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Gareth Grobler, Founder and CEO of iCE3X on the role of Digital Asset Exchanges in Africa

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Gareth Grobler is a digital currency entrepreneur and founded the cryptocurrency exchange iCE3X in 2013. He is a founding member of the UK Digital Currency Association. Gareth has over 15 years of experience in IT infrastructure and architecture development. He started iCE3X as a proof of concept and has been involved with other ventures including Merkeleon, a software company that builds exchange and processing software based out of Austria, with offices in Minsk and London. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Grobler provides clarity on developments in the industry within Africa and shares his views on cryptocurrency adoption on the continent. Excerpts:

Heath: What impact do you think cryptocurrencies will have on how people trade especially in Africa considering that a huge number of people on the continent remain unbanked and excluded from the traditional financial system and cross-border trade is slow and inefficient?

Gareth: It is a double-edged sword. Crypto gives more people access to more options but also creates a void where unscrupulous entities fleece consumers who are not as financially savvy due to the fact that they have not had regular exposure to financial products and or have no experience with investments.

Heath: What government issued African fiat currencies does your platform currently support?

Gareth: The iCE3X platform currently supports two fiat currencies, the Nigerian Naira (NGN) and the South African Rand (ZAR) in addition to the more than 10 cryptocurrencies.

Heath: iCE3X has been operational since 2013. What prompted the early move in the space especially in African markets you operate in i.e. South Africa & Nigeria?

Gareth: iCE3X began as a proof of concept for the SaaS exchange product but now we have more functionality and features than any other exchange in Africa. Our focus is on being the best trading platform and not a cryptocurrency custodian since our vision is to give end-users more options especially when it comes to storing cryptos and do not advocate storage on our exchange, only responsible trading. 

We have a loyal user base and are very proud to be one of the few exchanges with legitimate trades and volumes. We take a customer-centric approach to development and delivery of our offerings. Our primary focus is user education with regards to both cryptos and fiat money and blockchain technology adoption. An example is our free crypto trading platform feature which allows users to learn how to trade in real markets using demo tokens native to our exchange.

Heath: How is the cryptocurrency industry developing in South Africa?

Gareth: iCE3X is the abbreviation for “Internet Currency Evolution” so we understand that the industry still has a long way to go and we will see many transitions as the industry develops. We are constantly working on new ways to educate users about the underpinning technologies behind cryptocurrencies and are pleased with the trajectory.

Crypto markets are maturing and user security and knowledge is the main focal point for most honest operators. Part of the downside to the success of bitcoin has been the rise of scams being perpetrated under the bitcoin banner by opportunists looking to defraud unsuspecting ecosystem participants.

Also Read: Interview: Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy For Girls Executive Director, Gugulethu Ndebele On Girls And Leadership

Heath: You’re part of the group helping to advise the South African Reserve Bank with respect to cryptocurrency regulations. How would you ideally like to see them approach regulating the industry particularly crypto exchanges?

Gareth: We see cryptos such as Bitcoin as complementary financial instruments rather than replacements for traditional fiat. The SARB have been doing a great job in taking great care to understand the industry and any new challenges it faces, both technically and socially. It is pretty clear to everyone that cryptocurrency such as bitcoin itself cannot be regulated or controlled, but rather that the interaction of fiat money and cryptocurrency should and can be regulated.

Ultimately citizens require consumer protection and the best way to provide this is by vetting and licensing the operators who facilitate the interaction of FIAT and Cryptocurrency. The wheels of government, unfortunately, do not turn as fast as we would like, but we are moving in the right direction and we look forward to being a licensed crypto-asset service provider (CASP).

Heath: How would you describe the progress in South Africa in terms of regulating the industry?

Gareth: South Africa is one of the leading countries worldwide in this respect. Our COO, Eugene Etsebeth was the inaugural Chairperson for the IFWG (Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group) back in 2016 during his tenure at the South African Reserve Bank. I’ve been consulting with the financial regulator since 2012 so overall as a whole RSA have been keeping on top of the curve, yet have been very careful not to tie the industry with unnecessary red-tape so I can honestly say that it is one of the best jurisdictions in which to operate.

Heath: What are some of the legal and regulatory guidelines you currently follow and how will the organisation monitor emerging regulatory considerations? For example Anti-money laundering (AML) laws; and know your customer (KYC) laws.

Gareth: We are proud to have been ahead of the game since inception. We have in fact set the standard in some respects. We follow Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF) recommendations and already comply with all the suggested government regulations in terms of KYC and AML, even though these requirements are not yet legal requirements. We are also fortunate as I am a FATF recognised private sector expert and as a result, get to not only influence regulatory thinking on an international level but also benefit from first-hand exposure to the direction regulators are taking.

Heath: What can you tell us about the product roadmap for the exchange? You continue to release new features and list new digital assets, what upcoming features are you most excited about rolling out?

Gareth: There are a host of new features, functionality and assets scheduled for release during 2020. This includes stable coins, auto trading, 5 new order types, completely revamped and unique rewards system, new mobile apps, gamification and more deposit and withdrawal options. We are most excited about Artificial Intelligence Coin, our native utility token which will take cryptocurrency adoption and use in South Africa to a whole new level. This is due for release towards the end of Q1 2020.

Visit: iCE3X

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Black Canadians making travel safer for women by helping them rent spaces from other women with Femmebnb

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Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng

Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng (Source: Yaa Birago)

Dismayed by her solo travel experience in 2017, Yaa Birago made it her goal to curate a safe space where like-minded women travel enthusiasts can come together to plan, book, meet, talk, and share everything about travel. Softly launched amidst pandemic, Femmebnb Inc. is the first-ever social networking short-term vacation rental service powered by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) travel assistant that is at the forefront of reshaping ‘Women’s travel experience’, once the world reopens.

After being sexually harassed in-front of her airbnb apartment in Rome, and receiving no support from her male bnb host, Yaa Birago – CEO and co-founder of Femmebnb Inc., felt unsafe and unpleasant for the rest of her trip. This is exactly what was told to her when she announced her solo travel to her family – it’s unsafe! With this experience and the urge to change the travel horizon for women, the idea of Femmebnb sprung in her mind.

The validation of a need to have a platform and community that is solely for women travellers & hosts came from a survey initiated by Femmebnb where over 229 women shared that they would feel more secure knowing their host is a female, and that the rental is booked via a platform that deeply understands these concerns. This is the reason why Femmebnb has already received over 3000 registrations by women from 60 countries on the platform despite the travel industry being on hold due to COVID-19.

Source: Yaa Birago

“Being a hodophile, I was extremely disappointed when my solo travel to Europe turned out to be a nightmare as I faced sexual & street harassment. Upon receiving no support from my male bnb host when I discussed the incident with him, I realised that a female host would have naturally been more emphatic. This, combined with the help I attained from a female companion in France with whom I had merely chatted on Facebook before my travels, affirmed that we need to curate a safe social networking vacation rental space for only women where common concerns can be addressed and resolved together. This embarked the idea of Femmebnb in 2017. After 3 years of persistence and determination, fused with technology, creativity and research, we have finally launched and are ready to change ‘her travel experience’.  – Yaa Birago, CEO & Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc.

When Yaa proposed the idea to an old ally Diana Obeng, she jumped in right away to co-found the company with her.

Diana Obeng, Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc. – “As a woman, I shouldn’t have to hope and pray that my safety is not at risk when I am planning to travel solo in a new country, but unfortunately, that’s the first thought that comes to mind. I cannot downplay that women fear their safety over every other concern related to traveling alone. Hence, when Yaa proposed the idea of curating a safe space for women travelers, I jumped on board in a heartbeat. We are determined and have invested every bit of our soul into this project and I am excited to help reshape ‘women travel experience’.”

Femmebnb is an exclusive membership platform, ensuring that every member on the platform is vetted. The verification process consists of 5 steps: email, phone, government ID, property documentation/utility bill and/or video verification. The on-site personality video feature facilitates trust and credibility between the host and guest. For the time being, a one-time subscription fee of $4.99 has been waived off the platform, making it free for all to register!

Source: Yaa Birago

A portion of every transaction made on the site for bookings goes towards providing menstrual equity, menstrual hygiene education and menstrual products to girls in Africa as a means to help eradicate period poverty.

(By woman/women, Femmebnb Inc. means anyone who identifies as a woman, non-binary, gender-fluid or non-conforming (womxn).

 

Yaa Birago’s Short Bio

Source: Yaa Birago

Yaa Birago is a tech entrepreneur, Co-founder and CEO of FemmeBnB Inc.; the first social networking vacation and short-term rental platform that allows women to rent their spaces to other women in hopes of maximizing safety, peace of mind and comfort, along with AI- Powered Travel Companion to help women plan their trip from start to end. She started the company to provide safe space and peace of mind for women travelers after she had a terrifying experience as a solo traveler in Rome.

Yaa holds a B.A degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Windsor but her passion for tech, women and children advancement led her into the Information Technology and Non-Profit sector for the past 11 years. Yaa is also the Co-Founder and President of Hands of a Hero Foundation (HOHF), a non-profit organization that provides mentorship, leadership, and career development programs for youth and children in Canada and Ghana. Yaa was a recipient of Global Impact Award and Women’s Courage International Award.

She was named as a Black Canadian Role Model and Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. In addition, she was selected as Top30 under30 Pioneers by FOG and in March 2020, she was recognized as WOCStar Woman to Watch. Moreover, Yaa was recently recognized as the TOP 20 Women CEOs in Vacation Rental Tech by VR Tech and the Top 25 Women in the Travel Industry by TravelPulse.

Yaa is passionate and enthusiastic about travel technology, women travel safety, sustainable travel, and improving women’s travel experiences across the globe.

 

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Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant creating the French Experience with an African twist

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Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)

Most times when you think of a French wine expert, especially in Bordeaux, a strong-willed, driven and passionate Black Woman doesn’t come first to mind.

Chinedu Rita Rosa is making waves in the Bordeaux wine community. As a Nigerian Black Woman in her 40’s, she is a rare and long-overdue sight in the wine industry. Over the past six years, she has built a home in Bordeaux with her two teenage daughters and French husband.

For over 20 years Rosa has been active in the wine industry, though she came into the wine business by chance, as an unofficial adviser to her late husband selecting wines for importation into Nigeria. Originally working as a banker, wine did not become her profession until the passing away of her late husband in 2008 who was a Lebanese businessman.

In 2008 she returned to Nigeria and worked with her late Husband’s Friends in XO Wine Store as a Manager where she was in charge of organizing various wine events, teaching wine appreciation, and increasing the selection of wines from all over France. She did all this with minimal professional experience. She likes to put it into simple terms that anyone could relate to, “ I learnt while drinking on the job!”

With Nigeria being a beer-drinking society it was not an easy sell for wines, when she first started, although it was a delightful process, Rosa mentioned. She witnessed, ChiChi (as she is fondly called by her friends) mentioned. She witnessed, seeing the shift of peoples’ opinions about wine, especially when she found the right wine to pair with a client’s palette. Meeting people and discerning their taste and discovering their wine preference is an art that she is passionate about.

“As the years went by, it became much easier to match wines with clients taste” said Rosa. It was during this time that she also acquired knowledge of wine importation, wholesales, retailing and grassroots marketing strategies due to the distribution network of XO Wine stores.

After her first year, Rosa knew this was a profession that she would like to pursue, she continued studying, tasting and enjoyed experimenting with wine tasting pairings. She turned her wine education into a social circle with clients and friends who were also wine lovers. For her, these were some of the most rewarding best moments of her wine career.

Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)

She discovered how African foods reacted to different grape varieties and from different wine regions, not forgetting Champagne. She boosts “ If you haven’t tried eating àsun or suya with red wine, you must; it is not to be missed”

It was important to ensure sure that all her knowledge of wine and the industry was accredited, which led her to Bordeaux, where she learned about the technical side of winemaking, regions, and styles. Chinedu found herself the only black and African student for the entire term of the course. In the first step of her official wine studies, received a certification from the school of wine in Bordeaux “Ecole Du Vin.” She is a true believer that the best wines come from Bordeaux.

A fabulous wine lovers group was established in the spirit of the numerous tastings and to date, it exists in Lagos exclusively for members of the XO Family.

Continuing her wine education journey in Bordeaux was a dream and when she decided to re-marry and move to France there was no second-guessing where she was going to call home. Chinedu says,” Naija women are born Entrepreneurs.”This drove her ambition and she ventured into media marketing, blogging, and vlogging in the wine world of Bordeaux, and she also created a networking community where she is the president of like-minded people and entrepreneurs from all over the world that has settled in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Business Network has over 1000 members and is a thriving support community for expat entrepreneurs.

In Bordeaux, Chinedu has become known as the black lady who is invited everywhere and also hosts a lot of events (not unlike in Lagos!) due to her professional commitments. She attends most wine and entrepreneurial events in the Bordeaux metropolis and is easily distinguishable as a black businesswoman with a glowing smile.

Does this bother her? She has mixed feelings on the subject, Chinedu takes no issues with being the ONLY anywhere, it is a testament to her African upbringing after all. “‘Naija no dey, carry last,” she says. and Being yourself and standing out is important, but she is driven to encourage other black entrepreneurs and young people to come into this profession, where she believes the possibilities are endless.

Chinedu is a distinguished WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) certification, holder. Her wine knowledge spans the process of winemaking to marketing and exportation. She had envisioned that there would be more people of color in the wine industry with her qualifications that she could connect with on a cultural level but she is still left searching. She hopes that this will start to change soon.

Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa and friends (Photo: Roger Das)

As the founder of VINES BY ROSA, an import and marketing company based in Bordeaux she now collaborates with amazing brands, representing them in African Markets. Some of her most notable representations include: CHATEAU DAUZAC, MARGAUX GRAND CRU CLASSE, HINCH IRISH WHISKEY, NINTH WAVE GIN, LGI WINES. These brands are Winemakers that tailor to the African Market specifically creating labels and even Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.

Always thinking about the future Chinedu wants to continue to build on her passion, education, and dedication, increasing the quality of wines and spirits being imported into Africa and propelling wine appreciation in the continent. She is on a mission to demystify the art of wine tasting and bring good wine to every table at the right price. In the process of this journey, she hopes to inspire other black men and women to join the wine industry and looks to the day where she is not the, I am almost always the only professional BLACK (Woman) at tasting events and business functions, especially here in Bordeaux. “I want to change that,” she ends.

Taking it one- step at a time to secure long-overdue space for aspiring Black women in the wine industry, through the success of Vines By Rosa, she hopes to inspire more people to take their passion and dreams forward.

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Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home

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Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)

Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?

Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.

The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.

 

Alaba: What is your background?

Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.

 

Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?

Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.

Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.

 

Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!

Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.

The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.

 

Alaba: What are your main challenge?

Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.

 

Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?

Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.

 

Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?

Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.

Visit Vetwork

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