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.
OKADEMY: Investing in African Brains
OKADEMY team; Kileshe Kasoma and Samy Mwamba (Image: Itot Africa)
OKADEMY is an on-demand digital training platform. Launched by Itot Africa in 2017 with the aim of sharing digital skills in order to create and bring jobs back to Africa. Itot Africa has already been able to physically train more than 700 people and create more than 100 jobs. To be able to meet the great demand for digital skills and talents in Africa, the team came up with an innovative concept, “a restaurant for the brain ”.
Like a restaurant, people can take these courses at their own pace, at any time, and at affordable prices tailored to the local economic climate. The digital platform provides training on demand, primarily courses that offer digital and business skills. Then, they make these training available online and in all of their partner training centers that they call restaurants for the brain.
Okademy’s main objective is to enable people who are unemployed or far from employment to get closer to, find or create a job through training adapted to the needs of the labour market. Through a career follow-up system and networking with employers.
“We must allow people to feed their brains at their own pace, with the knowledge they really need, for professional purposes or simply out of curiosity,” explains Samy Mwamba, Director of Itot Africa.
“By 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation, 230 million jobs will require digital skills, and by digital skills, let’s not just think of advanced computer skills, people are looking for basic skills, like Excel, sending emails, searching the web, video conferencing, etc. With the okademy.africa platform , in one hour, a person can learn a new skill, wherever they are.” Samy added.
“For each student who takes our courses, we track their progress through our system integrated into the training platform; this means in concrete terms that we know whether our students are unemployed, have an internship, a fixed-term contract or a permanent contract. We also have information about employers and job offers.” – Kileshe Kasoma, People at Itot Africa
“With this data, we offer digital CVs to students, we connect our students with companies that are hiring, we modify, delete and add more courses and finally we have statistics on the impact of our courses in terms of job creation.” Kileshe added.
In the next 5 years, OKADEMY aims to have 500 courses and at least 2000 students in each course. They also want to be open to all categories of people, which is why our prices take into account the economic realities of Africans. That is, from $10 a person can have access to training.
Trudenty: Redefining the future of identity
Trudenty CO-Founder & CEO, Lerato Matsio (Image: Supplied)
Trudenty is a Web 3 – SSI (Self Sovereign Identity) startup that leverages decentralised identity technology to provide privacy preserving credentials to people for use online. Founded by Lerato Matsio, a South African entrepreneur currently residing in Belgium after a rewarding career at McKinsey & Company that ended in February 2022.
Lerato launched Trudenty after she experienced identity theft and digital banking fraud (as a result) via her bank in South Africa. This experience inspired her to reimagine a world in which people were empowered with control over their information to cut through the root causes of digital fraud. And eliminate the need for companies to collect and store people’s information in a centralised database. Lerato found that blockchain and SSI technology offer a compelling suite of options to enable this.
Trudenty provides people and businesses with an alternative solution to perform identity verification and KYC that maintains the privacy (and security) of people’s sensitive personal information and also gives people control over their information.
In the world today, plenty of solutions exist for identity verification and KYC. However, they exist in a fragmented manner that requires people to share their sensitive information repeatedly across different companies every time they need to establish a new relationship with a company. This creates friction in the onboarding experience for people, but especially painful, exposes information that can be exploited by fraudsters to steal from people and defraud companies. Given the rise in instances of identity theft and digital fraud – it is clear that a change is needed.
“At Trudenty, we are building the future of identity, and by doing so, we provide an answer to the identity-related pain points of our time.” – Lerato Matsio, Founder Trudenty
“Our solution (currently in development) will enable real world trust anchors (e.g., banks, governments, health authorities, etc,) to issue verifiable credentials to their constituents that can be used by people to verify themselves, without compromising their identity, their privacy and allowing them control over who accesses their information. In future, identity verification and KYC will be possible using credentials issued by the real world credential issuer”. says Lerato.
With this inspiration and purpose-led mission, Lerato invited 2 technical co-founders with deep experience and expertise in Web 3 (incl. SSI) and fintech in Africa to help her bring Trudenty to life.
Later on this year, Trudenty plans to launch a pilot with a closed group of fintechs (and people) to test its solution. Through the initial use cases of digital onboarding, KYC and passwordless authentication. The team is currently working to complete development of their MVP for pilot later this year. They are excited to work with institutions and fintechs across the continent to usher in a new paradigm for identity verification, globally.
At McK, Lerato helped clients in Africa and Europe reinvent their business models and drive operational transformations, leveraging technology. Lerato is a Chemical Engineer by education, and spent a few of her early years as a Process Control Engineer at Sasol (a South African petrochemicals company).
Jusnah Gadi: The Tanzanian Native proving it’s possible to do it all
Jusnah Gadi, Managing Director of Young Music Boss
Jusnah Gadi a Tanzanian Native, raised in the Netherlands and currently resident in the UK, whose entrepreneurship has landed her in the likes of Forbes, Elle Magazine and the Evening Standard. She is a music business educator and founder of Young Music Boss which is a resource hub focusing on legal and business affairs.
With its tagline ‘Preparing Future Music Bosses’, YMB is an educational channel and network building platform to empower artists and aspiring music executives learning to navigate the business. With a legal background specialising in intellectual property and commercial law, Jusnah Gadi is fast becoming a formidable and much needed force in the music industry.
She is also the Co-founder of the UK’s No.1 Seafood boil brand (Hot n Juicy Shrimp Ldn) which has two operational takeaway branches and recently launched their microwavable sauce pouches ready to take the retail world by storm. HNJ was founded alongside business partner Samantha Pascal and boasts the likes of ZeZe Millz, Krept, Dappy and Ms Bankz among its notable regular customers.
And as if all of that isn’t enough, Jusnah Gadi also has a full-time corporate job as a Senior Compliance Executive for a FTSE 100 Sports & Entertainment company where she has climbed the ranks in her department leading a team of analysts who ensure the company’s regulatory and legal obligations are upheld.
Alaba: They say ‘don’t try to be a jack of all trades’. Do you believe in this?
Jusnah: Well the idea is that if you try to be a jack of all trades then you will be a master of none. I believe in the statement to an extent. I do believe that ideally you should focus on that ONE thing and become the go to for it, be EXCELLENT at it and then other doors will open. I don’t entirely subscribe to it though, because I believe that skills are transferable and I believe you can be multiple things at once and be a success at it.
Alaba: You speak about Tanzania and Africa a lot, particularly as it relates to the music industry – why is that?
Jusnah: Because Tanzania is my heritage, though I wasn’t born or raised there, I actually visited for the first time in 2003, It is my roots. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the betterment of my country and I think that my way is through Music Business. I see an industry that is RICH with talent but poor in infrastructure. I want to lead in that area and for me that begins with education. In order to develop an ecosystem which makes our music industry more sophisticated I believe the starting point is to ensure creatives and all stake-holders are adequately informed on the various different components that come into play.
I consult various artists teams in Tanzania and when I speak to producers/artists who have no.1 hit songs in East Africa, are dominating charts and streaming platforms with unimaginable numbers, yet struggle for basic needs I am reminded of the overwhelming amount of work there is to be done. If not me, then who?
Alaba: You also launched the Young Music Boss Awards in the UK (YMBA), tell us about that?
Jusnah: I am passionate about creating access to the industry but also cultivating and incentivising it, the YMB Awards are an extension of that. The Music Industry, is rich with accolades which celebrates the Artist’s, Producers and sometimes Labels. But rarely the executives behind the scenes who drive it all forward. The YMBA bridges this gap by awarding rising music executives, creatives and entrepreneurs who are the Managers, lawyers, A&Rs, Publicists, Publishers, Stylists, Marketers, Agents etc behind some of the most exciting artists, campaigns and music businesses of our time.
I was that kid who always used to read all the credits in the small print of the CD covers, wondering who those people were and what the different functions meant …now I know they are the people who make the industry revolve and evolve, the YMBA celebrates those individuals.
Alaba: What about your Food Business, what inspired that?
Jusnah: It was really an accident. I never planned to be a food entrepreneur. My business partner and I were craving a Seafood boil on our return to London from a trip in Las Vegas and struggled to find one. Eventually, we found one girl who made them from home, tried it and it was not great AT ALL. My business partner then suggested that we could actually do our own, I didn’t entertain the idea. A week or two later she had begun to test a recipe, telling some friends and family and had asked for my thoughts on a logo.
At this stage, I said to myself ‘okay I want in’. But even then, for me it was just an extra cash injection to fund other projects. Within just over a month, what was meant to be just a weekend gig from our home kitchens, word spread across London and demand increased. We then quickly realised that we could now longer safely or legally operate from our home kitchens which led to us obtaining the relevant licences and moving into a commercial kitchen. Two years later, here we are two branches with a product ready for retail.
Alaba: So what do the next 5 years look like for you?
Jusnah: Like Greatness.