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OPay, Opera’s payments platform launches OBus in Nigeria

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Opera’s Opay, a payment and financial inclusion startup has launched OBus, a shuttle booking service in Nigeria to take on Swvl, Careem Bus, Little Bus among others according to people familiar with the matter.

The firm is not stopping there, as its teams are staging a massive movement to build as many use cases for the $100m funded payments platform. According to GSMA, while mobile money has taken us a long way in a relatively short time, there is still much to be done to help close the digital divide and bring more people into the financial system; globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked.

The report adds that much work needs to be done to promote greater use of digital financial services to fully unlock the opportunities of financial inclusion. That’s what OPay is doing.

With the first OBuses plying the CMS-Ikeja routes, OBus is OPay next step towards its vision of becoming a super app in Nigeria then spread across Africa. OPay is launching as many use cases for its payments platform as possible and the recent launch of ORide and OTrike and today’s launch of OBus is an indication that this is just a start.

If OPay can get people paying for transport via ORide, OTrike and OBus conveniently, their won’t be a problem retailers adopting OPay. The firm is building a huge digital payments ecosystem where everyone is included. OPay already runs OFood for food ordering and delivery, OList for ads, OKash for loans and several other verticals set to be launched.

Going cashless is not easy in any cash economy anywhere in the world, India tried it and failed because it’s not just about the hard notes themselves, it’s also about use cases and user experiences. In China, beggars can receive money via WeChat Pay as the majority are using WeChat Pay.

OPay aims to help people and ecosystems go cashless by introducing various use cases for goods and services popular with the Nigerian mass. For OBus, OPay is introducing QR-powered OBus Cards, these debit cards can be purchased and topped at OPay agents and then swiped inside the OBuses. Users can also top up the OBus Cards via their OPay wallet, making the user experience as seamless as possible like Kenya’s M-Pesa which allows users to pay for goods and services and buy airtime from inside the wallet.

What OPay is fishing for in its day-to-day board meetings is another use case for its payments platform. It’s not looking to pivot to anything, the firm is simply making sure its the enabler of all micro-payments in the country. OPay is doing this by helping solve the country’s problems one by one. It won’t be a surprise to see OPay launch another platform say for solar power or an education platform because it only makes sense for OPay if it grows a financial service ecosystem around its mobile money platform and bolster its payments as a platform approach to deepen engagement with individuals and businesses.

According to a report by the GSMA, “Central to the success of digital platforms are the number and variety of partnerships they enable, which help to build a diverse and engaged user base. To transition to a payments platform, mobile operators should build on their strengths—wide distribution networks, customer reach and trusted brands—while also capitalising on innovation by incorporating external products and services into their platforms.”

OPay knows that success lies in laying the groundwork for the financial service ecosystem to grow around their service and expanding the range of products available to customers and spurring local entrepreneurialism and innovation. Though APIs are good for OPay to build a payments as a platform model, plug-and-play access to its systems is not what the firm wants because OPay wants control. Unlike Safaricom with its Daraja API and Equity Group with its Jenga API, OPay is launching new business models or verticals over its payments platform and not allowing third-party integrators to build on it. Ownership is key and it’s the future. Apple has been owning its ecosystem for years, and though it delayed moving into verticals such as books, movies and music, but it’s catching up.

Back home in Africa, Safaricom would have built its mobile wallet into an everything platform as its late CEO once wished but its innovation arm was filled with non-hands own corporate executives who loved titles, position, and power rather than getting their hands dirty and building things.

Safaricom had earlier banked on innovation competitions for new ideas, then morphed into a portal called Zindua and an innovation fund dubbed Spark Fund. Spark Fund has funded mostly startups like Sendy, a delivery platform; Ajua or formerly mSurvey an SMS survey platform; Eneza Education, an SMS education platform and backed ride-hailing firm Little and recently BuuPass. Most of these either plugin into Safaricom’s payment service or its SMS services running on its Daraja API.

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Safaricom has also tried so much to remain relevant by attracting the younger generation using its sub-brand Blaze. Blaze is its strategy to remain relevant to the next generation of users selling them airtime and internet. The bigger picture, however, has been lost and little firms across the world are doing what the firm’s Alpha innovation hub could have been doing.

Safaricom Alpha might was a great thing because corporates know that plug and play APIs bring various technical challenges to them and to third-parties. Safaricom Alpha was therefore charged with managing Safaricom’s change to a platform model. Alpha ran too fast to launch Bonga, a supposedly future for M-PESA prematurely. The launch was premature because organizational change takes more than launching apps. It’s politics, it takes various departmental heads to agree with you on the new direction. It takes teams in strategy, governance, legal, customer experience, sales, and almost everyone on board to be a success.

Losing transaction fees to build a new revenue model meant one product team wouldn’t be rendered useless or deemed unproductive. Partnerships, investments and acquisitions might not have been the firm’s end-goal but launching an incubator to build things was bound to bring friction internally against the new and established legacy approach.

But internal friction is always better in the long run than focusing on external partners like Little Cab, Sendy, M-TIBA, BuuPass among others as these also need one-on-one negotiations and integration.

Maybe Safaricom should have spun off M-PESA like Equity did to Finserve. With an independent M-PESA, with its 30 million customers who make more than 10.5 million transactions every day, M-PESA would have built on itself to grow its Songa music streaming service, launch its own cab-hailing and delivery service instead of working with Sendy and Little to and run Masoko eCommerce platform under the M-PESA brand. Then there would be games, jobs, and anything else. There was no need for a new brand such as Bonga, as people would be willingly talking via the M-PESA peer-to-peer payments and messaging app.

Right now, all eyes are on OPay. If it pulls a WeChat Pay-style growth, it’s up to its team though that is not easy.

Opportunities for payment platforms like OPay.

OPay now has the capabilities of API plug-and-play platforms because it’s powering mobile payments for its various verticals. Though minus the intensity of a telco or mobile money provider like Safaricom, OPay has some play in the data-sharing ecosystem and is able to use its data to build more products and services to its customers who order food, rides, buses, pay for utilities, internet among others with high accuracy rates. Data is important for any companies of the future because data tells what else OPay should launch on its payments platform. OPay is steadily getting user data which is an asset for insurance services, credit scoring providers, city planning, banks, politicians, schools and even security agencies among others.


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WhereIsMyTransport raises $7.5m from Google & Toyota for expansion

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WhereIsMyTransport, a UK and South African-based mass public transport and data analytics firm has raised $7.5m to extend its global reach, scale its data-collection practice, and develop new technology to translate complex data into useful information for commuters in low- and middle-income cities.

WhereIsMyTransport’s Series A round was led by Liil Ventures, with participation from returning investors Global Innovation Fund and Goodwell Investments, plus new strategic investment from Google, Nedbank, Liil Ventures, and Toyota Tsusho Corporation (TTC).

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to invest in WhereIsMyTransport’s Series A funding,” says Mr. Masato Yamanami, Automotive Division’s CEO of Toyota Tsusho Corporation. “Our division’s global network, that covers 146 countries, is primarily focused on new emerging countries where people rely on informal public transport. Through strategic collaboration with WhereIsMyTransport, we will establish better and more efficient mobility services that help to resolve social challenges and contribute to the overall economic development of nations, primarily emerging nations.”

Founded in 2015, the startup has more than 750,000 km of routes in 39 cities, collecting more mobility data in emerging markets than any other organisation. The company’s integrated mobility hub translates formal and informal public transport data into information for citizens, governments, and third parties. 

The platform is mapping the emerging world’s public transport networks, to become the de facto source of information for governments and service providers to improve transport services for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. 

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The startup first began its work in Africa, before expanding into India, Southeast Asia, and Latin America in 2018 to address mobility, a fundamental driver of social, political, and economic growth.

The absence of information about these services makes them unreliable and unpredictable. WhereIsMyTransport is on a mission to change that, using data and technology to develop solutions to this problem so that everyone in these markets has the basic freedom of movement they need to be able to improve their circumstances.

Janade Du Plessis, Head of Alternative Investments and Venture Capital at Nedbank added: “Nedbank CIB is at the forefront of investing in disruptive technologies that are able to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives – including smart city initiatives that leverages Nedbank’s strategy of financing our infrastructure, transport and logistics clients. Our investment will support the company’s expansion into key African regions, and we will use our network and our influence on the continent to unlock new corporate partnerships.“ 


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Microsoft for Start-ups initiative to empower 14 Kenyan social enterprises

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Microsoft, through its Microsoft for Start-ups initiative, today announced the launch of its Global Social Entrepreneurship programme at a plenary session of the Sankalp Africa Summit 2020. 

Microsoft’s Global Social Entrepreneurship programme has benefits aimed at elevating start-ups addressing an important social and environmental challenge through their products, services or operations. As a platform for innovation, entrepreneurship and impact investing, the Sankalp Forum was the ideal place for Microsoft, a strategic partner of the forum, to make this important announcement. 

“Solving global social and environmental challenges requires synergy of the right technology, partners, conducive environment and technology. When start-ups work together with investors, enterprises, governments, non-profits and communities, we are able to unlock new potentials,” said Microsoft4Afrika Director Amrote Abdella at the launch of the programme. 

This global initiative is designed to help social enterprise start-ups build and scale their companies to do good globally. Microsoft believes in providing the foundational building blocks to help social entrepreneurs create companies that can achieve worldwide impact. Social enterprises that become part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme will receive access to free Microsoft cloud technologies, including up to $120,000 in Azure credits, along with technical support and guidance. 

Microsoft is deeply inspired by the commitment of these social entrepreneurs, who are focusing their passion for positive change on improving human health and the environment, advancing social and economic equity, and much more.

Social impact startups from around the world are welcome to apply. The criteria to qualify for the programme includes a business metric that measures impact on an important social or environmental challenge; an established product or service that will benefit from access to enterprise customers; and a commitment to the ethical and responsible use of AI. Qualified startups will be eligible for grants in the areas of sustainability, accessibility, skills and employability. 

A dedicated programme manager will help Global Social Entrepreneurship start-ups market and sell solutions and connect to large commercial organisations and nongovernmental organisations that are potential customers. Participants focused on sustainability, accessibility, and skills and employability will also be eligible for grants. Furthermore, the social enterprises that join the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme will be part of a worldwide community of like-minded innovators who come together to share ideas, foster connections and celebrate success. 

The programme is available in 140 countries and will actively seek to support underrepresented founders with diverse perspectives and backgrounds. 

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Microsoft has been intentional in its development of partnerships in the agri-tech space that have a shared theme of building locally relevant technology solutions that support social good. Through the 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft has collaborated with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to co-create technology solutions in Africa. The partnership explores the uses of big data and AI in enabling data-driven, precision farming that increases farm productivity and profitability, and supports AGRA’s digital transformation as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries by 2021. 

The partnership is demonstrative of Microsoft’s ongoing investment in agri-tech across the continent, and stands alongside investments such as Microsoft4Afrika’s support of the World Bank’s 1 Million Farmers Platform.

As part of the partnership, 4Afrika is supporting 14 Kenyan social entrepreneurs selected to join the platform, who are developing technology solutions that promote access to financial services and markets for farmers. Microsoft has also partnered and supported other social entrepreneurs in agri-tech like Twiga Foods, a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform that links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities, and SunCulture, which has a solar-based system that offers farmers personalised recommendations and solutions through their mobile phones. 

Shujaaz Inc is one of the most innovative socially-oriented communications research and media production companies on the African continent. The company is turning Kenyan youth into field researchers, tapping into unique social trend data. Their youth platform leverages their 3,000+ youth network, empowering them to run research on their behalf. The support from Microsoft4Afrika has enabled Shujaaz to do this on a large scale, providing a quick and easy tool that facilitates easy data collection from across Kenya. 

“Social entrepreneurship has to be the future for a sustainable world: it’s only when we align the interests of business and society that we can all thrive and grow. With the launch of the Global Social Entrepreneurship programme it’s wonderful to see Microsoft once again showing leadership and demonstrating the values we believe in. Shujaaz Inc is proud to be working with Microsoft to build a better future for young people in Africa,” says Rob Burnet, CEO of Shujaaz Inc.

Upepo Technology is a Kenyan technology firm that develops IoT (Internet of Things) solutions for the country’s water sector. The company partners with utilities to deploy smart water metering devices that provide real-time monitoring of water infrastructure, moving towards a more holistic view of water consumption in Kenya, with the ultimate goal of providing access to water for people across the country. 

Upepo’s solution secured the company a Microsoft AI for Earth grant in April 2019, which provides access to cloud and AI tools, as well as opportunities for education and training on AI and investments in innovative, scalable solutions.


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11 African Start-ups To Participate To X-Africa Forum

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11 African Start-ups have been selected to participate in the X-Africa Forum organized by École Polytechnique, France’s top science and engineering school, also known as L’X.

The X-Africa Forum is dedicated to African entrepreneurship and aims to increase the visibility of the participating startups and to attract more investors as well as to raise awareness about the untapped potential of the continent for economic growth.

Every year, about a hundred start-ups from the African continent submitted their applications to participate in the Forum. Among them, 15 start-ups on average are selected each year. This year, 11 high-potential ones have been invited. Please find the list below:

  • Neofarmertech (Senegal)
  • MUSA CS (Togo)
  • KALTANI (Nigeria)
  • NUMERIC ART (Benin)
  • Bongalo (Rwanda)
  • OPTIMIZE AFRIKA SARL (Ivory Coast)
  • Baobab+ (France, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Madagascar)
  • African Food (Côte d’Ivoire)
  • Relika (Togo)
  • Bedoo (Ivory Coast)
  • Afriwomen Connect Consultancy (Kenya)

More than 2,000 people are expected to attend (students, alumni, young entrepreneurs, industrial decision-makers, journalists, etc). On the program for this 2020 edition:

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  • Workshops on Artificial Intelligence, Banking in Africa: challenges and opportunities, innovation in energies;
  • two round tables (African digital transition & which investment model for Africa?);
  • a conference on Energy in Africa: An Integrated Vision and an Opportunity;
  • a pitching contest for the 11 selected start-ups.

Largely internationalized (40% of its students, 39% of its teaching staff), École polytechnique combines research, teaching and innovation at the highest scientific and technological levels. The school promotes a culture of excellence with a strong emphasis on science, open to a great humanist tradition.

Indeed, its ambition is to welcome more African students, and large-scale efforts have been made in target countries to support the emergence or consolidation of local preparatory classes and vocational training courses, particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Senegal and Guinea.


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