Afridigest Week in Review: Delicious drug money 💊

+Mobile Games +Africa’s most active seed-stage VC +Bill Gurley's Lost Essays +China's #1 online grocery retailer +Hierarchy of Venture Opportunities

The Afridigest Week in Review is a must-read weekly business & innovation recap for founders, operators, and investors in African markets, as well as interested observers.

Welcome back! Since Week 21’s digest, I published this piece applying Maslow’s framework to entrepreneurial ventures. If you’re new, welcome
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Week 22 2020

Illustration by Emma Darwick

📰 Deal of the week

mPharma raised $17M. The round was led by Novastar Ventures, with participation from the UK's development finance institution, CDC Group, and previous investors. The funds will be used primarily to build out mPharma’s QualityRX retail platform.

The Accra-based company has now raised over $55M since its 2013 founding by Greg Rockson, Daniel Shoukimas, and James Finucane, making it one of the continent’s most capitalized pre-series C startups.

💡 The big question: What does mPharma actually do?

  • mPharma aims to integrate Africa’s retail pharmacy market and improve the efficiency of pharmaceutical supply chains; it does this by acting as a “pharmacy benefits manager” that obtains lower drug prices for pharmacies by aggregating demand and buying in bulk. Underpinning this are proprietary software solutions that connect patients, hospitals, pharmacies, and other stakeholders into a central information exchange.

  • More specifically, the company generates revenues by charging a commission on drugs purchased for pharmacies, by offering healthcare financing to patients (its ‘Mutti’ service), and from profit-sharing agreements with pharmacies for whom it finances inventory & facility improvements (its ‘QualityRx’ service).

  • So mPharma deploys software solutions to help create an integrated network of owned & partner retail pharmacies, giving it supply-chain leverage over pricing, distribution, and more.

    “When asked what mPharma is, I say, ‘if CVS Health, QuintilesIMS, and McKesson had a baby, it would be called mPharma’ … Our goal is to build the largest African drug retail support network outside South Africa in the next five years.” — Gregory Rockson


🤝 Other deals

  • NextProtein, a producer of insect-based protein with operations in Tunisia, raised an $11.2M Series A round from Telos Impact, RAISE Impact, Mirova, Althelia Sustainable Ocean Fund, Kepple Africa Ventures, and Aucfan Incubate. Note: NextProtein was founded in 2015 by Syrine Chaalala and Mohamed Gastli and positions itself as an agtech company. The funds will be used to scale up production capacity of its Tunisia plant.

  • RunwaySale, a South-African online fashion retailer, raised $5.5M from private equity firm Spear Capital. Note: RunwaySale was founded in 2012 by Karl Hammerschmidt and Elmien Hammerschmidt. It employs a members-only flash sale model with the typical sale featuring a single brand and lasting 36–48 hours.

  • Carry1st, a publisher of mobile games for the African market, raised a $2.5M seed round led by CRE Venture Capital, with participation from Perivoli Innovations, Chandaria Capital, Lateral Capital, Transsion’s Future Hub, and Kam Kronenberg III, among others. Note: Carry1st was founded in 2018 by Cordel Robbin-Coker, Lucy Hoffman (née Parry), and Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu. It will use the new funds to recruit talent, invest in its tech stack & content library, and grow its userbase. The company is targeting over 1 million MAUs by the end of this year.

  • Inclusivity Solutions, a South African digital insurance startup, raised $1.3M from Goodwell Investments, UW Ventures (in partnership with Allan Gray), and MFS Africa. Note: Inclusivity was founded in 2015 by Jeremy Leach and raised a $1.56M Series A round in June 2019; the current raise is the ‘second tranche’ of that Series A.

  • MarketForce 360, a Kenyan provider of field sales automation software, raised a $350k seed round. Viktoria Business Angels Network, Growing Africa Capital, and others participated. Note: MarketForce 360 was founded by Tesh Mbaabu and Mesongo Sibuti, and is a subsidiary of the Mesozi Group.

  • Access Afya, a Kenyan company providing affordable healthcare for the mass market, raised $90k from Solve Innovation Future, a philanthropic venture fund linked to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note: Access Afya, founded by Melissa Menke in 2012, closed a ~$1M seed round in March 2018. This new fundraise seems to be part of a larger $900k round, details of which have yet to be announced.

  • Link Commerce, a turn-key e-commerce platform, sold an undisclosed stake to DHL. Note: Link Commerce grew out MFA & Link Commerce were founded by Chris Folayan and as ties to DHL deepen, it’ll be interesting to watch this space. Link Commerce helped DHL develop its “hugely successful” Africa eShop, and Link/DHL will expand to other markets in short order.

🌱 Africa’s most active seed-stage VC

Established in 2019, Japan’s Kepple Africa Ventures makes seed investments of $50,000 to $150,000 in early-stage tech startups across the continent, with a particular focus on East and West Africa.

The firm has offices in Japan, Nigeria, and Kenya, and is led by 3 General Partners: Founder Takahiro Kanzaki leads fundraising from Tokyo; Satoshi Shinada, a Harvard MBA, is based in Lagos; and Ryosuke Yamawaki, a Berkeley MBA, is based in the Nairobi office.

Since launch, Kepple’s fund has grown to $13M, and the firm acts as a ‘gateway to Japan’ for promising startups, corralling Japanese corporate investors for follow-on investment, such as was done for Sendy, the Kenyan logistics startup, in January.

At the time of writing, its public portfolio includes 52 startups across Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, Morocco, and Tunisia, of which 21 deals were closed in 2020, with an average ticket size of $100,000. Kepple’s strategy is to plant flags widely and early, but to be disciplined in terms of ticket size, and double-down quickly on the winners. (Hat tip: Disrupt Africa)

⚔️ Strategy Read of the Week

85 ‘lost’ articles from famed investor Bill Gurley from 1994-2001 during his time as a tech research analyst on Wall Street. (“Lost” because they aren’t on his blog, Above the Crowd.)

From a November 1994 article: “We would like to coin a new business phrase...‘strategic envy,’ and it refers to a business strategy that several technology companies have adopted over the past several years. As everyone well knows, Intel and Microsoft own the two key strategic positions in the industry. We view companies that are executing a ‘strategic envy’ business model as ones that spend every minute and dollar in relentless pursuit of the industry crown jewels held by these two companies… this is unwise.”

💡 “Above the Crowd: The Lost Essays” by Bill Gurley (compiled by Kevin Gao)

👉 See also, “Idea Generation” by Sam Altman, on how to generate startup ideas: “Think about the most important tectonic shifts happening right now…Can you identify a leading edge of change and an opportunity that it unlocks?”

🎙️ Podcast of the Week

GGV Capital, a leading Chinese VC firm recently spoke to Cecilia Sun, COO of Miss Fresh, China’s #1 online grocery retailer & a portfolio company of Tencent & Goldman Sachs. The discussion covers Miss Fresh’s innovative distributed warehouse model, its 1-hour instant delivery service, a history of e-grocery in China, and more.

“In the very beginning, we actually did a lot of consumer surveys to ask people if they need instant delivery for vegetable and fruits and a lot of people said ‘no…second day delivery is good enough.’ But when we [launched], we saw rapid growth. People actually needed it, but they didn’t really know it.”  — Cecilia Sun

A transcript is also available here.

🎴 Visual of the Week

Entrepreneurs & investors in sub-Saharan African (and similar markets) are most likely to find success if they concentrate on ventures that: build basic or alternative infrastructure; organize and integrate fragmented markets; minimize transaction costs & friction; enable entrepreneurship & economic empowerment; or create entirely new markets.” — The hierarchy of venture opportunities in emerging markets

💼 Job Opportunity of the Week

Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Company, a specialized Nigerian health care vehicle that operates across the value chain is hiring a Chief of Staff. Its investment portfolio includes MDaaS Global, Lifestores Pharmacy, and CTN Express (Chisco), and its operational divisions include air ambulance & medical drone delivery, hospital construction & management, and healthcare consulting & training. If you’re a strategic leader with project management expertise and executive-level experience, please reach out to Dr. Brown.

👉 Last week’s opportunity to break into VC with DFS Lab is still open. To submit a job opportunity, email:

🕵️‍♀️ In case you missed it

  • Eversend, a neobank currently serving Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, & Uganda, secured over €625,000 (~$700,000) & counting in an equity crowdfunding round on the Seedrs platform.

  • Kenyan entrepreneur, Tesh Mbaabu, CEO of Mesozi Group, shared lessons from his recent fundraise

  • Vaya Africa, a ride-hailing service founded by Zimbabwean billionaire Strive Masiyiwa, launched an electric taxi service and charging network in Zimbabwe, with plans to expand rapidly.

  • In partnership with South African cryptocurrency exchange Luno, cryptocurrency research firm Arcane Research released a report on cryptocurrency in Africa: The State of Crypto - Africa.

  • GSMA, the mobile network operator industry association, released its detailed 2G, 3G, & 4G coverage maps for Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, SierraLeone, SouthSudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia:

  • UMG announced the launch of Def Jam Africa & Apple music launched its first radio show in Africa. This marks the fourth consecutive week with significant transatlantic developments in Africa’s music scene.

🕵️‍♂️🐤 In case you missed it - Twitter edition

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