01 Jan

Startups that made waves in 2015

Yetunde Oladeinde and Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf in this report profile some of the major startups that made tremendous impact in the outgoing year

With the growing unemployment crisis, Nigerians are fast adopting the entrepreneur spirit by setting up shops and business ventures to not just earn a living wage but to offer services at different levels of human endeavours.

Thankfully, most of these entrepreneurial ventures are indeed breaking the glass ceiling. While a lot of these  startups never make it past the idea stage, a lot more trudge on and become more successful. Over the years, Nigeria has birthed a number of innovative startups helping to redefine the business scene and improving the economy ultimately.

In the outgoing year, a good number of these startups, who by their nature are businesses built on the concepts of ambition, innovation, scalability and growth, not only gained traction but recorded some milestones.

Most visible startups

One of startups that made an impact in 2015 is Printivo. The organisation, founded by three students from LAUTECH in Ogbomoso, is a company changing the face of print production in Nigeria. Located in Shomolu, the undisputed printing hub of Lagos, the startup is a do-it-yourself web-to-print production, providing affordable and quality print-on-demand services particularly to SMEs who cannot afford to print in bulk. Customers can place their orders on the site and have them delivered in a matter of hours or days without fail.

Interestingly, Printivo is a beneficiary of the federal government of Nigeria grant, YouWin, which went a long way in raising capital. The company started with four products but has now added about seven more. For the Chief Executive Officer, Oluyomi Ojo, the intention is to expand into merchandise products in the near future.

Like Printivo, DoviLearn is a service from a Nigerian startup, Dovichi Services. It is a digital learning portal that offers courses in skill acquisitions for those requiring a career upgrade. Their mission is simple – to make learning digital. They also believe that “learning can be facilitated when simplified, accessible and affordable.”

The startup has partnered with “some of the world’s best trainers and instructors” and they provide the training content available on the portal. Year 2015, was certainly a good year for this relatively young company.

In the pack, you also find Delivery Science which was named the most impressive new startup of 2015. It boast of an experienced and competent team solving a real problem with real customers and local context. Delivery Science claims that access to data and data inferences enables consumer goods companies to plug leakages in the transport system.

According to DS, these leakages can sometimes amount to as much as 25% of the total value of the goods being transported. As a result of advances in cloud computing, Internet-of-Things technology, and supercomputers in our pocket becoming readily-available commodities, a solution that abstracts away complexity while tightly integrating needed functionality into a low-friction, cost-effective model can finally be viable, and this is what Delivery Science provides.

After winning TechCabal Battlefield contest in 2014, Prepclass, is the startup that has continued to impress. Previously an online learning platform, Prepclass is now a tutor marketplace which has garnered lots of positive reviews from satisfied customers. Due to the quality of the work they deliver, Prepclass’ ‘demand is outstripping supply’ and the startup continues to work harder to keep up with the market.

According to the site, PrepClass provides access to personal home tutors trained to meet customers’ academic needs and offers quick test taking strategies and targeted examination practice for students. The programme is mobile friendly as it provides for study-on-the-go. To prove the confidence that the founders have in their project, they offer a money-back guarantee if the user doesn’t score up to 75% in the exam they are getting tutored for.

The founders, Wezam and Olumide are young people with a big dream and are working hard to see it come to fruition.

For mobile gaming, the startup that comes to mind is ChopUp. ChopUp is a leading mobile gaming company in Nigeria developing “locally relevant games that tell the African narrative.”

ChopUp games are specifically designed with African themes, and the company has interestingly attracted angel funding from private individuals. Subscription to content on the site is relatively cheap at 30 Naira ($0.12) weekly.

With games like Mama Put, Sambisa Assault and Jumpology featuring Nigerian characters, it is obvious that the intent of this startup is to put African gaming on the map. It is hoped that they succeed in their mission to tell the African narrative through mobile gaming.

In year 2015, some Nigerian entrepreneurs who were in their 30s were recognised by FORBES.

Tagged: ’30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa 2015′ the list included Uche Pedro of Bellanaija , Iyin Aboyeji of Andela and Mark Essien of Hotel.ng.

A few months after CNN aired a documentary on emerging businesses in Africa, and one of them was Hotels.ng, the biggest local hotel booking website in Nigeria hosting over 4,000 hotels on its platform.

The company lists local hotels that are not travel aggregator distributed and allows users book them online, while payments are made electronically or on arrival at the hotel.

The founder, Mark Essien, is a Software Developer from Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom state, Nigeria.

He founded Nigeria’s leading hotel booking website in 2013, Hotels.ng, and raised $1.2 million from the Omidyar Network, the investment vehicle of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and EchoVC Pan-Africa Fund, a seed-stage technology fund.

The ‘techpreneur’ aims to provide affordable, safe and convenient online bookings for Nigerian hotels, both for tourist and business travelers. It currently has a listing of more than 7,000 hotels in 21 regions across Nigeria and has facilitated up to two million hotel reservations since its inception.

“We’re forging ahead into relatively uncharted territory? E-commerce in Africa is a massive market to conquer, but there are no hard and fast prototypes from which to follow? We cannot simply replicate Western models here; we have to build our own blueprints from scratch, which takes significant investment, both in terms of time and money. This additional capital will allow us to realise the next stage in our ambitious growth plans, which will see us consolidate our position as Nigeria’s market leader in online hotel bookings, with a view to expanding our service into other African markets, such as Ghana,” Essen says.

Another startup that gained traction in the outgoing was SlimTrader. Founded and managed by Femi Akinde, Slim Trader, is an e-commerce and mobile commerce firm. Its platform, MoBiashara, seeks to relieve the burdens associated with everyday transactions in developing countries by providing the missing link to completing these important activities: easy and affordable access. The company has developed the first platform in Africa that allows consumers to purchase services or shop for goods with their mobile devices.

Year 2015 will go down in the annals of the company as a very memorable one indeed. This is because it successfully pulled off a multimillion dollar deal which will see it playing in the big league ion years to come.

In the last quarter of 2015, the company got a seed capital of $1million Interswitch, one of the leading firms in integrated payment systems.

Speaking at a formal ceremony to sign the Memorandum of Understanding, in Lagos, Founder and Group Managing Director of Interswitch, Mitchell Elegbe said the seed money is part of a revolving fund under Interswitch ePayment Growth Fund, valued at $10million.

Justifying the $1million investment, Elegbe said: “SlimTrader is a dynamic and ambitious business dedicated to growing Africa’s ecommerce sector. This makes them an ideal candidate for investment from the Interswitch ePayment Growth Fund.

“At Interswitch we are committed to encouraging innovative ideas in the digital payments and commerce space in Africa and are excited to be working with SlimTrader to expand MoBiashara services into the hospitality sector.”

Upbeat, Slim Trader’s founder and CEO, Femi Akinde stated, “We remain committed to our mission of unlocking the potential in African businesses. This funding puts more hotels a click away from their own free property management system, website booking engine and channel manager; connecting them to multiple local and international online booking sites. We see this as transformational to the sub-Saharan Africa hospitality industry.”

The new funding will allow SlimTrader expand to other African countries championing hospitality by bridging the gap and connecting hotels with their target audience.

The additional funding provides the clearest sign yet of the power of SlimTrader’s flagship ecommerce platform, MoBiashara as it expands into the hospitality sector. With the funds from Interswitch, SlimTrader will now be able to ramp up operations and help more hotels expand their market reach.

With massive potential in the African market, over 1500 hotels across sub-Saharan Africa used SlimTrader’s online hotel management platform – MoBiashara for Hotels to increase visibility and sales. The platform allows hotels to manage their offline and online reservation with major exposure through strategic channel partners such as TripAdvisor and hotelnownow.com.

According to Akinde, SlimTrader though founded in Seattle has major operations in Nigeria, and hopes to be the leading turn-key ecommerce solution provider for businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Through our MoBiashara (which literally means “more business”) platform, we provide everything businesses need to setup and sell their products and services directly to consumers worldwide, or via distribution channels. From airlines to FMCG companies and now hotels, we enhance our partners’ capabilities and presence while expanding their market reach with an easy-to-use platform.”

In the third quarter of the outgoing year, She Leads Africa (SLA) organised a contest involving six promising female African entrepreneurs.

Among the criteria used to unravel these entrepreneurs, include their turnover and worth in value terms. Interestingly, the finalists were entrepreneurs who had $3million in revenue and over 11,000 customers combined and they competed for over $15,000 in cash prizes and other gifts.

At the end of the keen competition, Omo Alata, a food manufacturer and packaging company, swimsuit line for African women and natural hair extensions brand emerged the winners in the 2015 She Leads Africa Entrepreneur Showcase.

The winning startup, Omo Alata Foods was cofounded by Kasope Ladipo-Ajai and makes parboiled stew and pepper mixes.

The “McPeppers” brand allows consumers to significantly cut down the time required to cook traditional Nigerian dishes. The judges were impressed by Ladipo-Ajai’s existing track record as well as the significant potential of her product which targets Nigeria’s large and fast growing middle class. As Ms Genevieve Sangudi, the Sub Saharan MD of the Carlyle Group noted, “innovations in the food industry in Nigeria are always exciting given the country’s large and growing population.”

Omo Alata Foods, also known as McPeppers, bagged the grand prize which was a whopping $10,000 with up to $50,000 in investments, tech prizes from Etisalat Nigeria, mentorship and 3-month of support from Zippy Logistics.

The startup is a Nigerian food manufacturing brand that processes indigenous peppers, soups and spices.  The brand plans to invest its winnings in machinery and expansion strategies as it seeks to build an international product range that will be available to Nigerian and foreign customers in stores all over the world. The company is hitting the ground running with a NAFDAC approved pioneer product – OmoAlata Pepper Mix. The product is a mix of parboiled fresh tomatoes, peppers and onions with no preservatives or additives.

Kamokini, a swimwear brand for the modern African woman founded by Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo was selected as the second place winner. The brand understands and caters for the unique body shape of women of African descent, a group that is often underserved by global consumer brands. With existing distribution in the US, Canada and Nigeria, Kamokini is well poised to be a leader in this niche market.

Third place for the competition went to Ngozi Opara, founder of Heat Free Hair. Heat Free Hair creates hair extensions that match the textures of natural haired women of African descent. With the black haircare industry valued at over $500bn a year and with more and more black women embracing their natural textures, Opara’s business is well placed to deliver significant returns to investors.

In November, Yudala, Nigeria’s online and offline retail chain achieved another first with the drone delivery of the first order placed for its Black Friday sales. The order for the item, a Nokia Lumia smart phone was placed by Yetunde Lawal, a staff of Access Bank Plc. who was shopping on the Yudala website for the first time.

The drone took off from the headquarters of Yudala at Redemption Crescent, Gbagada loaded with the product to the amazement and delight of onlookers.

A staff of Yudala was on hand to process the invoice for the order and hand over the phone to an obviously elated Yetunde who chose the payment on delivery option.

Lawal said “I am extremely delighted and indeed short of words to explain how I feel to be the first person to receive an item via drone delivery in Nigeria, all thanks to Yudala. This is an innovative concept in the evolution of e-commerce in the country which I am sure other competitors will want to copy.

Since its entry into the market  this year Yudala has expanded the retail space with several innovative campaigns including the Neighbour to Neighbour Mega Deals, Gyming with the Stars and October Mid-Day Madness, among others  through which it has delivered on its mandate of providing genuine products and services to its consumers.

Like Yudala, Gadolng.com, which styles itself as Nigeria’s fastest online market place is owned by Agolen Marketing Services Ltd with head office at Egbeda axis of Lagos. It set up shop barely eight months ago and is already given established players in the online marketing spectrum a run for their money.

Gadol is being led by Victor Olewunne as Chief Operating Officer.

In a chat with one of its staff at Egbeda who wpuld not be named because she is inot authorized to speak with the press, she claimed that the company is already gaining a foothold in the online marketing spectrum, judging by the growing level of patronage.

“At the risks of sounding immodest, l can tell you that we’re going places. We are also fully indigenous. We’re here to stay, ” she said matter-of-fatcly.

In the fashion scene you find Banke kuku, CEO and creative Director of Banke kuku Textiles making a successful career of her passion. The young entrepreneur is the producer of bespoke woven and printed fabrics for the fashion and interior industry.

Banke has been fascinated with knitting since she was five, subsequently growing such passion to become one of Africa’s inspiring entrepreneurship stories.

Making her way in the fashion industry, Banke has worked with a number of fashion brands including Burberry, Duro Olowu, Jewel by Lisa and Jasmine di Milo fashion house where she earned the name “The Queen of Colour.”

Her designs – a fusion of African and western culture has been featured in a number of international fashion shows in Milan, New York and Paris as well as the world famous UK store ,Selfridges.

In the agric and agro-allied sub-sector, a number of initiatives in the sector also gained traction in the outgoing year and subsequently earned deserved recognition as a result.

One of the startups that shone in the agro sector was Cellulant Nigeria. For his remarkable achievement in the sector, the co-founder and CEO of Cellulant Nigeria, Bolaji Akinboro in November received the Achiever in Agriculture Award from the Central Committee of the Nigerian Agriculture Awards (NAA) for the company’s E-wallet technology – a digital platform that has transformed the lives of more than 14 million farmers in Nigeria.

Cellulant, is Africa’s leading one-stop payments and digital commerce service company, with offices in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. They employ over 300 people, and reach 40 million customers Africa-wide.

Since its launch in 2011, Cellulant’s E-wallet has facilitated the distribution of over US$1 billion in fertilizer subsidies to farmers under the Growth Enhancement and Support (GES) programme, a component of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“Over and over again we have seen Africans, through various innovations, prove that the impossible is made possible when the needs of the consumers are at the centre of the solutions provided. GES is certainly a testimony to this. Delivery of a programme of this scale and at this speed is a first for Nigeria considering that the entire agro-dealer network had to be rebuilt from scratch”, says Mr Akinboro.

“It is an honour to receive this award recognising the hard work and contribution of Cellulant and those who worked tireless to see the programme come to fruition.” he added.

The GES programme has more than doubled the income of the farmers from US$700 to US$1,800 per annum per household, improving their living standards and moving them out of subsistence into self-sufficiency in three years.

Bolaji has spent most of his working life changing the lives of people and societies as an intrapreneur and entrepreneur in for profits and not for profits in Africa . He understands the African market very well and has spent time working in business development with reputable companies in the continent.

Some of his work includes working in Sales and Marketing at Procter & Gamble in Nigeria and setting up P&G in Ghana as its Country Director where he grew the business from scratch to a US$10million operation.

He was recruited by the World Bank through KPMG to head the Business Development Unit for its Africa Virtual University (AVU) project and was based in East Africa. It was during this time that he met his Kenyan partner, Ken Njoroge and together they founded Cellulant in 2004.

Other startups in the mode of Cellulant who also earned recognition in the outgoing year include Popular Farms Ltd, which won the Achiever in Agriculture, for maintaining the largest rice processing business in Nigeria.

Managing Partner, Sahel Capital, Mr. Mezuo Nwunelli, received an award for his contribution to the growth of agribusinesses, through the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria (FAFIN).

For using Agricultural Fresh Produce Growers & Exporters Association of Nigeria (AFGEAN) to evolve a veritable structure for fresh produce export out of Nigeria, its Executive Secretary, Mr. Akin Sawyerr, received individual award.

For bringing his innovations in cassava production, a local innovator, Mr. Kolawole Adeniji was honoured for demonstrating that agricultural engineering, fabrication technology, mechanised farming and food processing can be harnessed to promote agriculture.

Source: The Nation