Update on Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch and its speculative IPO – gpgmail


Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch has been circulating in business news around a possible IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Last month Bloomberg News ran a story—based on unnamed sources—reporting the financial services firm had hired investment banks to go public on the LSE later in 2019. The piece spurred additional aggregated press.

That Interswitch—which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure—could become one of Africa’s earliest tech companies to list on a global exchange isn’t exactly news.

It’s more deja vu of a story that began several years ago.

As gpgmail reported, Interswitch was poised to launch on the LSE in 2016. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe confirmed “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

Two additional sources wired into Nigeria’s tech market and close to Interswitch’s investors also said the public launch would happen by the end of that year.

The IPO would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar plus unicorn valuation status. Of course, it didn’t happen in 2016.

In 2017, gpgmail checked in with Interswitch on the delay and was told the company could not comment on its pending IPO.  In other public interviews, executives Mitchell Elegbe and Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay and reaffirmed a likely dual Longon-Lagos listing by the end of 2019.

After the latest round of IPO buzz, gpgmail asked Interswitch this week about the Bloomberg reporting and an imminent public stock listing. ““Interswitch does not comment on market speculation,” was the only info a public spokesperson could offer.

So, its tough to say if or when the company could list. There are still a few reasons why the company (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on.

One is Interswitch’s growing role as a nexus for payments and financial services infrastructure in Nigeria (home of Africa’s largest economy), across Africa, and between Africa and the world. Back in 2002, the company became the pioneer for creating infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-is-king based economy.

Interswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The Nigerian company (which is now well beyond startup phase) has expanded with physical presence in Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya—the latter being home-turf of M-Pesa and Safaricom, which are largely responsible for making Kenya the mobile-money capital of Africa.

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries, through bank partnerships, and has presence abroad. Through its Verve Global Card product, the company’s cardholders can now make payments in the U.S., UK, and UAE. Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network. The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square. Verve Times Square Interswitch  Another facet to a possible Interswitch IPO is its potential to spark more corporate venture arm and acquisition activity in African fintech, which as a sector receives the bulk of the continent’s startup capital. Interswitch launched a venture arm in 2015called its global ePayment Growth Fundthat made two investments, but then went largely quiet.

A windfall of IPO capital and increasing competition from fintech startups could spur Interswitch to fire up its venture investing activity again. Startups such as Flutterwave and TeamAPT (formed by a former Interswitch alum) have already entered some of Interswitch’s product territory. If a public listing led Interswitch to ramp up investing in (or even acquiring) startups, the net effect would be more capital and exits in Africa’s fintech sector.

And finally, if Interswitch does IPO on the London and Lagos stock exchanges, it could provide another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia. This spring the e-commerce company became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE.

So far, Jumia’s IPO has been an up and down affair. The company gained investor and analyst confidence out of the gate, but also came under a short-sell assault and share-price volatility.

Two successful global IPOs of tech companies from Africa would and could become the best-case scenario for the continent’s startup scene. But for that to be a possibility, Interswitch will have to confirm the speculation and finally list as a publicly traded fintech firm.

 


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Y Combinator graduate PredictLeads helps VCs hunt for unicorns – gpgmail


The Slovenian founders behind PredictLeads, another recent Y Combinator graduate, applied to the prestigious accelerator five times before they were admitted.

Their business, which helps venture capital firms and sales teams identify high growth companies, i.e. potential investments and potential customers, had come a long way since it was founded in 2016. And earlier this year — finally — YC gave them the green light to complete its three-month accelerator program.

“We almost ran out of money in 2017 and then I took a loan from my mother because that bank wouldn’t give me the loan at that point,” PredictLeads chief executive officer Roq Xever tells gpgmail. “But by then, the data was getting much better and we were able to make higher-value sells and that got us to profitability.”

You read that right. Unlike most of today’s tech startups, PredictLeads is profitable, though, only out of pure necessity: “We didn’t know we would ever get into YC to raise the money we needed, so we structured the company to make more money than we spent.”

Xever leads the small PredictLeads team alongside marketing chief Miha Stanovnik and chief technology officer Matic Perovsek. Xever tells gpgmail it wasn’t until they realized the opportunity to sell their product to VCs that YC became interested. Today, PredictLeads has eight venture firms as customers, the names of which they were not able to disclose.

The tool helps investors track companies they’ve considered in the past. PredictLeads notifies users if certain companies start getting traction so they can reevaluate the deal and helps investors become aware of startups they may not have otherwise heard of.

More and more venture capital firms are turning to third-party tools to help them make sense of and leverage data in the investment and company-tracking process, leading to the birth of new data-focused companies. Social Capital co-founder Chamath Palihapitiya is spinning out a company from his venture capital fund-turned-family-office, gpgmail learned earlier this year. The new entity, temporarily dubbed CaaS (short for capital-as-a-service) Technologies, will focus on providing data-driven insights to VC firms, for example.

Startups have also realized the importance of data. Narrator, another recent YC graduate, is betting big on this trend. The startup wants to become the operating system for data science by providing companies software that claims to fulfill the same service as a data team for the price of an analyst.

PredictLeads, for its part, collects data from websites, press releases, news articles, blogs and career sites, then uses supervised machine learning to extract and structure the data. The startup tracks 20 million public and private companies.

Now that it’s a graduate of YC, the team is in the process of moving its headquarters to the U.S. Either New York or San Francisco, says Xever, who’s currently navigating the difficult visa application process.

The startup is today raising a $1.5 million seed financing at a $10 million valuation. They plan to use the capital to expand their service to cater to quant funds, build a Salesforce app to better support sales teams, and, of course, expand their small team.


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Birth control delivery startup Nurx approaches $300M valuation – gpgmail


Nurx, citing 200,000 current patients and a monthly growth rate as high as 20%, has raised $32 million in Series C equity funding in a round co-led by existing investors Kleiner Perkins and Union Square Ventures. The company has also secured $20 million in debt, bringing total new capital to $52 million.

The San Francisco-based digital health startup, which seeks to make birth control more accessible and affordable by shipping it direct to consumer, has raised more than $90 million in debt and equity funding to date, with the latest infusion bringing its valuation to nearly $300 million, according to stock authorization filings uncovered by PitchBook. Nurx declined to comment on its valuation.

The goal, Nurx chief executive officer Varsha Rao explains, is to become a telehealth platform focused on all sensitive health needs.

“We see there is a need to help people that may have issues that often carry stigma and judgment by providing a streamlined platform,” Rao tells gpgmail. “What the company is doing in terms of providing more accessibility form a physical and economic perspective to critical health services is very inspiring for me.”

The fresh bout of funding comes four months after a scathing New York Times report highlighted irresponsible practices at the company, including reshipping returned medications and attempting to revise medical policy on birth control for women over the age of 35.

Nurx’s Rao, who joined from Clover Health just one week before the article was published, says she feels good about how the company has scaled: “I want to make it clear, patient safety was never at risk even then; having said that, we are super committed to always investing in compliance and patient safety and all of the things that are important.”

The business plans to use the funding to double its engineering team and launch additional “sensitive” healthcare services of which Rao declined to further outline. In addition to shipping birth control D2C, including the pill, shot, ring and patch, Nurx provides emergency contraception, STI and HPV testing and screening kits, and PrEP medication, the once-daily pill that reduces the risk of getting HIV.

The company added STI testing kits to its line up last month and has since performed tests for 1,000 patients, Nurx says.

Nurx’s service is currently live in 26 states and Washington, D.C. The company plans to be accessible to 90% of the U.S. population by the end of the year, with additional launches, including the state of Nebraska, expected this month.

A graduate of Y Combinator, Nurx investors also include Reproductive Health Investors Alliance, Dreamers VC, Lowercase Capital and debt & equity provider Triple Point Capital.


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Through a new partnership and $72 million in funding, LanzaTech expands its carbon capture tech – gpgmail


For nearly fifteen years LanzaTech has been developing a carbon capture technology that can turn waste streams into ethanol that can be used for chemicals and fuel.

Now, with $72 million in fresh funding at a nearly $1 billion valuation and a newly inked partnership with biotechnology giant, Novo Holdings, the company is looking to expand its suite of products beyond ethanol manufacturing, thanks, in part, to the intellectual property held by Novozymes (a Novo Holdings subsidiary).

“We are learning how to modify our organisms so they can make things other than ethanol directly,” said LanzaTech chief executive officer, Jennifer Holmgren.

From its headquarters in Skokie, Ill., where LanzaTech relocated in 2014 from New Zealand, the biotechnology company has been plotting ways to reduce carbon emissions and create a more circular manufacturing system. That’s one where waste gases and solid waste sources that were previously considered to be un-recyclable are converted into chemicals by LanzaTech’s genetically modified microbes.

The company already has a commercial manufacturing facility in China, attached to a steel plant operated by the Shougang Group, which produces 16 million gallons of ethanol per-year. LanzaTech’s technology pipes the waste gas into a fermenter, which is filled with genetically modified yeast that uses the carbon dioxide to produce ethanol. Another plant, using a similar technology is under construction in Europe.

Through a partnership with Indian Oil, LanzaTech is working on a third waste gas to ethanol using a different waste gas taken from a Hydrogen plant.

The company has also inked early deals with airlines like Virgin in the UK and ANA in Japan to make an ethanol-based jet fuel for commercial flight. And a third application of the technology is being explored in Japan which takes previously un-recyclable waste streams from consumer products and converts that into ethanol and polyethylene that can be used to make bio-plastics or bio-based nylon fabrics.

Through the partnership with Novo Holdings, LanzaTech will be able to use the company’s technology to expand its work into other chemicals, according to chief executive Jennifer Holmgren. “We are making product to sell into that [chemicals market] right now. We are taking ethanol and making products out of it. Taking ethylene and we will make polyethylene and we will make PET to substitute for fiber.”

Holmgren said that LanzaTech’s operations were currently reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.

“LanzaTech is addressing our collective need for sustainable fuels and materials, enabling industrial players to be part of building a truly circular economy,” said Anders Bendsen Spohr, Senior Director at Novo Holdings, in a statement. “Novo Holdings’ investment underlines our commitment to supporting the bio-industrials sector and, in particular, companies that are developing cutting-edge technology platforms. We are excited to work with the LanzaTech team and look forward to supporting the company in its next phase of growth.”

Holmgren said that the push into new chemicals by LanzaTech is symbolic of a resurgence of industrial biotechnology as one of the critical pathways to reducing carbon emissions and setting industry on a more sustainable production pathway.

“Industrial biotechnology ca unlock the utility of a lot of waste carbon emissions. ” said Holmgren. “[Municipal solid waste] is an urban oil field. And we are working to find new sources of sustainable carbon.”

LanzaTech isn’t alone in its quest to create sustainable pathways for chemical manufacturing. Solugen, an upstart biotechnology company out of Houston, is looking to commercialize the bio-production of hydrogen peroxide. It’s another chemical that’s at the heart of modern industrial processes — and is incredibly hazardous to make using traditional methods.

As the world warms, and carbon emissions continue to rise, it’s important that both companies find pathways to commercial success, according to Holmgren.

“It’s going to get much much worse if we don’t do anything,” she said.


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