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InvestSure: Inspired by the need for investors to manage fraud risks that can be unforeseen – Mbulelo Mpofana

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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:

  1.  Navigating the internal processes of our partner companies; these can result in long delays and take up a lot of the founders’ time.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Also Read SMEs: Before you sign that deed of guarantee | Morenike Okebu

Bio’s:

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.

 

Visit InvestSure today!

 

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Avila Diana Chidume: Building Greeting Cards and Gifts Platform for the Underrepresented

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Avila Diana Chidume, Founder Avila.Diana (Image: Avila.Diana)

Avila Diana Chidume is a creative entrepreneur following a dream she had nursed since age 6, which is to have her own greetings card company. Growing up she struggled to find diverse cards, so she would make them herself using crayons and scrap paper.

In 2018, during her studies whilst in second year at Law school, she began creating again and founded Avila.Diana. With the goal to overcome stereotypes and change the world’s perceptions on underrepresented communities. This was achieved with the help of her brothers, mom’s living room table initially, and her remaining £32 for that semester.

Avila.Diana is a greeting card and gift platform created for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community, and people living with disabilities. A brand built to celebrate diversity and representation. With the majority of these cards designed by artists from these backgrounds.

In 2020 the dream was taken to the next level when she launched the World’s First Online global marketplace for diverse and representative greeting cards and gifts named, Kutenda. This was done in collaboration with Avila’s co-founder and younger brother, Nyasha. They discovered that large retailers either ignore ‘minority’ artists or steal their ideas, so through Avila.Diana they strive to provide these artists with the platform and support they need to grow.

Avila has always been passionate about helping people and has been trying to figure out how best to do so. She is very outspoken about her beliefs and mission on inclusivity with people. Inclusivity and its benefits. She engages people in topics which are uncomfortable such as race and mental health amongst the Black community. Avila is passionate about highlighting marginalized creatives creating their own diverse cards from different communities and celebrating their work. Her love for human rights and art have led her to where she is today.

 

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Rhoda Aguonigho: Building a Fashion Hub for African Creatives to Create, Connect and Collaborate

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Rhoda Aguonigho is a Fashion entrepreneur and cultural & creative industry advocate who is very passionate about the Creative industry in Africa. As a consultant, she has worked with several fashion entrepreneurs, teaching them how to launch their businesses and achieve their brand goals. As a project manager she has worked on some of Africa’s top fashion events and programs like Lagos Fashion Week, Lagos Fashion Awards, The Leap Project and many more.  Rhoda is the Founder of Lhaude Fashion network an organization that creates opportunities for emerging Fashion Talents and the Creative Director of Rholabel. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her journey as a fashion entrepreneur and her passion for the creative and fashion industry. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand, Lhaude? 

Rhoda: My name is Rhoda Aguonigho and I am a fashion entrepreneur. My work in the fashion industry includes consulting, project management and also running a couple of fashion businesses. I am currently the founder of Lhaude Fashion Network. A fashion organization that creates opportunities for emerging fashion startups and creatives across Nigeria and Africa to thrive and grow. We do this via our various initiatives and our digital community platform. We run a digital hub that is currently home to over two hundred creatives across Nigeria and we are spreading that to Africa in the next couple of months.

Alaba: What attracted you to the fashion industry and what do you intend to achieve? 

Rhoda: Honestly, I don’t think there was a major thing for me except that when I was pretty much young, I just watched a lot of lifestyles and my interest in the fashion industry was more of wanting to design outfits. Then, I started styling, writing and then grew into becoming a magazine fashion editor, I started to do project management, working at fashion events, etc, and that is how I have grown in the industry.

I intend to achieve an ecosystem in Africa where the fashion business is sustainable and profitable, a system where creatives get constant opportunities to grow and thrive, where there is no gap between the emerging creatives and the top professionals.

Alaba: What were your initial challenges starting off?

Rhoda: I would say the first challenge was access. At the time I started, I was in school, and not in Lagos which is the fashion capital. I was running a fashion organization and needed fashion experts. But things started to get better as I finished school and was able to get into the fashion industry fully with a job.

Another challenge would be funding. You don’t have a lot of organisations giving grants or funds to fashion businesses or initiatives. Being an organization putting together events, initiatives, and needed funds to execute them. There was no amount that we could charge the participants that would cover the cost.

Alaba: How have you attracted members and grown the organisation from the start? 

Rhoda: value! People gravitate to where value is given. From the very beginning, in 2017 when we had our first event which took place in ile-ife, Osun State. We had the Style infidel and a fashion designer – Samuel Noon come down to ile-ife. It was a Lhaude network cocktail and a networking session between grassroots, emerging grassroots creatives, and fashion experts. We have various initiatives, a business incubator program, business advisory and mentorship schemes.

Alaba: What issues have proved to be the most challenging in your attempt to help support fashion designers in Nigeria? 

Rhoda: I would say a mindset problem, which comes from lack of proper fashion education. Some of these creatives you are trying to help grow are not even as invested as you are in the development of their businesses. I mean we have those with great mindsets, but to a large extent, especially local creatives who have not had the opportunity to be exposed to the fashion business properly or on a large scale. They don’t see the importance of certain things like PR, Accounting and Bookkeeping, Business models, the core business part of fashion.

Alaba: How has technology impacted the fashion industry?

Rhoda: A lot of things are changing, gone are the days when you have to travel abroad for International fashion courses. You can sit in the comfort of your room and access courses with coursemates across the world. Technology is helping to widen access to the market, improve collaboration among fashion enthusiasts, experts and make the fashion community across the world much closer.  

Another way is how technology is cutting down on waste. With 3D fashion, designers don’t have to create a physical collection to present. They can do it via 3D and clients select what they want and the designer makes the actual pieces. But in situations where people don’t like it or people don’t receive it, those samples are wasted.

Alaba: The term Fashiontech is still quite new. What is your opinion on this invention? 

Rhoda: Yes, Fashion tech is quite new and I am so excited because the possibilities are limitless.  Initially, it was just on the e-commerce level, connecting and building networks. But then it grew to 3D and now NFTs. I see innovations coming out of the fashion and tech industry and feel like there is still so much to learn and catch up with. 

I mean, Africa, Nigeria, in particular is still growing but I don’t think we are doing so badly. I think orientation is getting so better, people are getting more aware, adjusting and beginning to adapt to technology in their fashion businesses. We still need more education on FashionTech, this is one of the things Lhaude is actually looking into more for next year.

Alaba: Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern fashion industry? 

Rhoda: One of the things that excite me is the Fashion Tech like I mentioned in the previous question. The fact that innovation is limitless. I am so excited about the innovation, new ideas, new technology that are to come out from fashion with technology. Another thing is how as an African, there are no limitations to how you can express your creativity or culture, there are no border limitations, because of tech, we can express it to the whole world.

The third thing is building community. It is so amazing when you meet people from other cultures or countries who are interested in similar things as you. That is, as a fashion executive in Lagos, I can connect with a fashion executive or designer in London, Scotland, Australia, etc and we are building communities connected by our passion and drive for creativity, regardless of cultural differences.

Alaba: Where do you see Lhaunde Fashion Network and the Nigerian Fashion Industry in the next 5 years?

Rhoda: I see Lhaude being Africa’s foremost fashion community. The fashion hub where creatives across Africa and the globe plugin to Create, Connect and Collaborate. I definitely see Lhaude building a world-class hub for fashion creatives, where they get access to everything they need to build, to thrive, and to grow. 

I see the Nigerian Fashion industry as one of the leading fashion industries across the world. An industry that will be known for innovation, creativity, and originality. With a rich culture and creative people leading the fashion sphere across the world.

Alaba: What piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs? 

Rhoda: My advice to them is, be resilient and innovative.  I would say to not give up, be resilient and do not just be comfortable with the state of your business or your business idea, constantly innovate, constantly grow. The idea for Lhaude came in 2016 and it didn’t start until 2017. At that time, I was still in college. It was quite difficult running an organization and building a career simultaneously. 

 

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Kevine Kagirimundu: The Rwandan crafting eco friendly and fashionable footwear from recycled car tyres

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Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y

UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu, the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your entrepreneurship journey?

Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started  gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.

Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?

Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.

Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?

Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community. 

The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills  and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes  60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men. 

In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills  to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.

Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?

Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.

Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?

Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.

Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?

Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.

Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?

Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.

Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?

Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields.  Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!

Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?

Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.

Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?

Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it! 

UZURI K&Y footwears

 

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