From left- Ettienne Myburgh (Easy Equities), Mbulelo Mpofana, Carly Barnes (Easy Equities), Shane Curran and Ignatious Nkwinika.
Based in Johannesburg and founded by Shane Curran, Mbulelo Mpofana and Ignatious Nkwinika. InvestSure is a new insurance product that insures listed shares bought on participating trading platforms, against losses arising out of the deceptive or misleading acts of management of the company. The insurance is offered on shares listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), with plans to insure shares in global markets in future. Investors can insure their shares as they buy them, as well as insure their existing portfolio. This product is a world first innovation, developed in South Africa and supported by global partners. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online. Mbulelo Mpofana- Co-Founder & COO at InvestSure talked about the inspiration behind InvestSure, how they got funded and the future for their brand. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about InvestSure and the gap it’s filling.
Mbulelo: InvestSure is an insurtech startup that has developed APIs that enable share trading platforms to sell their unique insurance product. InvestSure has developed a world-first insurance product that provides shareholders protection against losses in the share price which are caused by management misleading and deceiving shareholders. The product is currently available on Easy Equities.
In the wake of the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal we noticed that the share price had dropped significantly, yet there was no recourse to investors who had invested in the company not knowing that VW weren’t all they made out to be. After that multiple similar events around the world prompted us to think that investors should have some kind of protection for these events. Management fraud presents a difficult to manage and asses risk for investors (even sophisticated investors). It is often caused by deception on the part of trusted managers who are much closer to the business on a daily basis.
There was simply no accessible, simple and cost effective product to allow investors to protect themselves from the risk of being blindsided by management of the companies they invest in. We also think this product can make investing more accessible by simplifying the decision process and allow people to invest with more confidence, knowing they have this “sleep easy” cover.
On the tech side InvestSure provides a set of APIs that trading platform developers can use to integrate their insurance product seamlessly into their websites and applications. Once InvestSure’s technology is added to a trading platform, it enables users to easily buy insurance on their shares with a single click. The full process from buying to insurance to settling claims is fully automated.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Mbulelo: Entrepreneurs often talk about needing a bit of luck; we had our right at the beginning. We were very fortunate to partner with Hannover RE from a very early stage; the Africa region MD liked the product idea from the get go. They agreed to incubate and fund the founding team until we actually launched through their specialist insurance subsidiary Compass Insure. Compass is the insurer behind the product and is now also a shareholder in InvestSure. We also won R1-million at a pitch event run by AlphaCode, Merrill Lynch South Africa and Royal Bafokeng Holdings. The initial funding from Compass formed part of our recently announced R9.6m funding round.
Alaba: As a startup, what are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
Mbulelo: We have been fortunate in many respects to have secured support from a multinational insurance giant at idea stage so our set of challenges are of a different nature than most innovative startups. For us the challenges included:
- Navigating the internal processes of our partner companies; these can result in long delays and take up a lot of the founders’ time.
- Linked to the above, the other big challenge was the B-2-B aspect of the business, established companies move much slower than we were able to, especially on the IT and decision making sides, and this created some frustration for us as well as increasing time to market (and cash spent before getting to market).
- Managing the at time conflicting objectives of all partners and stakeholder to make the business relationship worthwhile for all parties, especially with a unusually low cost product like ours. The insurance industry is still used to high distribution cost models.
- Client education, we’ve tried to make the product quite simple but there are still misunderstandings we find in terms of people getting what the product does, the value in it and how it’s different to things like put options.
- Awareness, spreading awareness of the product on a tight budget is always a challenge!
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Mbulelo: There is a lot of advice from much smarter and successful people than me out there! I’ll stick to specifically insurtech were I have more experience and less has been said about.
Our advice for anyone trying to create a new product is to partner with an established player. This allows you the time to focus on the product design and development, rather than trying to deal with the insurance regulatory mine-field. You can always change direction once the product is established. It also allows you much easier access to flexible capital, accessing their networks and relationships, instant credibility enhancement and tapping into internal expertise to name a few. I’ve found that more and more companies are seeing value in partnerships with disruptive innovators.
Investors in South Africa are much more profit focused and will look for shorter break even time frames over and above big opportunity. It is therefore important to manage costs down.
Alaba: What’s the future for InvestSure and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Mbulelo: There is a ton of scope for us to grow in South Africa, we are looking to do this by increasing our penetration rate on Easy Equities (our first platform partner) and we are keen on signing up other trading platforms as well which will increase our accessible market.
We are also keen to take advantage of the uniqueness of the product by taking it to other markets; initially we are looking at Australia and the UK as markets with similar regulation and business culture as SA.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of Africa?
Mbulelo: We are embracing the idea of “community” in the startup scene and engaging with many other founders as well as people who are interested. We have also actively sought to use our network to create opportunities for other startups e.g. at least one other startup has secured funding from our shareholders through our initial intro; quite a few others are in talks with them.
Alaba: What’s your view on the development of Africa InsurTech ecosystem?
Mbulelo: I think it’s small but high quality even compared to the US and UK. I see a lot of innovation around the intersection of hardware/devices and insurance in Africa and I think we can be a player in that space. I also think it’s growing especially as more corporate become open to collaborating and funding insurtech startups. Insurance has a very bad image and many insurtech’s are creating a fairer and more transparent version of doing things which I think will appeal to consumers more and more over time.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
Mbulelo: I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur so this is a dream for me. From an African perspective, I’m proud we could create something that has surprised even the global executives of a company like Hannover Re and bring a new insurance product to the global insurance market. Africans continue to innovate and create value though new products and business models so it shouldn’t be a surprise to people but for some reason it still is! Hannover Re South Africa itself is seen as the innovation sub for the group which is testament to the unique thinking and creativity in Africa.
Alaba: How do you and partners relax and what books do you read?
Mbulelo: Sports is a consistent passion across the team for sports, I more watch than play these days but Shane plays soccer like 2 or 3 times a week. We also like to travel and spend time with family. We tend to read a lot of business related books. I also like to read about politics and historical figures.
Alaba: Please teach us one word in your home language and your favorite local dish?
Mbulelo: Nkululeko- which means freedom in isiZulu, Freedom Day in SA is coming up on Saturday 27 April. Can’t pick an outright favorite but will mention two- Putu with Amasi and I also love Biltong.
Alaba: What’s your favorite holiday spot in your country?
Mbulelo: It changes over time but current would say rural KZN around the town of Port Shepstone and further down the coast. It’s really beautiful and still quite natural in parts. I also have family around those parts.
Shane Curran- Co-Founder & MD
Shane is a Chartered Accountant (CA(SA)) who originally saw the opportunity to approach Hannover Re Group Africa with an idea for a new insurance product. He believes that investing in shares is crucial to enhancing one’s wealth over the long term, but that certain risks could seriously harm that long term wealth growth. In his personal time he enjoys soccer, reading, holidays and spending time with friends and family.
Mbulelo Mpofana- Co-Founder & COO
Mbulelo teamed up with Shane to develop this unique insurance idea after gaining 6 years insurance experience, covering most technical areas of the industry including actuarial, capital management and risk management. Mbulelo has an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and loves finding pragmatic and practical solutions to challenging problems.
Ignatious Nkwinika- Co-Founder & CTO
Before designing and building InvestSure’s tech from scratch, Iggy gained over 14 years of experience as an IT Solutions Architect including over 6 years in insurance. He is passionate about technology development and finding innovative solutions within the insurance industry.
Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine
Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)
Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.
Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.
In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
Revolutionizing West African Food
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.
In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.
Visit Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity
Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.
Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.
“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.
One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.
Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”
One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.
In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.
“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.
A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.
Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme Application Opens
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropy dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs, opens applications on its TEFConnect digital platform (www.tefconnect.com) today, January 1, 2021.
This year’s intervention prioritises the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and young African entrepreneurs, following the Covid-19 disruption to economic activities.
To address the unique challenges arising from the pandemic, lift millions out of poverty and create sustainable employment across the continent, the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme will empower 1,000 young African entrepreneurs, selected from the 2020 cohort. The Foundation will also open applications to an additional 2,400 young entrepreneurs in 2021, in collaboration with global partners.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which celebrated ten years of impact in 2020, is empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. Successful applicants receive a world-class business training, mentorship, non-refundable seed capital up to $5,000, and global networking opportunities. The Programme is open to entrepreneurs across Africa, both new start-ups and existing young businesses, operating in any sector.
CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu stated, “The Tony Elumelu Foundation now more than ever is demonstrating our commitment to unleashing the potential of young African entrepreneurs, the key to Africa’s long-term economic transformation. The pandemic has created challenges across the continent, but we know that with the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s tried and tested Programme, we can execute the largest Covid-19 economic recovery plan for African SMEs and break the cycle of poverty in Africa.”
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100million Entrepreneurship Programme, launched in 2015 to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, is now entering its 7th year and has empowered to date, over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.
Prospective applicants should apply on the digital networking hub for African entrepreneurs, www.tefconnect.com
Source: The Tony Elumelu Foundation