Nigerian online-only bank startup Kuda raises $1.6M – gpgmail


Nigerian fintech startup Kuda — a digital-only retail bank — has raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding.

The Lagos and London-based company recently launched the beta version of its online mobile finance platform. Kuda also received its banking license from the Nigerian Central Bank, giving it a distinction compared to other fintech startups.

“Kuda is the first digital-only bank in Nigeria with a standalone license. We’re not a mobile wallet or simply a mobile app piggybacking on an existing bank,” Kuda bank founder Babs Ogundeyi told gpgmail.

“We have built our own full-stack banking software from scratch. We can also take deposits and connect directly to the switch,” Ogundeyi added, referring to the Nigeria’s Central Switch — a SWIFT-like system that facilitates bank communication and settlements.

A representative for the Central Bank of Nigeria (speaking on background) confirmed Kuda’s banking license and status, telling gpgmail, “As far as I’m aware there is no other digital bank [in Nigeria] that has a micro-finance license.”

 

Kuda offers checking accounts with no monthly-fees, a free debit card, and plans to offer consumer savings and P2P payments options on its platform in coming months.

“You can open a bank account within five minutes, do all the KYC in the app, and you get issued a new bank account number,” according to Ogundeyi. Kuda bank Founder CEO Babs OgundeyiOgundeyi — a repeat founder who exited classifieds site Motortradertrader.ng and worked in a finance advisory role to the Nigerian government — co-founded Kuda in 2018 with former Stanbic Bank software developer Musty Mustapha.

The two convinced investor Haresh Aswani to lead the $1.6 million pre-seed funding, along with Ragnar Meitern and other angel investors. Aswani confirmed his investment to gpgmail and that he will take a position on Kuda’s board.

Kuda plans to use its seed funds to go from beta to live launch in Nigeria by fourth-quarter 2019. The startup will also build out the tech of its banking platform, including support for its developer team located in Lagos and Cape Town, according to Ogundeyi.

Kuda also intends to expand in the near future. “It’s Nigeria for right now, but the plan is build a Pan-African digital-only bank,” he said.

As of 2014, Nigeria has held the dual distinction as Africa’s largest economy and most populous country (with 190 million people).

To scale there, and add some physical infrastructure to its online model, Kuda has correspondent relationships with three of Nigeria’s largest financial institutions: GTBank, Access Bank and Zenith Bank.

He clarified the banks are partners and not investors. Kuda customers can use these banks’ branches and ATMs to put money into bank accounts or withdraw funds without a fee.

“Even though we don’t own a single branch, we actually have the largest branch network in the country,” Ogundeyi claimed.

Kuda’s plans to generate revenues focus largely around leveraging its bank balances. “We plan to match different liability classes to the different asset classes that we create. That’s how we make money, that’s how we get efficiency in terms of income,” Ogundeyi said.

In Nigeria, Kuda enters a potentially revenue-rich market, but its one that already hosts a crowded fintech field — as the country becomes ground zero for payments startups and tech investment in Africa.

Briter Bridges Lagos Nigeria Fintech MapIn both raw and per capita numbers, Nigeria has been slower to convert to digital payments than leading African countries, such as Kenya, according to joint McKinsey Company and Gates Foundation analysis done several years ago. The same study estimated there could be nearly $1.3 billion in revenue up for grabs if Nigeria could reach the same digital-payments penetration as Kenya.

A number of startups — established and new — are going after that prize in the West African country — several with a strategy to scale in Nigeria first before expanding outward on the continent and globally.

San Francisco-based, no-fee payment venture Chipper Cash entered Nigeria this month.

Series B-stage Nigerian payments company Paga raised $10 million in 2018 to further grow its customer base (that now tallies 13 million) and expand to Asia and Latin America.

Kuda CEO Babs Ogundeyi believes the startup can scale and compete in Nigeria on a number of factors, one being financial safety. He names the company’s official bank status and the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation security that brings as something that can attract cash-comfortable bank clients to digital finance.

Ogundeyi also points to offerings and price.”We look to be the next generation bank where you can do everything— savings, payments and transfers — and also the one that’s least expensive,” he said.

 


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SoftBank mints QuintoAndar a new unicorn in Latin American real estate tech – gpgmail


QuintoAndar, the Brazilian real estate technology developer, has secured a massive $250 million Series D led by SoftBank, as the Japanese conglomerate continues to deploy its $5 billion commitment to the Latin American region. The round is the latest sign that startups in Latin America can get money if they’re developing technologies in specific areas that are massive painpoints for the geography’s nascent middle class.

QuintoAndar invented a marketplace that lets users search, book, rent and advertise rental properties in Brazil. The site manages listings and visits, transaction processing between tenants and landlords, and houses the digital contracts that bind these agreements together. QuintoAndar also developed a credit analysis system that negates the need for co-signers, deposits and rental insurance – barriers that have historically blocked deal flow in this industry.

Co-founder and CEO Gabriel Braga says QuintoAndar has now entered unicorn territory thanks to the SoftBank-led round. Dragoneer also participated, as well as return investors General Atlantic and Kaszek (which recently announced a fresh $600 million fund of its own). 

QuintoAndar, which literally translates from Portuguese to English as “fifth floor,” is an example of a Brazilian startup solving Brazilian problems. Those seeking long-term rentals in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are throttled by bureaucratic policies that enforce expensive deposits, co-signer requirements and skyscraper-high insurance fees. On the supply side, amateur landlords are tunnel visioned on making money from transactions, creating a terrible customer service experience for tenants, along with wasted hours of apartment hunting. QuintoAndar is billing itself as a modernized fix that lets users search, book, rent and advertise rental properties in Brazil. 

The startup, which has grown into a 1,000 person São Paulo-based operation has now amassed a total of $345 million to date, including a $64 million Series C led by General Atlantic that closed just nine months ago. Braga declined to confirm the exact valuation of QuintoAndar, but says that it has crossed the threshold of billion dollar status. The company was founded in 2013. 

Why is this long term rentals startup accumulating so much capital? Brazilians are seeing home ownership as less of a long-term goal and are opting to rent, meaning more money in the bank and freedom to relocate. This, the founder believes, creates a big opportunity to make renting more efficient in a country where 62% of Brazilians are aged 29 or under, according to this review. Brazil’s population of 211,000,000 people has proven a hungry enough market for a startup like QuintoAndar to turn profitable, and to attract foreign investors like SoftBank. Co-founders André Penha and Braga were able to leverage these massive foreign investment checks to create a specific product to help generate liquidity for users in its home market. 

Braga says the company doesn’t measure success by volume of users or its newly minted unicorn status, but by number of property visits carried out on QuintoAndar. The company is projecting over 2 million visits scheduled through its platform in 2019, and is seeing 4,500 contracts signed per month. The CEO attributes QuintoAndar’s popularity to its ease of use, and the fact that the renting service is generating liquidity for brokers and sellers in the Brazilian long term rentals market. 

With the new funding, Braga intends to strengthen QuintoAndar’s userbase by acquiring new customers in more cities across Brazil. The company also intends to attract new talent and build out broker partnerships. In the long term, QuintoAndar envisions launching more financial products for its customers, and eventually using its suite of data to make recommendations for services like home renovations. 

QuintoAndar now joins Nubank, Loggi, Gympass and Stone in the growing club of billion dollar Brazilian tech companies, but its founder is more interested in keeping the momentum going than celebrating entrance into the Latin American unicorn club. “I’m more focused on the long term mission that we have, and not overly excited about being a unicorn. Tomorrow’s another day, we have to keep working,” says Braga. 


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Flat, a Mexican property tech startup, raises $4.6M pre-seed led by ALLVP – gpgmail


Flat has raised one of Mexico’s largest pre-seed rounds to take the Opendoor real estate marketplace model across the Rio Grande. 

The company snagged a $4.5 million pre-seed round to expand its business helping homeowners quickly sell their properties in Mexico. The round was led by ALLVP, an active early stage fund in Mexico. California-based Liquid 2 Ventures (for which Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Montana is a GP), NextBillion and a few angels supported the round as well. 

At the time of writing, Flat’s raise is the largest pre-seed funding round for a Mexican startup aside from the scooter company Grin, which was backed by Y Combinator and later went on to raise a $45M Series A and consolidate with Brazil’s bike sharing startup, Yellow. 

While this ‘i-buying’ business model was initially pioneered by Opendoor in the US, the same need to efficiently sell property exists for consumers in other growing markets around the world. That’s why co-founders Victor Noguera and Bernardo Cordero founded Flat. 

Bucking a trend that has seen many new Latin American founders hailing from Stanford University, Cordero and Noguera met at the University of California, Berkeley — just across the Bay.

The founders estimate the total value of the 40M homes in Mexico to be a $1.6 trillion total addressable market. They equate the value of homes sold per year to $25 billion. Let’s not forget the elephant in the room – SoftBank is undoubtedly eyeing Mexico with its $5 billion LatAm commitment. 

Flat says it’s solving a few problems in the local home-buying market in Mexico. Firstly, anyone interested in selling their property lacks information about how much there home is actually worth. In the U.S., sellers can reference Zillow – but no such centralized database of real estate pricing information for the market of Mexico exists. 

Then there’s the operational piece of transferring ownership of the property, which Flat says can take up to eight months and a notarized process – making the overall experience incredibly illiquid. 

Flat’s actual product is a marketplace focused on helping the seller sell quickly. Flat visits your home, takes measurements, documents how many bath and bedrooms exist in the property, and determines how much your home is worth. From there, they manage renovations and transfer ownership of the property. The seller is paid within 72 hours. 

International expansion has been difficult for many startups operating in Latin America as every country has its own regulatory barriers. That’s why when it comes to growth, Flat says it’s more focused on growing out their product within other verticals of property management to only serve a Mexican market, rather than expand to other Spanish-language countries in the LatAm region.


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SF based African fintech startup Chipper Cash expands to Nigeria – gpgmail


The African no-fee, cross-border payment startup Chipper Cash has expanded to Nigeria.

The San Francisco based startup, with offices in Ghana and Kenya, will offer its P2P payment service and app in Africa’s most populous nation in partnership with PayStack—the payment gateway company. Paystack CEO Shola Akinlade confirmed the collaboration.

Chipper Cash will establishe a company presence in Lagos and has hired a country manager, Abiodun Animashaun, co-founder of Lagos-based ride-hail startup Gokada.

Animashaun is one of two senior figures departing African tech ventures to join Chipper Cash. Alicia Levine will leave Nairobi based internet hardware and service startup BRCK to become Chipper Cash’s Chief Operating Officer, according to Chipper Cash CEO Ham Serunjogi.

The startup went live in October 2018, joining a field of fintech startups aiming to scale digital finance applications across Africa’s billion-plus population.

Chipper Cash was co-founded by Serunjogi (from Uganda) and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled, both of whom emigrated to the U.S. to study and work in Silicon Valley.

The fintech company now has more than 70,000 active users and has processed 250,000 active transitions on its no-fee, P2P, cross-border mobile-money payments product.

The startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based C2B mobile payments product that supports its no-fee mobile money business.

Chipper Checkout will make its debut in Nigeria several months after Chipper Cash’s mobile payments launch, according to Serunjogi.

The imperative to move to Nigeria was pretty straight-forward. “Nigeria is the largest economy and most populous country in Africa. Its fintech industry is one of the most advanced in Africa, up there with Kenya and South Africa,” he said.

“I think for any company doing fintech across borders, that is looking to be successful in Africa, it’s imperative that you have a presence in Nigeria.”

For some fintech startups, such as Chipper Cash, locating in Nigeria is not just strategic for expanding in Africa, but also to serve international ambitions.

Chipper Cash was recently profiled in an ExtraCrunch feature as one of three African fintech startups — with goals to scale globally — that has co-located in San Francisco with operations in Africa. The play is to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, and the frontier of digital finance.

Toward that end, Chipper Cash raised a $2.4 million seed round led by Deciens Capital this May.

The payments company also persuaded 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to join the round.

Per stats offered by Briter Bridges and a 2018 WeeTracker survey, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital and deal-flow to African startups.

A number of estimates show the continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

In addition to creating greater financial inclusion on the continent, African fintech products and solutions have also found traction internationally. Safaricom (M-Pesa), Flutterwave, Paystack, Paga, Mines, and Chipper Cash are among companies that offer or plan to offer their products in regions such as Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Accion Venture Lab launches $23M inclusive fintech startup fund – gpgmail


Accion Venture Lab—the seed-stage investment arm of non-profit Accion—has raised $23 million for a new inclusive fintech startup fund.

The Accion Venture Lab Limited Partnership, as its called, will make seed-stage investments in inclusive fintech startups, defined as ventures that “that leverage technology to increase the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the under-served at scale,” per a company release.

The new fund was raised with capital contributions from a number of participants, including the Ford Foundation, Visa Inc. and Proparco—the development finance institution of the French government.

The additional $23 million brings Accion Venture Lab‘s total capital under management to $42 million.

The new LP fund will consider startups from any geography, as along as they meet specific criteria. Overall, Accion Venture Lab doesn’t have regional investment quotas, but does look to allocate roughly 25 to 30 percent of its funds to Africa, Accion Venture Lab Managing Director Tahira Dosani told gpgmail on a call.

“We want to continue to focus on Latin-America, on Sub-Saharan Africa, on Southeast Asia as well as in the U.S. It really is about…where we see the need and the opportunity across the markets that we’re in,” she said.

In line with Accion’s mandate to boost financial inclusion globally, Accion Venture Lab already has a portfolio of 36 fintech startup investments across 5 continents—including 9 in the U.S., 8 in Latin America, and 8 in India.

“Our goal is to really be the that first institutional investor in the companies we invest in. That’s were we see the biggest capital gap. And it’s where we build capability and expertise,” Dosani said. In 2018, Accion Venture Lab successfully exited Indian fintech company Aye Finance, following exits in 2017 and 2016.

This year Accion Venture Lab supported a $6.5 million Series A investment in Lulalend, a South African startup that uses internal credit metrics to provide short-term loans to SMEs that are often unable to obtain working capital.

Accion’s new LP fund will follow past practice and make investments typically in the $500,000 range. It will start sourcing startups immediately through its investment leads around the world and already made its first seed financing to U.S. venture Joust—a fintech platform for gig economy workers.

Accion Venture Lab’s LP fund is the first time the organization has pooled third-party investment capital, according to a spokesperson.

On the appeal for those contributing, Dosani named Accion’s geographic reach and experience. “We think that’s our strength, because we’re able to invest in similar business models across different markets. And we’re able to bring that knowledge from one market to another,” she said.

The Ford Foundation contributed $2 million, according to an email from Christine Looney, Deputy Director, Mission Investments. Visa didn’t disclose its capital contribution, but told gpgmail it will play a role in governance through its participation in a Limited Partners Advisory Committee for the new fund.

As a point of observation, Accion Venture Lab stands out as a fund for giving an equal pitch footing to fintech ventures across frontier, emerging, and developed markets from Lagos to London.

Accion’s new LP fund—along with the organization’s commitment to make nearly a third of its investments in Africa—means more capital to digital finance startups on the continent. By a number of estimates, Africa’s 1.2 billion people still represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population.

 

 

 


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What is Andela, the Africa tech talent accelerator? – gpgmail


As someone who covers Africa’s tech scene, I’m frequently asked about Andela. That’s not surprising, given the venture gets more global press (arguably) than any startup in Africa.

I’ve found many Silicon Valley investors have heard of Andela but aren’t exactly sure what it does.

In a bite, Andela is Series D stage startup―backed by $180 million in VC―that trains and connects African software developers to global companies for a fee.

The revenue-focused venture is often misread as a charity. In 2017, Andela CEO Jeremy Johnson described the organization as “a mission-driven for-profit company” ― a model for the concept “that you can actually build businesses that create real impact.”

I asked Johnson recently to clarify the objective behind Andela’s drive. “It’s the exact same mission as when we started, based around our founding principle… that brilliance and talent are distributed equally around the world, but opportunity is not,” he said.

“We’re about breaking down the walls that prevent brilliance and opportunity from connecting to each other.”

A major barrier for Africa’s software engineers, according to Johnson, is simply the fact that the continent has been totally off the network that companies look to for developer talent.


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Urbvan raises $9 million for its private shuttle service in Mexico – gpgmail


As cities in emerging markets grapple with increasingly traffic-clogged and dangerous streets, Urbvan, a startup providing private, high-end transportation shuttles in Mexico, has raised $9 million in a new round of financing.

Co-founded by Joao Matos Albino and Renato Picard, Urbvan is taking the reins from startups like the now-defunct Chariot and tailoring the business for the needs of emerging market ecosystems.

Hailing from Portugal, Albino arrived in Mexico City as a hire for the Rocket Internet startup Linio. Although Linio didn’t last, Albino stayed on in Mexico eventually landing a job working for the startup Mercadoni, which is where he met Picard.

The two men saw the initial success of Chariot as it launched from Y Combinator, but were also tracking companies like the Indian startup Shuttl.

“We wanted to make shared mobility more accessible and a little bit more efficient,” says Albino. “We studied the economics and we studied the market and we knew there was a huge urgency in the congested cities of  Latin America.”

Unlike the U.S. — and especially major cities like San Francisco and New York — where public transportation is viewed as relatively safe and efficient, the urban environment of Mexico City is seen as not safe by the white collar workers that comprise Urbvan’s principle clientele.

The company started operating back in 2016. At the time it had five vans that it leased and retrofitted to include amenities like wi-fi and plenty of space for a limited number of passengers. Since those early days the company has expanded significantly. It now claims over 15,000 monthly users and a fleet of 180 vans.

Urbvan optimized for safety as well as comfort, according to Albino. The company has deals with WeWork, Walmart and other retailers in Mexico City so that all . of the stops on t he route are protected and safe. The company also vets its drivers and provides them with additional training because of the expanded capacity of the vans.

Each van is also equipped with a panic button and cameras inside and outside of the van for additional monitoring.

Customers either pay $3 per ticket or sign up for a monthly pass that ranges from $100 to $130.

Financing for the company came from Kaszek Ventures and Angel Ventures with previous investor Mountain Nazca also participating.

For Albino, who went to India to observe Shuttl’s operations, the global market for these kinds of services is so large that there will be many winners in each geography.

“Each city is different and you need to adapt. The technology needs to be adaptable to the city’s concerns . and where it can . add more value,” says Albino. “The Indian market is super different from Latin America.. It’s a huge market with a lot of congestion… But the value proposition is a bit more basic [for Shuttl].”

Urbvan is currently operating in Mexico City and Monterrey, but has plans to expand into Guadalajara later this year.


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Kaszek Ventures raises $600 million in two funds as Latin America’s startup market booms – gpgmail


Kaszek Ventures, the investment firm that has been one of the primary architects of the recent boom in startup financing and growth in Latin America, has just raised $600 million across two new funds.

The new commitments (raised in roughly two months) put Kaszek’s total capital under management at roughly $1 billion, making the firm the first local early stage investor to hit that milestone.

In the eight years since Hernan Kazah and Nicolas Szekasy launched Kaszek Ventures in 2011 the startup ecosystem in Latin America has experienced a renaissance, with investments in the region surging to nearly $2 billion in 2018.

Much of that growth has come on the back of Kaszek portfolio companies like Gympass, the provider of corporate-sponsored gym memberships and perks; Konfio, the Mexican small business lending platform; Nubank, the Brazilian consumer credit company now worth roughly $10 billion; and Loggi, the Latin American logistics company with the billion-dollar valuation.

For Kazah and Szekasy, the growth of their nearly eponymous venture fund marks a successful reinvention of two of the most prominent executives of Latin America’s most highly valued tech startup, MercadoLibre.

The former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the region’s leading e-commerce marketplace, initially launched their firm to see if they could replicate their success as entrepreneurs from the other side of the table and bring the expertise and wisdom they’d amassed from their time running what is now a $29.2 billion dollar company (by market capitalization).

“We thought we could identify many more MercadoLibres and identify teams that were outstanding and would have a very ambitious vision in a very large market,” says Szekasy. “I thought I could have more impact if I moved and started working on the investing side.”

The first fund was a relatively modest $95 million investment vehicle, but one of its first investments would go on to show the potential for outsized returns that existed in the Latin American market. That company would be Nubank, and Kaszek was among the first money into the company (alongside Sequoia Capital) when it was little more than a pitch deck and an entrepreneur — David Velez.

“They had very relevant experience in scaling a tech company to multiple countries in the region,” says Velez of the decision to take cash from Kaszek. In the early days, the firms partners were involved in all stages of the company’s growth, helping recruit talent like country managers in different regions, to localizing the pitch for different countries. “They were very active also and continue to be very active around marketing and product. They helped us develop our first website and craft our pitch to consumers and eventually develop a lot of the digital marketing muscle,” Velez says. 

The local knowledge that Kaszek provided was a great compliment to the global perspective that Sequoia brought to the table, says Velez.

For Matias Muchnick, a co-founder and chief executive of NotCo, the experience of Kaszek’s founders and the breadth of their network provided incalculable help as the company expanded beyond Chile to Latin America more broadly — and as it was fundraising.

From a Kaszek-sponsored retreat at Stanford University, Muchnick was introduced to a professor who became an advisor to the company. The professor then put Muchnick in touch with Bezos Expeditions through a connection and the firm wound up investing.

Nubank may have been the firm’s first success story to come from its portfolio, but Kaszek would notch multiple other wins from its later funds.

Standouts from the firm’s $200 million third investment vehicle include the The Not Co, a new food company working on a range of products from vegetarian ice cream and mayonnaise to replacement meat patties. That company managed to attract the attention of Jeff Bezos and his Bezos Expeditions investment fund. Two other standouts in Mexico are Kavak, a car marketplace and Credijusto, an online lending company which raised $42 million from Goldman Sachs and other investors earlier today. 

Now the firm has added to its firepower with the close of a $375 million main fund and its first “Opportunity Fund” a $225 million investment vehicle that will enable the company to maintain its stakes in later stage companies as they raise increasingly large rounds.

Kazah expects that the firm will invest a bit larger amounts in roughly the same number of companies, with the fund making between 25 and 30 new investments, he said.

And increasingly large rounds are becoming the norm in Latin America just as they’ve done in other rapidly maturing technology ecosystems.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 7.02.31 AM

Chart courtesy of Crunchbase News

That rapid growth has been parlayed into returns that represent an 8x multiple on invested capital for the first Kaszek Ventures fund, a 5x multiple on the second fund, and a 2x return for the firm’s third fund — already, according to a person familiar with the firm. 

“We have been investors in Kaszek Ventures since 2011 and are thrilled to continue this partnership” said Du Chai, Managing Director at Horsley Bridge Partners, in a statement. “Kaszek has been a top performer while building a great platform with talented individuals.”

In part, Kaszek’s success is an extension of broader macroeconomic trends that were bound to transform the region, according to Szekasy.

“We were looking at Silicon Valley and looking at what was happening in China and saw that Latin America was a very large region with a large population and GDP and the right demographics and a fast pace of adoption of new technologies,” says Szekasy.

One of those new technologies that helped speed up the adoption of new technology services across Latin America was the rollout of 4G, says Kazah.

Screen Shot 2019 08 29 at 7.40.18 AM

The mobile internet was always going to be the way that Latin Americans went online, thanks to the penetration of mobile phones across the continent. But high speed internet transformed the types of companies and services that could be on offer, Kazah says.

“In 2011 we had 10% 4G penetration… now more than 90% of the cell phones purchased have been cellphones with 4G access,” according to Kazah. “That really changed the entire ecosystem… companies can aspire to have more sophisticated products… in the last couple of years they started to accelerate their growth.. We finally got to a point where there’s critical mass.”

Not only has the technology improved, but increasing political stability and the rise of a middle class market in countries like Colombia and Mexico mean that there’s more opportunities for new businesses in countries across the continent.

Brazil has always been an economic powerhouse, but now Mexico, Colombia and even countries like Argentina and Chile are showing signs of increasingly vibrant startup ecosystems.

Attention from international investors is also helping to drive the region to new heights. Earlier this year Softbank announced that it would create a new Latin America fund with $5 billion to invest in startup companies. DST and Tiger Global are also active investors in the region.

“One of the reasons Latin America was lagging was that the region was not at a critical mass inflection point technologically, but it was also the lack of capital,” says Kazah. “Softbank on the one hand provides capital but  on the other hand it has opened the eyes of others as well.”

 


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Andrew Ng’s AI companies expand to Medellin, Colombia – gpgmail


After his tenure as Chief Scientist at Baidu, Andrew Ng, the founder of the Google Brain project and former CEO of Coursera, set up a number of different proejcts that all focus on making AI more approachable. These include the education startup Deeplearning.ai, the AI Fund startup studio for building AI companies and Landing.ai, which helps enterprises (and especially manufacturing companies) use AI. Today, Ng announced that he has opened a second office for these projects in Medellin, Colombia.

At first, Medellin may seem like an odd choice. But today’s Medellin is very different from the one you may have seen on Narcos (and a lot safer). It’s home to a number of universities and over the course of the last few years, it’s a hub for Colombia’s startup scene thanks to incubators like Ruta N and others.

Ng told me that he chose Medellin after looking at a wide range of cities in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Medellin, he believes, offers a strong talent pool, educational system and business ecosystem. it also helps that the Colombia government has made tech a focus in recent years.

“I see early signs of momentum for Colombia being a talent magnet both regionally and globally,” he told me. Indeed, the company was able to hire team members from Poland, Bangladesh, Egypt and Chile for its offices in Medellin, which now has just under 50 people. Over the course of the next two years, Ng plans to expand this team to between 150 and 200 employees.

It’s important, Ng argues, that we set up AI hubs outside of Silicon Valley and China, in part, because they’ll provide a different perspective. “We are able to share our AI ecosystem and Silicon Valley know-how with Medellín,” he writes in today’s announcement. “We’re equally thrilled for our Silicon Valley team to be learning from the Medellín community. Local knowledge and innovation shared with a global community is what will catapult the technology forward.”

The teams in Medellin will work on all of Ng’s projects, including four unannounced stealth portfolio companies that are looking into using AI in sectors like healthcare, education and customer support. In total, the teams in Medellin are working on about a dozen projects right now. And that’s very much Ng’s approach to AI — and for Landing.ai in particular: build lots of specialized components for various verticals that can then be generalized. “AI isn’t some piece of SaaS software that everybody can just swipe their credit card and use,” he said.


Andrew Ng will also join us for our first gpgmail Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5 to talk about Landing.ai and the future of AI in general. You can find more information about the event (and buy tickets) here.


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Y Combinator-backed Trella brings transparency to Egypt’s trucking and shipping industry – gpgmail


Y Combinator has become one of the key ways that startups from emerging markets get the attention of American investors. And arguably no clutch of companies has benefitted more from Y Combinator’s attention than startups from emerging markets tackling the the logistics market.

On the heels of the success the accelerator had seen with Flexport, which is now valued at over $1 billion — and the investment in the billion-dollar Latin American on-demand delivery company, Rappi, several startups from the Northern and Southern Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia have gone through the program to get in front of Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms. These are companies like Kobo360, NowPorts, and, most recently, Trella.

The Egyptian company founded by Omar Hagrass, Mohammed el Garem, and Pierre Saad already has 20 shippers using its service and is monitoring and managing the shipment of 1,500 loads per month.

“The best way we would like to think of ourselves is that we would like to bring more transparency to the industry,” says Hagrass.

Like other logistics management services, Trella is trying to consolidate a fragmented industry around its app that provides price transparency and increases efficiency by giving carriers and shippers better price transparency and a way to see how cargo is moving around the country.

If the model sounds similar to what Kobo360 and Lori Systems are trying to do in Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, it’s because Hagrass knows the founders of both companies.

Technology ecosystems in these emerging markets are increasingly connected. For instance, Hagrass worked with Kobo360 founder Obi Ozor at Uber before launching Trella. And through Trella’s existing investors (the company has raised $600,000 in financing from Algebra Ventures) Hagrass was introduced to Josh Sandler the chief executive of Lori Systems.

The three executives often compare notes on their startups and the logistics industry in Northern and Southern Africa, Hagrass says.

While each company has unique challenges, they’re all trying to solve an incredibly difficult problem and one that has huge implications for the broader economies of the countries in which they operate.

For Hagrass, who participated in the Tahrir Square protests, launching Trella was a way to provide help directly to everyday Egyptians without having to worry about the government.

“It’s three times more expensive to transport goods in Egypt than in the U.S.,” says Hagrass. “Through this platform I can do something good for the country.”


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