Releaf co-Founders (Image: Supplied)
Releaf, an agtech start-up that develops proprietary hardware and software solutions that makes African farmers and food factories more efficient and profitable, has raised $2.7 million seed funding in a round led by Samurai Incubate Africa, Future Africa and Consonance Investment Managers with participation from Stephen Pagliuca, Chairman of Bain Capital and Justin Kan (Twitch). Releaf also secured $1.5 million in grants from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) and USAID.
The seed funding will enable the development of industrial food processing technology in Nigeria’s smallholder-driven Oil Palm sector while the grant will enable Releaf to provide working capital and other value-added services for smallholders and small-scale processors. Grant funding will support the training, recruitment and retention of more women and youth in Nigeria Oil Palm sector through the creation of both digital and technical jobs.
Nigeria’s oil palm industry is dominated by smallholder farmers, with 80 percent of local market share. However, production rates are low because many still rely on ineffective processes for de-shelling, including the use of rocks and inappropriate hardware. These ineffective processes also lead to low quality palm kernels which are largely unfit as input for high quality vegetable oil manufacturing. As a result, food factories are unable to purchase these raw materials and operate significantly under capacity. On average, food factories have 3X more installed capacity than utilization, which impacts the cost of food and hampers further investment into processing capacity.
Releaf acts as a bridge between smallholder farmers and food manufacturing companies with its proprietary patent-pending machinery, Kraken. Kraken can process any quality of palm nut into premium quality (95 percent purity) inputs for food factories. Releaf’s software connects the start-up to more than 2,000 smallholder farmers, ensuring consistent, large-scale supply. While palm kernel oil production is not foreign to Nigeria, Releaf’s technology and scale means it can process 500 tonnes of palm nuts per week. The software offerings also allow the start-up to receive inbound supply requests from farmers via USSD, provide working capital financing as well as collect proprietary data on supply availability.
Speaking about the new funding, Ikenna Nzewi, CEO and co-founder of Releaf, said, “our mandate is to industrialize Africa’s food processing industry. This round of funding enables us to develop and prove our technology with smallholder farmers in the oil palm sector. Given Nigerians spend ~60 percent of their income on food and Africa’s population is set to increase by 100,000 people per day over the next three decades, we’re presented with an incredible opportunity to feed more people, reduce consumer costs, and supply the fastest-growing food market in the world. Releaf is committed to harnessing technology to accelerate the economic wealth of rural, agrarian societies throughout the Continent. We firmly believe that a robust real economy is the foundation for long-lasting and shared prosperity for Africans and are excited to deepen partnerships with like-minded organizations, governments, and firms.”
This new funding will enable better productivity and accelerate the eradication of the menial and archaic processes that are prevalent across Nigeria’s oil palm sector and the agriculture sector as a whole. It will also enable Releaf to drive more value and profitability across the oil palm value chain, as well as support direct and ancillary job creation in the farming communities of South and Eastern Nigeria.
Rena Yoneyama, Managing Partner at Samurai Incubate Africa who led the round commented, “Releaf’s novel approach to operating within the value chain with proprietary technology set it aside from many agtech startups we have spoken to. We believe the firm’s thesis on decentralizing food processing would have a strong match with Africa’s economic development landscape for the next few decades. Ikenna and Uzo are the perfect founders to disrupt this market in Nigeria and beyond. We are thrilled to back them as they innovate in providing both agro-processing and financial services to rural communities and farmers.”
Iyin Aboyeji, General Partner at Future.Africa noted, “more than 50% of the goods in supermarkets globally contain glycerine – an extract made from palm oil – a cash crop that is passed down from generation to generation. The team at Releaf is building the agro-allied industry of the future from the ground up starting with palm oil which they have developed novel technology to aggregate, deshell and process into critical ingredients like vegetable oil and glycerine. Future Africa is delighted to back Releaf to build the future of modern agriculture”
Dr. Nneka Enwonwu, Country Relationship Manager, from The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) said, “We are thrilled to partner with Releaf on their mission to improve efficiency and profitability for farmers and food factories in Africa. The founders’ vision and the team’s enthusiasm gave us confidence that Releaf will deliver real value for rural communities and create digital/technical jobs for women and youth. We are looking forward to their results and success over the coming years and continuing to support their work.”
Egypt’s BONBELL seeks $10 million seed funding after closing $350,000 initial round
Egypt’s startup BONBELL, the first mobile App in the Food-tech industry specialized in food ordering, digital solutions for table and meal reservations, has closed an initial funding round for $350,000. This is through a Canadian Angel investor, to help further develop the App services and achieve a level of growth in regard to user count and daily orders.
BONBELL launched its own App in early 2022, to offer a wide range of food ordering services in Egypt. The App offers many food ordering solutions, from food delivery to restaurant’s reservations and Dine-in ordering through a QR Code on the tables, as well as take away services. The App offers various payment solutions through cash or credit cards.
BONBELL has partnered with many restaurants and cafes, as well as clubs like Heliopolis Club and Smash Club. It also offers its services in Malls and Cinemas, to offer a smoother food ordering experience, reserving tables and food delivery, for mall and cinema goers. It has also strategically partnered with many leading major companies and institutions. Most notably the German University in Cairo (GUC), and Raya Telecom, in order to offer its services in their respective headquarters for employees and visitors alike.
The Food-Tech startup targets raising its partnered restaurants to 750 by the end of 2022. The company is also negotiating with two venture capital funds from Europe and the Gulf, to close a $10 million fund in its seed round by the end of the year.
Doaa Abdel-Hameed, the Chief Business Officer of the company said: “we aim to help restaurants in offering an easier food ordering experience to their customers. Either through food delivery or reserving a table in the restaurant, as well as taking away orders and also the special orders made by customers in their restaurants.”
“We pursue a better experience for the Egyptian user in food ordering. We see a lot of potential and opportunities to do that through developing the App constantly based on the user reviews. And adding more restaurants in all of the Egyptian governorates.” She added.
BONBELL has earned the trust of more than 12,000 customers, who used the app in food ordering in all the ways offered through the App, in just 6 month.
Doaa Abdel-Hameed emphasized that the success of BONBELL App, in offering the best experience to its users can only be done through strategic partnerships with many more restaurants. In addition to the constant development of the technology used in the App, as well as relying on offering inventive solutions to the Egyptian user such as (Robotic Stations) service.
This service will offer customers the experience of food ordering and serving through a Robot, without any human intervention. It is expected to launch in Egypt at the end of 2023.
Dream VC applications: A peek behind the scenes
Dream VC breaking down the numbers and representation in its programs
A year ago, Dream VC quietly launched its first inaugural cohort applications with the hopes of closing the investing knowledge gap for check-writers and ecosystem builders across the continent. Fast forward one year later, they have received an overwhelming amount of interest from people curious about investing and contributing to the African startup ecosystem. Across two cohorts alone, they have processed more than 2000 applicants from 30 African countries. With fellows dialing in five continents and multiple time zones.
That being said, they’d like to share some interesting findings they have extracted and learned from the whirlwind that Dream VC has been in from last year to now.
By the end of 2022, Dream VC will have 2 cohorts under its belt with 3 programs run. There has been an increase in total applications despite the difference in price point between the 2021 program and this year.
Breakdown Of The 2021 Cohort
For its inaugural cohort, they received a total of 1002 applications and had an intake of 31 fellows, with an acceptance rate of 3%. The average age of its fellows was 25, with most being in their mid-twenties to late twenties. And exploring VC as a new career pivot after a few years of full-time work experience. After 4 months of rigorous and community-driven engagements, a total of 19 Fellows graduated from the program with an issued certification.
When looking at the specific demographics of Dream VC’s inaugural fellows, findings show that 90% of the fellows were homegrown. Which they classified as having been born, raised, and educated on the continent. They also had 12 African countries represented and 16 different Nationalities in total.
Although its initial intake consisted of 33% women, the final certified graduating fellows consisted of 60% women. Meaning that all of the female fellows who joined the fellowship finished the program.
This is a strong indication of the perseverance of its female fellows in particular. And they are committed to making a strong push to convert more women into its talent pipeline. Especially given that only 15% of the 2021 applicants identified as female. At Dream VC, they urge more women to apply for its programs and also reapply for future cohorts if they were not accepted initially.
Breakdown Of The 2022 Application Cycle
For 2022, Dream VC opened its applications on March 8th and had then remained open for over a month and a half until its final deadline on May 1st. In total, they received a total of 1,375 applications for its Launch into VC (“LIVC”) and Investor Accelerator (“IA”) programs.
Around 81% of the total applications were for our Launch into VC fellowship, and the remaining 19% were for the Investor Accelerator. We received a total number of 1,113 applications for Launch into VC, and 262 for Investor Accelerator.
Out of the total applications for 2022, 31% of the applicants identified as female. When taking a closer look at the gender breakdown for each program, Investor Accelerator had a higher percentage of female applicants with 37% of total Investor Accelerator applicants, while Launch into VC had 29%.
When reviewing the nationalities of the applicants, it was found that for 2022, Dream VC has exponentially expanded its reach of applicants in both nationality and location. However, most of the applicants are still overwhelmingly from the continent and diaspora, which accounts for 86% of the total applicants. The remaining 14% hail from non-African countries such as India, Singapore, and Germany with non-African backgrounds.
When looking more closely at each program, 87% of the applicants for Launch into VC applicants were homegrown or African diaspora, compared to 83% of the Investor Accelerator applicants. This year saw 30 different African countries across the continent represented. With a majority of the applicants coming from Nigeria (43.7%), followed by Kenya (10%), Rwanda and South Africa (3.9% each respectively), Ghana (3.6%), Uganda (3.2%), Zimbabwe (2.9%), and Tanzania (2.3%).
Interestingly, the country represented the most by the diaspora applicants was Cameroon, followed by Nigeria, across both programs.
Across the different African regions, West Africa took the lead in applicants with over half of the applicants hailing from the region (58%). East Africa contributed to another quarter with approximately 29% of applicants coming from the area, followed by Southern Africa (6%), Central Africa (4%), and finally North Africa (2%). Dream VC’s footprint can still be solidified further, particularly in the ecosystems in North Africa, and its team will be traveling actively to Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia to build relationships there.
When looking at the locations of applicants applying from outside the continent (including diaspora and non-Africans), over 50% of them applied from the United States and the United Kingdom. Dream VC also saw an increase of Indian and Singaporean applicants from Asia. And a spread of interesting European countries including Belgium, Belarus, Germany, France, Finland, and Sweden.
Closing Remarks & Reflections
Since launching Dream VC in 2021, the team has been endlessly grateful for the overwhelming interest from the African & International community. As well as the selfless support that has been extended by various ecosystem partners and connections in our network.
Its application cycles have revealed several interesting insights into where the strong interest can be found in various startup ecosystems. As well as certain areas we are endeavoring to have better reach in (ex: North Africa and Arabophone countries).
They also strongly encourage more female applicants to apply AND reapply to its programs. As they are strongly committed to building out the opportunity and talent pipeline for black women in particular focused on investing in Africa.
Base10 Partners Led By Adeyemi Ajao Becomes First Black-Led VC Firm To Cross $1 Billion AUM With New Fund
Base10 Partners co-Founder and CEO, Adeyemi Ajao (Source Adeyemi Ajao Image: Base10)
With today’s announcement of our newest fund, Base10 now has $1.3B in assets under management, just three and a half years after announcing our debut $137M Fund I.
A venture capital firm managing $1B in assets is not as newsworthy as it once was; many of the firms we work and co-invest with routinely raise multi-billion dollar funds. In fact, the VC industry as a whole raised $128B last year.
What is newsworthy, for better or for worse, is that we are the first black-led fund to cross that $1B threshold, which is both encouraging and a sobering reflection of how much work we collectively still have to do.
And while we are honored and energized to keep pushing forward, we are thankful to not be pushing forward alone. If there is one message we want to focus on today, it’s “thank you”: Thank you to the entrepreneurs that decided to work with us, choosing a new firm like Base10 over much more established groups and deciding to build alongside us. It is an honor and it is a lot of fun.
Thank you to our investors, who took a chance on TJ and myself when we were just two people with a new idea in venture, and have supported us every step of the way. You have encouraged us to embrace principles from venture capital, private equity, and hedge funds, all while continuing to think radically like the entrepreneurs we are at heart.
Thank you to our team, who decided to leave jobs at much larger venture capital firms, promising startups, and well-established corporations to execute on the ambitious (and sometimes bizarre) goals and visions we put in front of them every day.
And thank you to the proverbial Silicon Valley: a truly indescribable cohort of co-investors, mentors, journalists, and advisors. Silicon Valley is, in fact, imperfect, and feels criticized on a daily basis from the outside looking in. But as imperfect as it is, this is a truly unique and wonderful place to be in and we can’t imagine building Base10 anywhere else. If the Base10 Partners story means anything to the broader industry, it’s proof that the Silicon Valley dream is definitely alive and well.
But the ecosystem has changed a lot since we got here. Back in 2010, when I was an entrepreneur going down Sand Hill Road pitching VCs my startup, I was told there were about 20 firms that could realistically invest in my round. Being a VC in those days was fun. It was essentially an oligopoly, and you sat at your desk at one of those 20 firms, waiting for entrepreneurs to come to you with the next billion-dollar startup. We actually ran the numbers and, back in the day, if you were an investor and wanted to see the “entire market,” there were about eight deals each day to consider.
Things are different now. As investors today, we’re competing with nearly 1,110 firms for the honor of being the lead investor in an early stage round, and instead of 8 deals per day, you have 111 to evaluate. So there’s two conclusions we can draw from the way venture works today: first, I picked the wrong time to stop being an entrepreneur and start investing as a VC. Second, to be successful in venture with the way things are now, differentiation and focus are the only things that will set you apart.
Despite things being busier and more competitive than years past, I am more excited than ever about Base10 Partners because we’ve spent the last three and a half years on differentiation and focus, fully embracing who we are and honing in on why we do what we do. We’re doing things a lot differently than most and, importantly, we’re putting our money where our mouth is. We believe that a world, empowered by technology, in which the 99% have as many opportunities as the 1% to build things that benefit us collectively, is a better world for all of us, and one worth working towards.