohorts.

Each group had roughly 10 companies pitching businesses that ran the gamut from early-childhood education to capturing precious metals from the waste streams of mining operations. There were language companies, security companies, marketing companies and even a maker of a modular sous vide product for home chefs.

The ideas were as creative as they were varied, and while all seemed promising, about two concepts from each batch stood out above the rest.

What follows is our completely unscientific picks of the top companies that pitched at each of these virtual Techstars demo days. In late May or early June, expect to see our roundup of the next batch of top picks from the their next round of demo days.

Hub71

Techstars’ inaugural cohort for its accelerator run in conjunction with Abu Dhabi-based technology incubator Hub71 included a number of novel businesses spanning climate, security, retail, healthcare and property tech. Standouts in this batch included Sia Secure and Aumet (with an honorable mention for the novel bio-based plastic processing and reuse technology developer, Poliloop).

Uber subsidiary Careem to slash workforce by 31%, suspends bus transport app

By Kirsten Korosec

Careem, the Dubai-based ride-hailing and delivery company that was acquired by Uber last year, is cutting its workforce by 31% and suspending its mass transportation business due to affects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The layoffs will affect more than 530 employees. Employees who are laid off will receive at least three months severance pay, one month of equity vesting, and where relevant, extended visa and medical insurance through the end of the year, according to the company’s blog post announcing the reductions.

“We delayed this decision as long as possible so that we could exhaust all other means to secure Careem,” Mudassir Sheikha, the company’s co-founder and CEO, wrote in a blog post Monday.

Careem started in 2012 as a ride-hailing company aiming to compete with Uber rival in the Middle East. In recently years, Careem has diversified its business, expanding into credit transfers, food and package delivery and bus services. Uber bought Careem in March 2019 for $3.1 billion.

Since the COVId-19 pandemic hit, Careem has seen business fall by more than 80%, Sheikha said.

The company made the cuts to preserve the business and its vision to create a consumer-facing “super app” that offers a suite of lifestyle services, including a digital payment platform and last-mile delivery. Those reductions will also affect some previously announced products, namely its mass transportation feature called Careem BUS.

“The economics of the mass transportation business have improved but remain challenging, and at this time, we need to accelerate our investments in deliveries and the Super App,”  We believe Careem BUS is a much-needed offering in some of our core markets, and I predict that the service will reappear on the Careem Super App in the future.” 

The announcement comes just hours after Uber Eats said it will shutter its on-demand food business in several markets, including in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine. Uber Eats said it will transfer its business operations in the in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Careem.

“Consumers and restaurants using the Uber Eats app in the UAE will be transitioned to the Careem  platform in the coming weeks, after which the Uber Eats app will no longer be available,” according to a regulatory filing detailing the operational shifts.

Why COVID-19 could delay Interswitch, Africa’s next big IPO

By Jake Bright

The economic effects of COVID-19 could delay Africa’s next big IPO — that of Nigerian fintech unicorn Interswitch.

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time the Lagos-based payments company’s plans for going public were postponed; the tech world has been anticipating Interswitch’s stock market debut since 2016.

For the continent’s innovation ecosystem, there’s a lot riding on the digital finance company’s IPO. After e-commerce venture Jumia, it would become only the second listing of a VC-backed African tech company on a major exchange. And Interswitch’s stock market debut — when it occurs — could bring more investor attention and less controversy to the region’s startup scene.

What is Interswitch?

TechCrunch reached out to Interswitch on the window for listing, but the company declined to comment. The tech firm’s path from startup to IPO aspirant traces back to the vision of founder Mitchell Elegbe, a Nigerian electrical engineering graduate whose entire career has pretty much been Interswitch.

Africa’s tech scene is still fairly young, but it does have a timeline with several definitive points. An early one would be the success of mobile money in East Africa, with the launch of Safaricom’s M-Pesa in 2007. Another is the notable wave of VC-backed startups and founders that launched around 2010.

Interswitch CEO Mitchell Elegbe (Photo Credits: Interswitch)

With Interswtich, Elegbe pre-dated both by a number of years, founding his fintech company back in 2002 to connect Nigeria’s largely disconnected banking system. The firm became a pioneer of the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s economy.

Interswitch created the first electronic switch whereby Nigerian financial institutions could communicate and thereby operate ATMs and point of sales operations. The company now provides much of the rails for Nigeria’s online banking system.

Uber Eats exits seven markets, transfers one as part of competitive retooling

By Natasha Lomas

Uber Eats is pulling out of a clutch of markets — shuttering its on-demand food offering in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine.

It’s also transferring its Uber Eats business operations in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Careem, its wholly owned ride-hailing subsidiary that’s mostly focused on the Middle East.

“Consumers and restaurants using the Uber Eats app in the UAE will be transitioned to the Careem platform in the coming weeks, after which the Uber Eats app will no longer be available,” it writes in a regulatory filing detailing the operational shifts.

“These decisions were made as part of the Company’s ongoing strategy to be in first or second position in all Eats markets by leaning into investment in some countries while exiting others,” the filing adds.

An Uber spokesman said the changes are not related to the coronavirus pandemic but rather related to an ongoing “strategy of record” for the company to hold a first or second position in all Eats markets — which means it’s leaning into investment in some countries while exiting others.

Earlier this year, for example, Uber pulled the plug on its Eats offer in India — selling to local rival Zomato. Zomato and Swiggy hold the top two slots in the market. (As part of that deal Uber took a 9.99% stake in Zomato.)

Uber Eats rival, Glovo, also announced a series of exits at the start of this year — as part of its own competitive reconfiguration in a drive to cut losses and shoot for profitability. It too says its goal is to be the first or second platform in all markets where it operates.

The category is facing major questions about profitability — with now the added challenge of the coronavirus crisis. (Related: Another player in the space, Uk-based Deliveroo, confirmed a major round of layoffs last week.) tl;dr, on-demand unit economics don’t stack up unless you can command large enough marketshare so it looks like the competitive pack is thinning as it becomes clearer who’s winning where.

In a statement on the latest round of Eats exits, Uber said: “We have made the decision to discontinue Uber Eats in Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Uruguay, and to wind down the Eats app and transition operations to Careem in U.A.E. This continues our strategy of focusing our energy and resources on our top Eats markets around the world.”

The discontinued and transferred markets represented 1% of Eats’ Gross Bookings and 4% of Eats Adjusted EBITDA losses in Q1 2020, per Uber’s filing. 

“Consistent with our stated strategy, we will look to reinvest these savings in priority markets where we expect a better return on investment,” the filing adds. 

The Uber Eats spokesman told us that the exits do not sum to any change to the ‘more than 6,000 cities’ figure for the unit’s market footprint — which Uber reported earlier this year.

Asked which markets the company considers to be priorities going forward the spokesman did not respond. It’s also not clear whether or not Uber sought buyers for the shuttered units.

Per Uber’s filing, Eats operations will be fully discontinue in the Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay and Ukraine by June 4, 2020.

Uber Rides operations are not affected, it adds.

A source familiar with Uber also said the changes will allow the company to focus resources on new business lines — such as grocery and delivery.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the on-demand food delivery business as usual in many markets — with convenience-loving customers locked down at home so likely to be cooking more, and large numbers of restaurants closed (at least temporarily), putting a dent in the provider side of these platforms too.

At the same time there is a demand upside story in the groceries category. And last month Uber announced a tie-up with a major French supermarket, Carrefour, to expand its delivery offering nationwide. It also inked other grocery-related partnerships in Spain and Brazil.

Grocery delivery has been seeing a massive uptick as consumers look for ways to replenish their food cupboards while limiting infection risk.

While other types of deliveries — from pharmaceuticals to personal protective equipment — also potentially offer growth opportunities for on-demand logistics businesses, which is how many major food delivery platforms prefer to describe themselves.

Africa Roundup: Visa connects to M-Pesa, Flutterwave enters e-commerce

By Jake Bright

It seems the demand for Safaricom’s M-Pesa payment product never eases. Since its 2007 launch in Kenya, the fintech app has commanded over 70% of the mobile money market in that country. When COVID-19 hit the East African nation of 53 million in March, the Kenyan Central Bank turned to M-Pesa as a public health tool to reduce use of cash.

And last month, one of the world’s financial services giants — Visa — connected M-Pesa to its global network.

Visa and Safaricom — which is Kenya’s largest telecom and operator of M-Pesa — announced a partnership on payments and tech.

The arrangement opens up M-Pesa’s own extensive financial services network in East Africa to Visa’s global merchant and card network across 200 countries.

The companies will also collaborate “on development of products that will support digital payments for M-Pesa customers.” The partnership is still subject to regulatory approval.

The details remain vague, but the payment providers also said they will use the collaboration to facilitate e-commerce.

Images Credits: Getty Images

On a continent that is still home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population, Kenya has one of the highest mobile-money penetration rates in the world. This is largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa in the country, which has 24.5 million customers and a network of 176,000 agents.

As we detailed in ExtraCrunch, Visa has been on a VC and partnership spree with African fintech companies. The global financial services giant has named working with the continent’s payments startups as core to its Africa expansion strategy.

One of those fintech ventures Visa has teamed up with, Flutterwave, launched an e-commerce product in April. The San Francisco and Lagos-based B2B payments company announced Flutterwave Store, a portal for African merchants to create digital shops to sell online.

The product is less Amazon  and more eBay — with no inventory or warehouse requirements. Flutterwave insists the move doesn’t represent any shift away from its core payments business.

The company accelerated the development of Flutterwave Store in response to COVID-19, which has brought restrictive measures to SMEs and traders operating in Africa’s largest economies.

After creating a profile, users can showcase inventory and link up to a payment option. For pickup and delivery, Flutterwave Store operates through existing third party logistics providers, such as Sendy in Kenya and Sendbox in Nigeria.

The service will start in 15 African countries and the only fees Flutterwave will charge (for now) are on payments. Otherwise, it’s free for SMEs to create an online storefront and for buyers and sellers to transact goods.

While the initiative is born out of the spread of coronavirus cases in Africa, it will continue beyond the pandemic. And Flutterwave’s CEO Olugbenga Agboola — aka GB — is adamant Flutterwave Store is not a pivot for the Y-Cominator backed fintech company.

“It’s not a direction change. We’re still a B2B payment infrastructure company. We are not moving into becoming an online retailer, and no we’re not looking to become Jumia,” he told TechCrunch .

In early stage startup activity, a relatively new company — Okra — has created a unique platform that allows it to generate revenue on both sides of the fintech aisle.

Founded in June 2019 by Nigerians Fara Ashiru Jituboh and David Peterside, the company refers to itself as a “super-connector API” with a platform that links bank accounts to third party applications.

Okra’s clients include fintech startups and large financial institutions in Nigeria. The company got the attention of TLcom Capital — a $71 million Africa focused VC firm —that backed Okra with $1 million in pre-seed funding. The Nigerian startup is using the funds to hire and expand to new markets in Africa, most likely Kenya .

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch               

Oriente raises $50 million to continue building its infrastructure for digital financial services

By Catherine Shu

Oriente, a Hong Kong-based startup that develops tech infrastructure for digital credit and other online financial services, has raised $50 million for its ongoing Series B round. The funding was led by Peter Lee, co-chairman of Henderson Land, one of Hong Kong’s largest property developers, with participation from investors including website development platform Wix.com.

Launched in 2017 by Geoff Prentice, one of Skype’s co-founders, Hubert Tai and Lawrence Chu, Oriente focuses on markets that are underserved by traditional financial institutions. The new funding will be used for growth in Oriente’s existing markets, the Philippines and Indonesia, and expansion into new countries including Vietnam.

It will also be used to continue building Oriente’s technology, which uses big data analytics to help merchants increase sales conversions and lower risk. Oriente has now raised over $160 million in equity and debt, including a $105 million round in November 2018.

While many large tech companies, including Grab, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Apple and Samsung, are looking at digital payments and other online financial services, they need the tech infrastructure to do so, and partners that can also help them handle regulations in different markets.

Oriente doesn’t compete with payment providers. Instead, it is “innovating credit as a service,” Prentice told TechCrunch, by building technology that allows offline and online merchants to launch digital credit solutions quickly.

Oriente “is the only company that is focusing on building an end-to-end digital financial services infrastructure,” he added, with services created for consumers, online and offline merchants, and enterprise clients.

For consumers, the startup currently offers two apps, Cashalo in the Philippines and Finmas in Indonesia, which it says has a combined 5 million users and over 1,000 merchants. Services include cash loans, online credit and working capital for small- to medium-sized enterprises.

Oriente says that in 2019, it saw a 700% year-over-year growth in transactions and served more than 4 million new users, while merchant partners had a more than 20% increase in sales volume.

Over the next few months, Oriente plans to expand its Pay Later digital credit feature and launch new growth capital solutions for small businesses that need financing. Oriente also has several partnerships in the works to expand its enterprise solutions for larger businesses and corporations.

In Vietnam, Oriente is currently beta testing a consumer platform similar to Cashalo and Finmas. It will offer online credit and financing, as well as other services in partnership with local companies.

Oriente has also started focusing on how to serve businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, since many merchants are coping with revenue declines, loss of users and cash flow issues.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve reprioritized our corporate strategy to focus on the top opportunities within each market. We have also taken various steps to rebuild our organizations for optimized operational and financial efficiency in line with current and forecasted market conditions and our more focused strategy,” Prentice said.

“Our aim is not only to mitigate anticipated headwinds on liquidity but to demonstrate that our business has the potential to overcome and outperform the market in a recession—unlocking value for all stakeholders for years to come.”

Tinvio, a communication platform for supply chain merchants, gets $5.5 million seed round

By Catherine Shu

Being a supply chain merchant often means cobbling together different ways of keeping in touch with buyers, including emails, text messages and paper invoices. Tinvio wants to simplify the process with a communication and commerce platform designed especially for managing orders.

The Singapore-based startup announced today that it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding, led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge early-stage accelerator program, with participation from Global Founders Capital and Partech Partners.

Along with a pre-seed round from Rocket Internet, this brings Tinvio’s total raised so far to $6.5 million. The startup was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, who previously worked at Rocket Internet in Berlin. Before that, he was a fintech investment banker at Credit Suisse.

Since launching, Tinvio’s customer base has grown to over 1,000 businesses in more than 10 cities. Over the next 12 months, it plans to add more cities and languages, as well as digital financial services.

Tinvio is targeted at small-to mid-sized merchants, and many of its customers are in the food and beverage (F&B), retail and healthcare supply industries.

“At its core, Tinvio is a real-time messaging app. For every 10 orders placed on Tinvio, there’s an average of two messages sent, reinforcing that communication is critical in fragmented supply chains,” Gopal told TechCrunch.

One of Tinvio’s selling points is that merchants can continue to receive orders through their existing channels, including email, SMS or WhatsApp. By consolidating those orders in one app, Tinvio is also able to create a real-time digital ledger, making it easier for merchants to track invoices, fulfillment and finances.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, order volumes between merchants and suppliers on Tinvio have fallen about 30% to 50% in most cities, Gopal said, “though retention rates remain high, suggesting that many businesses are trying their best to stay open. We talk to them often, and we’re quite awed by their resilience to keep trying, keep finding a way to make it work.”

He added, “Our tech is designed to be fully customizable, so we’ve started organically supporting many of their new use cases.”

For example, some food and beverage merchants have started using Tinvio to manage group orders with consumers instead. Since many businesses have let go of staff, this means merchants have become more reliant on the app to keep track of orders and inbound/outbound deliveries. Tinvio has started expanding this into a new feature and also begun customizing soft-integrations for suppliers so they don’t have to manually add data to their ERP software.

Two weeks ago, Tinvio also launched a project called Save Our Nomnoms to help direct more orders to food and beverage merchants in Singapore, which is currently under partial lockdown. The project started with 40 brands, and has since grown to include more than 300 brands.

Vietnamese online pharmaceutical marketplace BuyMed raises $2.5M

By Catherine Shu

BuyMed, a Vietnamese startup that wants to fix Southeast Asia’s complex pharmaceutical distribution networks, announced today it has raised $2.5 million in pre-Series A funding. Investors include Sequoia Capital India’s Surge early-stage accelerator program, and Genesia Ventures. Returning investor Cocoon Capital also participated.

Founded in 2018, BuyMed operates Thuocsi.vn, a pharmaceutical distribution platform in Vietnam. Over the past 12 months, the company says it has tripled its annual revenue, and now plans to add new product lines, including cosmetics, medical devices, supplements and medical services, with the goal of becoming a “one-stop marketplace” for supplies needed by healthcare providers in Southeast Asia.

BuyMed verifies suppliers on its platform, improving safety and reducing the risk of medications making its way into the grey market (or unofficial distribution channels). The startup currently has 700 verified suppliers, distributors and manufacturers on its platform, who serve over 7,000 healthcare providers.

In a press statement, Genesia Ventures general partner Takahiro Suzuki, said, “There is still a tremendous opportunity for growth and improvement in Vietnam’s pharmaceutical supply chain and we believe that BuyMed’s founders have the experience, execution and operational management necessary to tackle this problem.”

BuyMed Co-founder and CEO Peter Nguyen formerly served as a consultant for companies like Eli Lilly, Roche and Siemens, helping them create more efficient operations and supply chains.

Nguyen told TechCrunch that there are no major multi-brand distributors in Vietnam, so most pharmaceutical manufacturers and brands need to set up their own networks. This means the process of getting medications and other pharmaceutical supplies to healthcare providers is highly-fragmented.

There are roughly 200 domestic manufacturers in Vietnam, in addition to imported brands, and their products are handled by over 3,000 distributors. While about 2% of pharmacies in Vietnam are part of a franchise or chain, the vast majority are independent. This means distributors need to serve over 40,000 independent pharmacies and about 5,000 independent clinics.

Nguyen added that fragmentation is similar in many other Southeast Asian markets, giving BuyMed an opportunity to expand across the region.

Thuocsi.vn’s usage has grown over the last 60 days, as more Vietnamese pharmacies source from online channels. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BuyMed has expanded its platform so more of its partners can sell online, and added safety measures like frequent warehouse and office sanitization and a no-contact drop-off and cash collection system.

Igloo raises $8.2M to bring insurance to more people in Southeast Asia

By Manish Singh

Singapore-based Igloo, formerly known as Axinan, has raised $8.2 million as the insurance-tech startup looks to broaden its foothold in half a dozen Southeast Asian markets and Australia.

InVent, a corporate venture capital arm of telecommunications firm Intouch Holdings, led Igloo’s extended Series A round, the startup told TechCrunch. Existing investors Openspace Ventures, a venture capital fund that invests in Southeast Asia, and Linear Capital, a Shanghai-based early-stage venture capital firm focusing on tech-driven startups, participated in this round, which makes four-year-old Igloo’s to-date raise to $16 million. It raised about $1 million in its Seed financing round.

Igloo — founded by Wei Zhu, who previously served as Chief Technology Officer at Grab — works with e-commerce and travel firms such as Lazada, RedDoorz, and Shopee in Southeast Asia to offer their customers insurance products that provide protection on electronics, and coverage on accidents and travel.

The startup, which also operates in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia, said more than 15 million users have benefitted from its insurance products to date, and in the last one year it has processed more than 50 million transactions.

Igloo, which rebranded from Axinan this month, said insurance products are proving especially useful to — and popular among — people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Raunak Mehta, Chief Commercial Officer at Igloo, told TechCrunch that the startup has seen a surge in transactions and customer acquisitions in the last 45 days. “While some travel related business have seen a dip, the larger e-commerce business continues to see a surge,” he added.

“With COVID-19 impacting every facet of personal life and business, digitisation can help the world adjust to the new normal. This is especially apparent in insurance, where we can tap on digital channels for distribution and also for creating awareness,” said Zhu.

“We see that digital insurance is on the rise in Southeast Asia, and we believe that Igloo, with our digital-first approach and expansion of our product portfolio into personal health, accident and other related products can help fill those gaps and address consumers’ needs for personal well-being,” he added.

He said the digital insurance penetration remains low in Southeast Asia, and Igloo sees massive opportunity in the space. According to one estimate (PDF), Southeast Asia’s digital insurance market is currently valued at $2 billion and is expected to grow to $8 billion by 2025.

The startup, which competes with a handful of startups including Singapore Life and Saphron, will use the fresh capital to expand its business development and engineering teams and broaden its presence in the half-dozen markets. It is already engaging with telecom operators, banks, non-banking financial firms, and travel agencies, it said.

Impossible Foods rolls out to nearly 1,000 new grocery stores and supermarkets

By Jonathan Shieber

Starting tomorrow, 777 supermarkets in California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Nevada will begin stocking the Impossible Foods plant-based meat substitute.

Fueling the increased distribution and a push to expand its product suite and geographic footprint domestically and internationally is a $500 million round of funding the company closed in March.

Some of that money is supporting the company’s debut at stores like Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Pavilions, Safeway and Vons.

In all, the company said it would be in nearly 1,000 grocery stores by tomorrow. That includes all Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Gelson’s Markets in Southern California; all Safeway stores in Northern California and Nevada; Jewel-Osco stores in Chicago, eastern Iowa and northwest Indiana; Wegmans stores on the East Coast and Fairway markets in and around New York.

Since its debut in September, the company said it was the number one item sold at the locations it was available on the East and West coasts.

The company’s 12-ounce packages are sold for somewhere between $8.99 and $9.99 and it plans to soon introduce the Impossible Burger at even more stores nationwide.

“We’ve always planned on a dramatic surge in retail for 2020 — but with more and more Americans’ eating at home, we’ve received requests from retailers and consumers alike,” said Impossible Foods’ president Dennis Woodside, in a statement. “Our existing retail partners have achieved record sales of Impossible Burger in recent weeks, and we are moving as quickly as possible to expand with retailers nationwide.”

Even as the company announced its expansion, it made moves to assuage any consumer concerns over the processes in place at its manufacturing facilities.

Impossible Foods said it had instituted mandatory work from home policies for all of its employees who can telecommute; restricted visitors to its facilities and those operated by co-manufacturers; banned all work-related travel; and implemented new sanitizing and disinfection procedures at its workplaces.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our employees, customers and consumers,” Woodside said. “And we recognize our responsibility for the welfare of our community, including the entire San Francisco Bay Area, our global supplier and customer network, millions of customers, and billions of people who are relying on food manufacturers to produce supplies in times of need.”

The company said it was proceeding with its research and development initiatives; accelerating the ramp of its production facilities; and moving to broadly commercialize its Impossible Sausage and Impossible Pork products.

Impossible Foods has raised $1.3 billion from investors, including Mirae Asset Global Investments, Khosla Ventures, Horizons Ventures and Temasek.

Next year in Jerusalem — but for now, Zoom

By Brian Heater

There will be plenty of jokes. “Why is tonight different from all other nights,” the first of The Four Questions, will almost certainly serve as a laugh line in all but the most serious Seders this year. As for the plague — haven’t we had enough plague talk already?

For Jews across the world, Passover will serve as another attempted return to normalcy. There are few things in the calendar as reliably consistent as Passover, with its customs, prayers and extremely set menu.

Here in the States, Passover is the most commonly celebrated holiday among Jews. According to Pew, roughly 23% of the Jewish American population attend services monthly, while 70% say they attended a Seder a year prior. That the figure includes 42% of non-religious Jews is a testament to how transcendent the consistency and practice can be.

This year, however, things will be different. Because everything is different. It has been clear for some time now that this year’s holiday would be profoundly transformed by COVID-19, first through bans on social gatherings that made religious services an impossibility and ultimately due to international stay at home orders that are keeping many family members apart.

For Passover 2020 (or, 5780, depending on where you start counting), teleconferencing services — Zoom in particular — will have to do in a pinch.

“Judaism does not have a central governing body that can tell individuals or congregations how to respond in this crisis, and in Judaism’s very long relationship with technological development rabbis have almost always been playing catch-up to norms established by the Jewish public; even after the Industrial Revolution, rabbis were rarely the first to respond,” David Zvi Kalman, Fellow in Residence at Shalom Hartman Institute of North America told TechCrunch. “That being said, the religious questions that this pandemic raises are often about how a Jewish community is supposed to function, and so rabbis have an unusually large role to play in shaping the communal response.”

Late last month, a group of 14 orthodox rabbis signed a ruling declaring that families would be allowed to use teleconferencing technology to conduct Seders.

The document cited similar exceptions as those invoked during Shabbat, which otherwise has a blanket ban against the use of technology. “Just as it is permissible for a non-critical patient to receive treatment on Shabbat in order to cure him of illness, such is the case here,” the rabbis explained.

“We have made the decision, in these emergency situations, to knowingly put aside some of the restrictions regarding the use of electronics on Shabbat in order to stay spiritually connected even though we are physically separated,” New York-based Rabbi Rachel Ain told TechCrunch.

She has been among those leading congregations in services for much of the city’s stay at home order. “We have made the decision, in these emergency situations, to knowingly put aside some of the restrictions regarding the use of electronics on Shabbat in order to stay spiritually connected even though we are physically separated,” she add, explaining that the synagogue has explored a wide variety of different avenues.

When Passover begins tonight at sundown, Jews all over the world will be engaged in TeleSeders — most for the first time, including all of the trials, tribulations and novelty that brings. For many Christians, the event will also, perhaps, set an interesting precedent for the upcoming Easter holiday, as Trump’s earlier promises to end the shutdown ahead of then have become increasingly unrealistic.

Like so many aspects of our life, there’s a pervasive question of whether this will ultimately serve as a kind of new normal, going forward. The phrase “Next year in Jerusalem,” sung by many at the Seder’s end, will take on a special sort of diasporic resonance, as many are forced to remain at distance from friends and family.

“While I suspect that virtualized learning will be taken much more seriously after this crisis is over, I think a vast majority of Jews would prefer to attend prayer services in person (at least among those Jews who attend services at all),”  Kalman tells TechCrunch. “A lot of rabbis are definitely worried about setting precedents for virtual community that will end up diminishing in-person gatherings. At the same time, this crisis is causing a lot of rabbis to take social isolation — which isn’t a problem specific to this pandemic — a lot more seriously.”

How Homage is tackling Southeast Asia’s growing eldercare need

By Catherine Shu

The world’s population is aging, but the needs of elderly people are still being underserved. A United Nations report found that older people make up more than one-fifth of the population in 17 countries, and by 2100, a majority of the world’s population, or 61%, will be aged 60 and above.

One of the most urgent needs for families is caregiving, with demand outstripping the pool of qualified providers. This means many people in their thirties and forties are now part of the “sandwich generation,” juggling jobs and child care while looking after elderly relatives. This creates both an opportunity and challenge for tech startups and investors in almost every market around the world.

In Southeast Asia, Homage is addressing the issue with a platform that takes a curated approach to pairing caregivers and families, using a combination of in-person screening and its matching engine to make the process more efficient. Currently operating in Singapore and Malaysia, the startup announced earlier this year that it will use its Series B funding to expand into five new countries in the region.

Backed by investors, including HealthXCapital, Golden Gate Ventures and EV Ventures, Homage was co-founded in 2016 by chief executive officer Gillian Tee, who grew up in Singapore and was inspired by her family’s own experiences looking for caregivers. Tee says she wanted to build a platform that would make the process of matching caregivers and clients easier, and be scalable into different markets.

“It’s not the easiest space to be in, and I would say that you do need to want to be intentionally working in this space, rather than just falling into it. It goes hand in hand,” she told TechCrunch. “We found that there is a huge market opportunity, but why we’re doing it goes way beyond that.”

How Homage addresses the talent pool shortage

Grab hires Peter Oey as its chief financial officer

By Catherine Shu

Grab announced today that it has hired Peter Oey as its new chief financial officer. Prior to joining Grab, Oey was the chief financial officer at LegalZoom, an online legal services company based near Los Angeles.

Before that, he served the same role at Mylife.com, an online platform that aggregates information about people based on public records. Oey also held financial leadership positions at Activision for twelve years, including corporate controller.

In a statement, Grab said Oey will be based in Singapore and report to co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan. He will also work with Grab president Ming Maa, who took over many responsibilities from Grab’s last CFO, Linda Hoglund, when she left in 2016. Grab said Maa will continue to lead its strategic business planning.

Grab, which acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia business in March 2018, has reportedly been in discussions to merge with merge with rival GoJek.

Grab, whose services include ride-sharing, food delivery and online financial services provider GrabPay, also announced in February that it had raised a total of $856 million from Japanese investors Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and TIS INTEC, to grow its financial services and digital payments infrastructure.

In a press statement, the company said that in 2019, GrabFood’s gross merchandise volume grew by over 400%, while GrabPay increased payment volume by 170%, thanks to strong performance in Indonesia.

Tan said “Last year, we made tremendous progress in growing our food delivery, payments and financial services business. The growth of these businesses give us a good foundation for achieving long-term sustainable growth for our company. I’m excited to welcome Peter to the Grab family where his extensive experience scaling rapidly growing technology companies makes him a valuable addition to our business.”

Grab has raised a total of about $9.9 billion from investors including SoftBank Vision Fund, which invested $1.46 billion into the company last year. Tan told CNBC last November that the company will not go public until its entire business is profitable.

Africa Roundup: Africa’s tech ecosystem responds to COVID-19

By Jake Bright

In March, the virus gripping the world — COVID-19 — started to spread in Africa. In short order, actors across the continent’s tech ecosystem began to step up to stem the spread.

Early in March, Africa’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits, but by mid-month those numbers had spiked leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.

“About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference on March 19. “It has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

By the World Health Organization’s stats Tuesday there were 3,671 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 87 confirmed deaths related to the virus, up from 463 cases and 8 deaths on March 18.

As COVID-19 began to grow in major economies, governments and startups in Africa started measures to shift a greater volume of transactions toward digital payments and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.

Kenya, Africa’s leader in digital payment adoption, turned to mobile money as a public-health tool.

At the urging of the Central Bank and President Uhuru Kenyatta, the country’s largest telecom, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency.

The company announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.

Kenya has one of the highest rates of digital finance adoption in the world — largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa  in the country — with 32 million of its 53 million population subscribed to mobile-money accounts, according to Kenya’s Communications Authority.

On March 20, Ghana’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.

Growth in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation of 200 million, prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.

Lagos based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free — a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a company release.

In March, Africa’s largest innovation incubator, CcHub, announced funding and engineering support to tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.

The Lagos and Nairobi based organization posted an open application on its website to provide $5,000 to $100,000 funding blocks to companies with COVID-19 related projects.

CcHub’s CEO Bosun Tijani expressed concern for Africa’s ability to combat a coronavirus outbreak. “Quite a number of African countries, if they get to the level of Italy or the UK, I don’t think the system… is resilient enough to provide support to something like that,” Tijani said.

Cape Town based crowdsolving startup Zindi — that uses AI and machine learning to tackle complex problems — opened a challenge to the 12,000 registered engineers on its platform.

The competition, sponsored by AI4D, tasks scientists to create models that can use data to predict the global spread of COVID-19 over the next three months. The challenge is open until April 19, solutions will be evaluated against future numbers and the winner will receive $5,000.

Zindi will also sponsor a hackathon in April to find solutions to coronavirus related problems.

Image Credits: Sam Masikini via Zindi

On the digital retail front, Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia announced measures it would take on its network to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — said it would donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.

The company has also offered African governments use of of its last-mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers.

Jumia is reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” CEO Sacha Poignonnec told TechCrunch.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

Delivery Hero urges users to go cashless, no contact for food deliveries

By Natasha Lomas

Delivery Hero has switched to cash-less, non-contact for deliveries in areas it defines as “high risk” for the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to reduce personal contact between couriers and customers during the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s encouraging all customers to make the switch.

“By introducing contactless delivery, we can ensure that our service is safe and convenient for customers, riders and restaurants,” said CEO, Niklas Östberg, in a press release. “We now encourage customers to pay without cash everywhere, and decide when and how they want their order to be delivered. These are options designed to reduce interpersonal contact and make our customer journey even more secure.”

It has also implemented no-contact drop-offs in high risk areas and is asking restaurants to sanitize packages to further shrink the risk of spreading the virus.

While there is no evidence that people have become infected by eating food contaminated with the microscopic agent — SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus; the primary transition route for infection appears to be via close contact with an infected person, when you might be more likely to breathe in tiny droplets that contain the virus, such as those expelled when someone coughs or sneezes — there could be a small risk posed by contaminated food packaging.

If, for example, an infected person, who had coughed into their hand, then touched a package which they gave to an uninfected person — who then touched their face without first washing their hands. Studies suggest the virus that causes COVID-19 can remain infectious for between several hours or days on certain surfaces.

To shrink the risk of such a scenario, Delivery Hero said it’s working closely with restaurant partners to ensure “the highest hygiene standards”.

The risk of infection via contaminated surfaces is reduced by everyone observing good hand hygiene — i.e. washing hands regularly and directly after touching things others may have touched — and by not touching their own face with unclean hands.

“Official health authorities around the world agree that there is a very limited chance of contracting COVID-19 through food,” said Delivery Hero today. “Neither the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have any reports of Coronavirus COVID-19 transmitted via food or food packaging. However, we are working closely with our restaurant partners to ensure that they continue to operate in a secure kitchen environment and carry out food preparation and packaging according to the highest hygiene standards.”

The company is also providing riders in “high risk” zones with hand sanitisers, masks and other safety materials — “where and when it is locally and culturally accepted”.

The Berlin -based takeaway platform operates across 44 markets in Europe, Asia, LatAm and the Middle East, operating under a variety of brand names.

We’ve asked which areas it’s defining as “high risk”.

In recent weeks a number of US and European food delivery startups have turned on a contactless delivery option to shrink the risks around COVID-19 during the epidemic. Delivery Hero said it started taking precautionary measures “as soon as the situation started to evolve in January”.

The company is using its rider app to communicate updates and “instruct on hygiene requirements, especially for pick-up and drop-off”. “By having direct access to new information, our riders can make informed decisions when on the road,” it added.

While many startups face a demand crunch during the epidemic as people dial back some of their regular activities, the opposite looks to be true for food delivery — as large-scale quarantine measures mean many people are eating more meals at home. Food delivery is also being actively being encouraged by some governments, such as the UK, as a convenient lever to keep more citizens locked down at home where they can’t spread the virus or increase their chance of exposure.

Delivery Hero said it’s responded to growing demand by implementing free delivery options in the majority of its markets — “to make online ordering accessible to as many people as possible”, as it puts it.

It said “several” of these options are “focused on when ordering from restaurants nearby” — in what looks like an attempt to streamline demand for restaurants and delivery workers by incentivizing local food orders.

In another support step for restaurants it’s offering more frequent payment cycles for some partners — “according to local need”. “For new restaurants joining our platform, we aim to onboard as fast as possible, in order to support them in maintaining order levels as well as provide more choice for our customers,” it added.

Zooming out, Delivery Hero said it’s closely liaising with local governments — and continuing to follow official health and safety guidelines provided in its different markets. And it gave examples of how some of its different brands are working on relief efforts related to COVID-19 around the world.

“Our brand HungerStation in Saudi Arabia is partnering with the Saudi Ministry of Health and Saudi Food & Drug Authority to provide hand sanitizers for people in need,” it said. “In the Czech Republic, our brand Damejidlo has also been selected as one of the Red Cross’ official partners, bringing food to senior citizens. As a part of a broader initiative to support their communities, our Latin American brand PedidosYa is giving up to 1,000 free lunches per day to people who are at the forefront of fighting the virus, such as employees in the health sector.”

Another area the company is ramping up to meet demand for food delivery in the time of the coronavirus is grocery store onboarding. Currently, customers across 21 markets in the MENA region, Asia-Pacific and Latin America can order groceries from supermarkets via the company’s local delivery apps, in addition to takeout meals.

“We have seen an increase in demand from our global customer community and to meet the growing need, we have accelerated the onboarding of grocery stores,” Delivery Hero said. “We have also increased delivery through our cloud stores, another way to secure that our customers have access to everyday necessities.”

It’s not clear what — if any — financial provision the company is making to support delivery riders who do not have a contract that includes sick pay.

We’ve asked and will update this report with any response.

“During these turbulent times, our immediate efforts go into securing the wellbeing of all Delivery Hero customers, riders and employees,” the company said. “We are monitoring the development of COVID-19 minute by minute and will implement further measures as necessary. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by the spread of the virus and to all who go the extra mile to keep our communities safe, healthy and fed.”

Africa turns to mobile payments as a tool to curb COVID-19

By Jake Bright

Africa is using digital finance as a means to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Governments and startups on the continent are implementing measures to shift a greater volume of payment transactions toward mobile money and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s an option facilitated by the boom in fintech that’s occurred in Africa over the last decade. By several estimates, the continent is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

But because of that, fintech — and startups focused on financial inclusion — now receive the majority of VC funding annually in Africa, according to recent data.

As COVID-19 cases began to grow in the continent’s major economies last week, the continent’s leader in digital payment adoption — Kenya — turned to mobile-money as a public-health tool.

The country’s largest teleco, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency in response to COVID-19.

Image Credits: Flickr

The company announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.

The move came after Safaricom met with the country’s Central Bank and per a directive from Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta “to explore ways of deepening mobile-money usage to reduce risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash,” according to a release provided to TechCrunch from Safaricom.

Kenya has one of the highest rates of mobile-money adoption in the world, largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa in the country, which stands as Africa’s 6th largest economy. Across Kenya’s population of 53 million, M-Pesa has 20.5 million customers and a network of 176,000 agents.

M-PESA Sector Stats 4Q 2019 per Kenya’s Communications Authority

With all major providers in Kenya there are 32 million subscribers, which means roughly 60% of the country’s population has access to mobile-money.

Ghana is also using digital finance as a monetary policy lever to reduce the spread of COVID-19

On March 20, the West African country’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.

The trajectory of the coronavirus in Africa is prompting more countries and tech companies to include mobile finance as part of a broader response. The continent’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits until recently, but those numbers spiked last week leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.

“About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

Source; World Health Organization

By the World Health Organization’s stats Monday there were 1321 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 34 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.

The country with 40% of the region’s cases is South Africa, which declared a national disaster last week, banned public gatherings and announced travel restrictions on the U.S.

Unlike Ghana and Kenya, the government in Africa’s second largest economy hasn’t issued directives toward mobile payments, but the situation with COVID-19 is pushing fintech startups to act, according to Yoco CEO Katlego Maphai.

The Series B stage venture develops and sells digital payment hardware and services for small businesses on a network of 80,000 clients that processes roughly $500 million annually.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

With the growth in coronavirus cases in South Africa, Yoco has issued a directive to clients to encourage customers to use the contactless payment option on its point of sale machines. The startup has also accelerated its development of a remote payment product, that would enable transfers on its client network via a weblink.

“This is an opportunity to start driving contactless adoption,” Maphai told TechCrunch on a call from Cape Town.

In Nigeria — home to Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million — the growth of COVID-19 cases has shifted the country toward electronic payments and prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.

Lagos based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free — a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a company release.

Parts of Lagos — which is connected to Nigeria’s largest commercial hub of Lagos State — have begun to require digital payments in response to COVID-19, according to Paga’s CEO Tayo Oviosu .

“We’re seeing some stores that are saying they are not accepting cash anymore,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

Cash only Nigeria Paga

Image Credits: Paga

Paga already offers free P2P transfers on its multi-channel network of 24,840 agents and 14 million customers. The startup, that recently expanded to Mexico and partnered with Visa, will also allow free transfers up to roughly 5000 Naira (≈ $15) from customer accounts to bank accounts, to encourage more digital payments use in Nigeria.

Paga’s CEO believes the current COVID-19 crisis will encourage more digital finance adoption in Nigeria, which has shown a cash-is-king reluctance by parts of the population to use mobile payments.

“I think it will help move the needle, but it won’t be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said.

Time and research will determine if efforts of African governments and tech companies to encourage digital payments over physical currency yield results in halting the spread of COVID-19 on the continent.

It is a unique case-study of mobile finance in Africa being employed to impact human behavior during a public health emergency.

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