Afridigest Week in Review: InstaDollars — real money for artificial intelligence

+Video discussion w/ Plesion's Ben Finlay +Diamonds in the diaspora +Morocco's ecosystem +Unicorn predictions +Insurance in emerging markets +Catalyst Fund's new cohort +A word from Yemi Lalude +More

The Afridigest Week in Review is a must-read weekly recap for Africa-focused founders, executives, and investors.
Welcome back, friends! In what was a bit of a surprise to me, the most clicked link last week was the link to Plesion Capital — more on that below (& above too, I suppose). If you missed Week 2’s Fintech Review, it’s available here. And I also published a pretty interesting Saturday essay: Diamonds in the diaspora.
📌 This is a long post, so click through to read it on the web. Having said that, there was a lot of interest in Plesion Capital and the announcement of its 2022 $500K investment into Uganda’s XENO last week. Ben Finlay, Plesion’s founder, was generous enough to spend some time answering questions with me — you can see our video conversation at the top of this post.
(This is the first time I’m using the video newsletter format, so be sure to let me know what you think. 🙏🏽) With that said, let’s get into it — ‘twas a busy week as the end-of-year holidays officially ended.
If you’re new, welcome 🙌🏽 — you're among thousands of readers who receive this Week in Review on Mondays and the Fintech Review on Sundays. And from time to time, an original essay goes out on Saturdays. For past essays and digests, visit the archive.
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💡 “When the leopard's legs are broken, the deer comes to collect its debt.” — Igbo proverb

Week 2 2023: January 8-14

📰 Deal of the Week

🇹🇳 InstaDeep, a Tunisian enterprise AI startup now headquartered in London, was acquired for ~$685M (£562M) by BioNTech (the company behind Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine). 🍾🍾🍾

Team picture at the time of the Series A

About InstaDeep: Founded in Tunis in 2014, InstaDeep uses GPU-accelerated computing, machine learning, and reinforcement learning to build decision-making AI systems that help companies solve logistics, energy, biology, and electronic design problems.

About BioNTech: Founded in 2008, BioNTech is a Nasdaq-listed German biotechnology company (Nasdaq: BNTX) that develops and manufactures immunotherapies.

Prior relationship: The two companies worked together for several years prior to this acquisition, jointly creating a predictive early warning system for Coronavirus variants. And BioNTech invested in InstaDeep’s $100M mega-round in Week 4 2022.

Deal rationale: With the deal, BioNTech gains ownership and control of a relatively rare asset — an AI & machine learning platform with commercially proven success in drug discovery. The company now seeks to improve its entire drug lifecycle by applying & infusing machine learning techniques.

Deal structure: Deal consideration includes ~$441M (£362M) in cash and BioNTech shares, and a performance-based earnout of up to ~$244M (£200M). It’s the largest deal ever for Germany’s BioNTech, and one of the largest deals of all time involving an African business.

Exiting investors: AfricInvest led InstaDeep’s 2019 Series A, with Endeavor Catalyst participating. And Alpha Intelligence Capital and CDIB co-led the 2022 Series B, with Chimera Abu Dhabi, Deutsche Bahn’s DB Digital Ventures, G42, Synergie, and Google participating.

In the acquirer’s words: “The acquisition of InstaDeep allows us to incorporate the rapidly evolving AI capabilities of the digital world into our technologies, research, drug discovery, manufacturing, and deployment processes. Our aim is to make BioNTech a technology company where AI is seamlessly integrated into all aspects of our work.” — BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin

In the acquired company’s words: “Together, we envision building a world leader that combines biopharmaceutical research and AI with the aim to design next-generation immunotherapies that enhance medical care — thus, helping fight cancer and other diseases.” — InstaDeep Co-Founder & CEO Karim Beguir

🔦 Deals
  • 🇬🇭 Jetstream, a Ghanaian digital cross-border logistics platform, raised a $13M pre-Series A (mixed debt & equity) from Octerra, Wuri Ventures, Seed9, The MBA Fund, ASCVC, Alitheia IDF, and Golden Palm. (The debt portion came from Cauris Finance and Proparco.)

  • 🇳🇬 Releaf, a Nigerian agtech platform that develops proprietary technology for food processing, raised a $3.3M pre-Series A led by Samurai Incubate Africa, with participation from Consonance Investment Managers & others (Congrats to longtime Afridigest reader, Ikenna 💪🏽 — I’m still waiting for that bottle of palm oil though)

  • 🇳🇬 Shekel Mobility, the Nigerian neobank and trading platform for auto dealers whose acceptance into Y Combinator’s W23 batch was featured in Week 52 2022, announced that it raised a $1.95M pre-seed (debt & equity) led by Ventures Platform, with participation from Voltron Capital, Zedcrest, Y Combinator, and others

  • 🇳🇬 Waza, a Nigerian B2B payments infrastructure provider helping businesses with treasury and liquidity needs, is participating in Y Combinator’s Winter 23 batch ($500K)

  • 🇪🇹 Gebeya, an Ethiopian tech talent marketplace, raised an undisclosed pre-Series A amount from Inclusion Japan.

  • 🇳🇬 AgroEknor, a Nigerian ‘tech-enabled’ agribusiness, received an undisclosed amount in follow-on investment from Aruwa Capital

  • Ten startups are receiving $100K in equity investments as a part of Catalyst Fund’s new cohort:

    • 🇸🇳 Assuraf, a Senegalese digital insurtech platform

    • 🇪🇬 Bekia, an Egyptian tech-enabled waste collection platform

    • 🇪🇬 VAIS, an Egyptian precision agtech platform

    • 🇰🇪 Octavia Carbon, a Kenyan Direct Air Capture (DAC) platform

    • 🇰🇪 Farm to Feed, a Kenyan climate-smart anti-food-loss platform

    • 🇳🇬 🇰🇪 Farmz2U, a Nigerian/Kenyan agtech platform

    • 🇳🇬 Eight Medical, a Nigerian cloud-based Emergency Medical Services (EMS) platform

    • 🇳🇬 PaddyCover, a Nigerian digital insurance platform

    • 🇲🇦 Sand to Green, a Moroccan agroforestry platform

    • 🇺🇬 Agro Supply, a Ugandan agrifintech offering a mobile-phone-based, micro-savings layaway system

  • KarmSolar, an Egyptian solar power developer and electricity distributor, received $3M in debt financing from HSBC

  • Tunisia’s Instadeep was acquired by BioNTech. (See deal of the week above.)

  • Kenya’s Kwara is acquiring software company IRNET Coop Kenya for an undisclosed amount. IRNET is a subsidiary of the Kenya Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives.

  • Nigerian/pan-African payments unicorn Flutterwave is part of a consortium of fintechs and existing investors looking to acquire British fintech Railsr (formerly Railsbank).

  • Malaysia-based online marketplace investor/operator Frontier Digital Ventures divested from Ghanaian real estate marketplace meQasa

📚 Quick hits
  • What needs to happen for insurance to take off in emerging markets?Mouro Capital: “In most emerging markets, the share of disposable income that insurers might expect to pick up is still lean which, combined with the high cost of traditional distribution channels, like agents, often makes the business case difficult to justify or reduces the propensity to invest.”


👀 Visual of the Week
Source: Yassin El Hardouz on LinkedIn.

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💡 Executive Insights

A word to the wise.

🕵️‍♀️ In case you missed it
  • USAID announces four new public-private partnerships, 3 of which relate to Africa: CSquared, Modus Capital’s Egyptian venture builder, and SIMA Funds’ Sow Good crowdfunding platform

  • Nigerian business banking platform TeamApt rebranded to Moniepoint, moved its headquarters to London, and announced reaching an annualized TPV of $170 billion (Unfortunately however, the team will not be called Moniepointers 👉💰)

  • Sama, Meta/Facebooks’s main subcontractor for content moderation in Africa, closed its content moderation arm in Kenya and laid off ~200 employees

  • Did the Maghreb region hit the road in 2022? (TechCabal)

  • Inside Lagos’ bustling Computer Village (Rest of World)

  • Exploring the NGX tech board and how it can impact tech startups (Mondaq)


🐤 Tweet of the Week

📚 Very happy to see this. More books should be written by folks from the ecosystem.

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🗣️ Community Corner and Opportunities (feel free to send yours in)
  • 🚨 Deadline approaching: African startups working on climate solutions are invited to apply before January 23rd for up to $100K in equity-free investments from the UNICEF Venture Fund.

  • South African API and embedded finance infrastructure provider Stitch has opened applications, until January 31st, for its second Stitch Startup ShowcaseFintechs selected will receive a fully-paid trip to Cape Town, support & office hours from members of the Stitch team, and six months of free access to the Stitch solution in relevant markets.

  • Applications are open until March 31 for the SolarX Grand Challenge whose first edition is focused on Africa — 20 winning startups innovating around solar energy will get a cash grant of $15,000 each & more

  • Results of last week’s unicorn predictions are below — looks like roughly a third of you think zero unicorns will be minted in 2023, another third think just one, and the last third think 2 or more:

🙊 The last word

Has some great conversations with Afridigest readers Tarek and Nancy last week, and really enjoyed meeting Dees, Moustapha, and Alioune in Lagos over the weekend. One of the topics of discussion that stood out was the potential impact of bridging the gap between Anglophone and Francophone West Africa — and if you’re thinking along similar lines, let’s chat.

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