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FlexClub secures $5m funding to scale its unique car subscription marketplace

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FlexClub Founders; Tinashe Ruzane, Marlon Gallardo and Rudolf Vavruch (Source: JNPR)

As consumer behaviour has been reshaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, e-commerce has fast become the new ‘high street’, with customers now buying everything from groceries and medicine to electronics and even houses all online.  While vehicle purchases are not excluded from these quickly shifting consumer preferences for online retail, the traditional process of buying, insuring and financing a car still remains a major challenge to building a simple digital car shopping experience, given the multiple parties required for the transaction – until FlexClub arrived that is.

Established in 2019, by co-founders Marlon Gallardo, Rudolf Vavruch and Tinashe Ruzane, FlexClub is an online marketplace that connects customers looking for flexible access to long-term cars with its partners offering car subscriptions. FlexClub’s innovative rewards technology enhances the experience for its members, while reducing risk for its partners.

Through this technology, FlexClub is able to assess the risk profile of its members using several alternative data sources and rewards its members for responsible vehicle usage.

Since it collaborated with Uber in Mexico and South Africa in 2019, helping their community of drivers subscribe for cars that become cheaper to purchase every month through rewards, the FlexClub model of all inclusive car subscriptions has gained significant traction. Their unique car subscription marketplace is now also being extended to retail consumers, who are also rewarded for safer driving while subscribing for the vehicle thanks to their ‘Club Rewards Program’.

And it’s not just prospective vehicle buyers who love the FlexClub approach; several leading global tech investors are recognising the value and scalability of the model, which resulted in FlexClub attracting a further US$5 million in equity and debt funding in 2020, significantly bolstering the $US1.2 million it had already raised in 2019.

According to FlexClub co-founder and CEO, Tinashe Ruzane, their latest fundraising round, led by Kindred Ventures, early backers of global technology businesses such as Uber, Postmates, Virgin Hyperloop and Coinbase, demonstrates the recognition by some of the world’s foremost venture investors of the potential for the FlexClub model and the confidence in the strength of its leadership team deeply experienced in mobility.

“With seasoned and highly respected VC investors like Kindred Ventures, CRE Venture Capital and Endeavor getting behind our mission, we’re well placed to usher in the future of how people get cars in markets like Mexico and South Africa” Ruzane says, “and the support from prominent angel investors, like Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress), Federico Ranero (COO of KAVAK), Tariq Zaid (formerly of Shopify and Getaround) and Ron Pragides (formerly of Twitter and Salesforce), further validates the incredible global opportunity for our technology to reimagine commerce in the automotive industry.”

Accordingto Ruzane, the expected transformation of how people acquire their vehicles is not unlike the evolution that happened over the past decade in other consumer sectors such as music retail.

“10 years ago, most people would struggle to imagine a world in which CDs were not the dominant driver of music industry revenues,” he explains, “but today, thanks to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, streaming accounts for more than 80% of all music revenues generated in the U.S. The industry successfully transitioned from product-led distribution to service-led distribution.” Ruzane is adamant that car subscriptions will drive the same radical transformation of the automotive industry distribution model and he believes that the early traction found by FlexClub with its unique car subscription marketplace points to a much larger opportunity to catalyze this transformation for its partners and members.

“Our partners recognise the opportunity to work with FlexClub to look beyond just driving unit sales of vehicles and transition towards building deeper relationships with customers through this service-driven approach. All while diversifying away from the reliance the auto industry now has on consumer vehicle financing to drive revenue,” he explains, “and the buy-in we have seen from partners like Avis and other major automotive distributors, demonstrates that car subscriptions are finally emerging into the automotive zeitgeist.”

Ruzanesays that FlexClub’s partners are quite diverse, ranging from small fleet owners to multinational fleet operators looking to easily launch car subscription offers on the FlexClub marketplace without requiring significant investment in new technology, infrastructure or operations. Just two years ago, FlexClub’s partners were predominantly individuals looking to earn passive income from owning one or two cars offered on subscription to members. A year ago, private debt funds entered the scene with an interest in the yield opportunity from funding car subscription fleets. Today, partners on FlexClub also include major brands like Avis with tens of thousands of vehicles in their fleet and the operational wherewithal to scale across multiple cities on the FlexClub marketplace.

“Our members are drawn to the fact that, in just a few clicks, they can get flexible access to a car that suits their needs in under a week. Members can choose vehicles from an array of reputable partners, without the need for large upfront deposits, high balloon payment obligations, or rigid long-term vehicle finance contracts; and they always have the freedom to buy the car, return it, or swap it at any time, without incurring any penalties or unexpected costs.”

“By enhancing and simplifying the car shopping experience for our members, and better managing the risk for our partners, FlexClub is supporting the redesign of the auto commerce landscape,” Ruzane concludes, “and we firmly believe that car subscriptions will be one of the fastest-growing segments of automotive retail over the next decade, especially as a growing number of car rental groups, car manufacturers, car dealer groups, leasing companies and even vehicle financiers start to invest more meaningfully in launching their own car subscription offers across the globe. FlexClub is a powerful bridge between the fleets our partners control and the digital car shopping experienceo our members desire.”

 

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The Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at the MIT launches Foundry Fellowship for entrepreneurs in Africa

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The Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at MIT has launched the Foundry Fellowship, a first-of-its-kind leadership program for accomplished entrepreneurs who are considering their role in shaping the future of the African innovation ecosystems in which they work and live. At an inflection point in their entrepreneurial journeys, Fellows will learn from MIT faculty, connect with investors, and expand their network of peer innovators. The Fellowship is open to entrepreneurs working and living in Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Senegal.

Building on the MIT ethos of Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand), the Foundry is a place where entrepreneurs come together to reflect on their achievements and shape their futures as leaders in business, investing, and governance. The program includes an interactive online curriculum followed by a three-week immersive session that brings the cohort together to explore innovation-driven ecosystems.

The Foundry Fellowship presents a unique opportunity to bring MIT resources and knowledge to these critical innovation ecosystems and, importantly, also offers MIT an opportunity to learn from successful leaders and their innovative solutions.

Professor Fiona Murray, Faculty Director of the Legatum Center, described this opportunity to expand MIT’s innovation network “[as] a moment for the Fellows to reflect on [their entrepreneurial] journey that also allows us to learn from them. They can use this experience as a stepping-off point as they move to the next stage of ecosystem-wide leadership.”

“As a school dedicated to the development of principled, innovative leaders who improve the world, MIT Sloan looks forward to welcoming the Legatum Foundry Fellows to Cambridge and to the MIT community,” said David Schmittlein, John C Head III Dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management.

A Collaboration between the Legatum Center and The Mastercard Foundation 

Through this collaboration with the Mastercard Foundation, the Foundry Fellowship will deepen the impact of leaders who are solving complex problems, creating jobs, and bringing essential services to millions through innovation-driven business models.

With the world’s fastest growing youth population, Africa is home to 4 of the world’s top 5 fastest-growing economies, has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, and has a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending. Innovation and entrepreneurial solutions are a critical component to continued growth and prosperous people and societies across the continent. Africa’s entrepreneurs are building businesses that offer lessons in inclusion, sustainability, and value creation that extend far beyond the continent. As a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders, the Legatum Center’s Foundry offers a platform for leaders to share their stories and consider new ways to extend their impact in their local ecosystems and around the world.

Dina Sherif, Executive Director of the Legatum Center says, “To propel Africa forward and remain competitive globally, we need innovation-led entrepreneurship and robust African entrepreneurial ecosystems. The Foundry Fellowship supports African entrepreneurs to transition to entrepreneurial leaders who work with various stakeholders to strengthen and improve their ecosystems.”

The Foundry Fellowship is a competitive program for outstanding entrepreneurial leaders working in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda. The Legatum Center will accept nominations from May 3 – May 20, 2021. A nomination is not required to apply; entrepreneurs are invited to submit an application directly. All nominees and applicants must submit a completed application by 11:59 PM EDT on June 10, 2021 to be considered for the program.

Nomination and application information is available at The Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship

An initial cohort of 15 Fellows will be selected for this fully-funded program.

 

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AI Expo Africa, Wesgro, and Zindi launch the Deepfake Africa Challenge

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AI Expo Africa, in partnership with Wesgro Film and Media Promotion and African Data Science competition platform Zindi, has launched the Deepfake Africa Challenge in a bid to raise awareness about deepfake media, tools and ethics on the African continent.

Deepfakes have been prominent in the news in the last two years as the tools and platforms that allow for such content to be produced are widely available and easy to use by both skilled and casual users.

While some deepfakes can be used to create fun, viral videos or new synthetic applications such as digital avatars that have multiple applications, they also can be used to manipulate or generate visual and audio content with the potential to deceive with subsequent negative impacts for people, organisations and wider society.

Dr Nick Bradshaw, founder & CEO of AI Media the company behind AI Expo Africa, stated, “The objective of the challenge is to create convincing deepfakes to highlight the power of this synthetic media, illustrating its creative potential for exploitation for both positive and negative outcomes and focusing debate about its ethical use or mis-use in an African context. We partnered with Zindi as they have the largest community of Data Scientists in Africa, and Wesgro Film Unit to tap into the award-winning creative industry based in the Western Cape, South Africa. This challenge is open to both creative and technical talent across Africa. We look forward to seeing the outcomes from the submission.”

Wesgro Film and Media Promotion head Monica Rorvik commented, “Deepfake media can have negative outcomes. This challenge serves as an opportunity and platform that we can leverage during this interesting time of the “Pandemic of deep fakes” – and by working together, and checking facts, we can learn together and gain some herd immunity.”

Zindi co-founder and CEO Celina Lee stated “Deepfakes are fast becoming a challenge of our time. Through the Zindi platform we are seeking to tap into the collective insights and creativity from twenty-six thousand African data scientists to shine a light on this topic and create debate about the potential harms these media and tools can do from a uniquely African perspective.”

Submission and evaluation

Submissions are welcome from across the African continent and from relevant communities including researchers, developers, content creatives and film makers. The winning submissions of the Deepfake Africa Challenge will be showcased at AI Expo Africa 2021 ONLINE between 7 to 9 September.

Submissions for the Deepfake Africa Challenge can be either video or audio based. Each submission should be no longer than 90 seconds in length (MP4 or MP3 preferred final format). The content submitted must not be offensive or harmful in anyway and any submissions deemed to contravene this rule by the judges will be immediately rejected.Winners must be citizens of an African country and must be residing in Africa.All entries will be judged as follows:
  1. Artistic creativity and relevance to the challenge topic
  2. Level of innovation used in the process to generate the content
  3. A short explanation of platforms, tools and techniques used to generate your submission will greatly enhance your submission and are encouraged so we can build a picture of the most common tools and techniques used

The judging panel will be made up of representatives from Zindi, The AI Media Group and Wesgro. The judge’s decision will be final.

Prizes

1st Place Winner: Complimentary ticket to join AI Expo Africa 2021 ONLINE (including 1x return economy flight & 4x nights hotel stay B&B courtesy of Radisson Blue to join us at AI Expo Africa 2022). The 1st Place Winner’s flight is eligible to delegates joining from outside the host city capped to $1000 using economy class fare. Expenses and visas are not included.

2nd and 3rd prize winners to receive 1x complimentary ticket to AI Expo Africa 2021 ONLINE.

Top 3 placed winners will have work showcased at AI Expo Africa 2021 along with write up and press mentions.

Timeline

The competition closes on 30th July 2021. Final submissions must be received no later than 11:59 PM GMT 30th July 2021. Winners will be notified and announced by 17 August 2021 with the winning submissions being showcased at AI Expo Africa 2021 ONLINE between 7-9 September.

The challenge organisers reserve the right to update the content timeline if necessary.

 

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Lami, Kenya-based Insurtech secures $1.8 million to accelerate digital insurance in Africa

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Lami team and press release (Source: Eva Barasa/Lami Tech/medium)

Lami Technologies, a Kenyan insurance technology (insurtech) company that aims to democratize insurance products and services for low-income Kenyans, announced today it had raised $1.8 million in seed funding.

The round was led by Accion Venture Lab’s seed-stage investment initiative that provides capital and extensive support to innovative fintech startups that improve the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the underserved.

Founded by Jihan Abass in 2018, Lami is a digital insurance platform that enables partner businesses — including banks, tech companies, and other entities to easily and seamlessly offer digital insurance products to their users via its API. Lami can also be used by partner businesses to manage their own insurance needs. Lami connects partner organizations, such as the e-commerce platform Jumia, with underwriters and allows them to offer a superior customer journey. Through its API, users can get a quotation for motor, medical, or other tailored insurance products in seconds, then customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit their needs, get their policy documents instantly, and claims are paid in record time.

Lami’s services are enabled by its flexible insurance rating engine and direct integration with several parties and insurance companies. Lami co-designs innovative products with its underwriting partners to enable businesses to offer unique insurance products to their underlying customer base, with flexible options that meet their needs and cash flows, such as monthly medical policies for startup employees.

Jihan Abass, CEO & Founder of Lami (Source: Eva Barasa/Lami Tech/medium)

Jihan Abass, CEO, Lami, said: “This funding will allow us to invest in hiring more people, improving our technology, and growing our presence across Africa as we can continue to address the persistent insurance gap. At Lami, our vision is to help improve the financial resilience of millions by making insurance products more accessible and affordable for underserved populations. By enabling our business partners to offer customized insurance solutions, we are helping them provide more value to their customers while enabling large volumes of users to access insurance, often for the first time.”

Africa’s insurance market currently stands at a 3 percent penetration rate, except for South Africa, and is facing modernization and innovation challenges. Most insurance providers on the continent fail to offer flexible, affordable and tailored insurance coverage to provide a safety net for the African consumer. Low insurance uptake is partly due to the traditional distribution and administration of policies, mainly relying on brick-and-mortar channels where policies are sold and processed manually. This results in a longer processing cycle, poor customer satisfaction, and higher distribution costs.

Lami’s digital insurance platform leverages cloud computing, automation, and third-party service providers such as emergency and valuation, or identity and asset verification databases, to offer a comprehensive ecosystem for the businesses they partner with to develop, distribute and manage highly streamlined and competitive insurance products that are designed to meet their customers’ needs.

Since its inception, the insurtech startup has sold more than 5,000 policies and has partnered with more than 25 active underwriters, including Britam, Pioneer, and Madison Insurance, distributing more than 30 products available including medical, motor, employee benefits, and device insurance. As an innovator in the digital insurance space, Lami aims to continue diversifying its business by looking for new partners and building on its core technology.

Michael Schlein, President and CEO, Accion Venture Lab, said: “Ninety-seven percent of Africans lack access to insurance — a financial safety net that can help them build resilience against economic shocks. Lami helps address this need for consumers across Africa through its innovative approach that leverages technology and partnerships to help any business develop and sell insurance.”

“At Accion Venture Lab, we’re excited by how Lami is using technology to create a pathway for customers to purchase insurance that is specific to their needs. By embedding customized insurance within businesses that customers know and trust, Lami is making insurance accessible for underserved populations in Africa and enabling them to build financial resilience. “said Ashley Lewis, Africa Director, Accion Venture Lab

This investment highlights the strong commitment of all organizations to ensuring that financial services are made accessible and affordable for the underserved.

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