Tag: funding

SA emergency response tech scores R62m in funding

Source: Business Insider SA

AURA, a tech start-up headquartered in Johannesburg that provides rapid private armed and medical response through a digital marketplace, has secured R62 million in a Series A funding.

Since its launch in 2016, AURA has expanded from South Africa to Kenya and the United Kingdom, connecting to more than 170 private security companies and medical response units.

The digital platform provides users – both corporates and individuals – with a mobile app equipped with a panic button. In an emergency situation, users who activate the panic button are immediately linked to the nearest available private security or medical response team through GPS technology.

Some of the AURA’s main corporate clients include Outsurance, Namola, Uber, and Tracker. The platform currently has more than 400,000 active users.

And after launching in the UK earlier this year, AURA is now looking to other international markets, helped along by R62 million in funding from MultiChoice Group (MCG), KLT Holdings, and Buffet Investments.

“We are gearing some of the funding towards hiring top talent to head up each new region while growing teams in established regions, especially our tech team. The result is stronger relationships and value propositions for suppliers at all levels in the marketplace,” said AURA co-founder Ryan Green in a media statement on Tuesday.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has raised global anxiety levels and grown the reliance on digital systems, has further exposed the need for platforms like AURA, according to CEO Warren Myers.

“The result is that the global safetech marketplace has boomed. We currently have a little more than 50 staff members and are looking to double in size over the next 12 months,” said Myers.

AURA’s ambitions stretch beyond rapid emergency assistance, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to better response times.

The next phase, according to Myers, will focus on risk analysis and accurate predictions of where and when crimes will occur. AURA claims to decrease the average emergency response time from 30 minutes to as low as one to five minutes.

“Our hope is to become the centre repository for risk data, not only responding to emergencies but to proactively predict and deal with any type of violent crime, whether on a one-on-one scale or the size of a riot,” said Myers.

“The data is already available to do so, it’s just not centralised. Yet.”

 

Payments startup Yoco raises $83m

By Tage Kene-Okafor for Tech Crunch

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute heavily to the economic success of many countries, particularly those in the developing world. They are the backbone of most economies: globally, SMEs represent about 90% of existing businesses and create more than 50% of employment.

In South Africa, these businesses contribute around one-third of the country’s GDP. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic threatened the existence of some of these SMEs, and its effects linger as owners worry about revenue, sales and cash flow.

Since launching in 2013, South African fintech Yoco has positioned itself as the go-to platform to access offline payments among merchants in the country. Today, the company is announcing $83-million in Series C funding to scale offline and online offerings and expand to new markets.

Despite South Africa’s high card and mobile penetration rates of over 70%, the country’s SMEs still struggle to accept cards. Yoco’s portable card machines have proved masterful in solving this problem; when TechCrunch covered the company three years ago after its $16 million Series B raise, it had little over 30 000 merchants using its platform. Now, that number has quintupled.

As Yoco grew exponentially in providing offline payments, it built an online offering. After being in beta for a while, the rollout came right on time some days into South Africa’s lockdown in March last year. This way, South African merchants could continue accepting payments on the platform.

“We want to offer whatever payment methods our merchants need. And we did start in the in-person payment space, focusing on terminals, which was where the biggest demand was,” chief business officer Carl Wazen said. “But the pandemic, which had a devastating effect on so many businesses that relied on in-person trade, accelerated the need for businesses to accept payments online.”

During the height of the lockdowns in South Africa, sentiment across SMEs owners on a scale of -100 to 100 dropped to an all-time low of -12 in Q2 2020, according to Yoco’s small business pulse monitor. It has since improved following the easing of the lockdowns, allowing businesses to move more freely and continue in-person payments. As a result, Yoco’s online payments account for a minute part of the transactions made on the platform.

But that’s not to say people are transacting with cash. In fact, it’s the opposite, according to Wazen. Wazen says one post-pandemic behavior he noticed was that once the lockdown was lifted, people came back to make in-person payments in an accelerated way because they stopped using cash. “Recent consumer behavior shows a shift away from cash, and businesses have to rapidly adapt to this change. This presents a huge opportunity, and it is our mission to support that transition,” he added.

Earlier this year, chief executive Katlego Maphai said Yoco was looking to expand its services into other aspects of digital payments. He listed mobile money, QR payments and electronic funds transfer (ETF) as offerings in its pipeline. Wazen corroborated this, but didn’t provide an update about where the company is with these offerings. He did mention, however, that the company is still very much a card-focused payment provider.

Yoco’s strategy as the foremost card payments provider in South Africa lies in creating access and removing barriers to adopting digital financial services. The company does that by focusing on product capabilities that Wazen claims are the most comprehensive for small and medium businesses. He adds that in terms of market presence, Yoco is also the easiest for merchants to access services through different channels seamlessly.

“We’ve got a brand that is recognized now. That’s how we win and it’s about staying as focused as possible on that part of the market that, in our opinion, people like other competitors are not focused on enough.”

South Africa has over 6 million small businesses that still transact only in cash; this provides a huge opportunity for Yoco. According to the company, the number of small businesses that were fully cashless jumped 300% from March to July 2020. Yoco currently serves 150,000 of these businesses and adds over 500 merchants per day. The company claims to be processing more than $1 billion in card payments per year, and in its six years of existence, it has processed over $2 billion in card payments.

Yoco has raised a total of $107-million. The company’s Series C investment is the largest of its kind in South Africa and one of the largest for any African fintech (third only to Flutterwave and Chipper Cash). Wazen also claims it is the largest by any small business-focused payments platform in the Middle East and Africa.

Yoco is currently one of the most valuable startups on the continent, and as a fintech startup, it comes as no surprise. The sector continues to dominate startup venture capital funding in Africa while its heavy hitters bring first-time investors to the continent.

In Yoco’s case, it’s Dragoneer Investment Group. The fund has famously backed fintech giants like Chime, Klarna, Nubank, Mercado Libre and Square.

Other investors that participated include new investors Breyer Capital, HOF Capital, The Raba Partnership, 4DX Ventures and TO Ventures; and existing investors Partech, Velocity Capital Fintech Ventures, Orange Ventures and Quona Capital. Current and former executives from global tech companies such as Coinbase, Revolut, Spotify and Gojek took part as well.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with the Yoco team,” Christian Jensen, co-head of private investments at Dragoneer, said in a statement. “At Dragoneer, we look for great teams that are building durable businesses with wonderful economic models, and that is exactly what we’ve found at Yoco. Yoco is already beloved by customers, and the product roadmap that the company is investing behind will drive even more value for merchants. While there is tremendous room for continued growth domestically, the opportunity for Yoco goes well beyond South Africa.”

There are three core enablers to Yoco’s thriving business, Wazen pointed out. First is its product capabilities, second is its platform and third is its market presence. This investment will be there to accelerate all three. Yoco is transitioning from a pure payment acceptance play into a full financial ecosystem on the product side. The platform play will see Yoco continue to integrate and take advantage of regulatory easing vertically, and Yoco is deepening its market presence in South Africa.

While Wazen believes Yoco has barely scratched the surface in South Africa, he’s looking forward to replicating its growth in other parts of Africa and the Middle East. With over 100 million SMEs transacting in cash across both regions, Yoco plans to reach at least a million within the next four years.

To accomplish this, Yoco is increasing its team by 200 people remotely and across its offices in Cape Town and Amsterdam within the next year. The company is also tapping into a current trend that has seen African soonicorns and unicorns hire former top employees from global companies to scale theirs to new heights. While it doesn’t mention names, some of Yoco’s new hires include a former VP of product at Monzo, a former product marketing director at Paypal and a former head of communications at Uber. The company has also brought on board a new chairman, Juan Fuentes, the former managing director of fintech unicorn Pagseguro.

 

E-Tolls: Makhura admits system failure

In his State of the Province address on Monday, Gauteng Premier David Makhura acknowledged that the highly contested e-tolls system in Gauteng has been a failure. Makhura’s comments follow a number of years of resistance to the multibillion-rand e-tolls project by civil organisations and motorists.

“It’s loud and clear for all to see that e-tolls have not worked,” Gauteng Premier David Makhura said during his State of the Province address.

But it’s not the first time that Makhura has admitted that the e-tolls system was ill-conceived.

Delivering his 2017 State of the Province address, Makhura said: “We are mobilising resources for public transport infrastructure in ways that will ensure that we do not commit the same mistakes done with the e-tolls. We can’t build roads and only later inform citizens that they must pay. In fact, there will be no new e-tolls on our new roads.”

He added: “I must admit publicly, as I did last year, that all the efforts we have made through the advisory panel have not led to the resolution of concerns of Gauteng motorists regarding affordability. We have tried our best. The ultimate solution can only come from national level. We will continue to engage in order to represent the interests of our residents.”

On Monday, Makhura again admitted that e-tolls had failed and that the implementation of the system had increased the cost of living for many motorists and commuters in Gauteng.

Drawing from Ramaphosa’s envisaging of a “new dawn” in the country, Makhura said: “The new dawn must also bring a solution to the protracted and unresolved problem of e-tolls. Accordingly, I will engage President (Cyril) Ramaphosa in order to find a new and more equitable funding model to support the continued expansion of Gauteng’s road network and public transport system. Please send me!” he said.

The Organisation Outdoing tax Abuse (Outa) said it was in total agreement with Makhura in calling for a new and more equitable funding model to expand Gauteng’s road network.

“The compliance rate of e-tolls, based on the South African Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) own version in their 2017 Annual Report, is 29%. If this figure is correct, it is clear that the system has failed. SANRAL could not in more than four years succeed to ensure a higher compliance rate. If compliance on this scheme doesn’t go up to at least 85% the scheme will never survive,” Outa’s Transport Portfolio Manager Rudie Heyneke said.

Heyneke said OUTA would not back down on the issue of the unaffordability of e-tolls, and would further engage the Minister of Transport, the Presidency, and the executive on the matter.

He said the organisation was busy preparing a submission for the Minister of Transport and the Presidency, and would in the near future engage with the executive to show the negative impact e-tolls have on the taxpayer and on the Sanral budget and proposed alternatives.

The writing has always been on the wall. Apart from firm resistance from Gauteng’s motorists, the highest compliance level ever achieved was 40% in June 2014, according to information released by Outa. This was achieved at R120-million and around R140-million short of target.

“The collection costs and litigation costs are too high when measured against the revenue generated by e-tolls,” Outa said in a statement.

Sanral had argued in court that it could achieve a payment rate of 93% which would generate the R260-million required to cover the cost of the project and the R22-billion borrowed for the freeway upgrade project.

But none of Sanral’s targets has been reached despite aggressive marketing and offers of discounts of up to 60% to all e-toll defaulters to encourage them to settle outstanding bills. According to Outa, by May 2016 less than 2% of outstanding bills were settled while e-toll bills increased to over R2-million a month. The cost of administering the e-tolls were capped at R1-billion a year.

When the e-tolls system was about to be rolled out, motorists and taxpayers objected vociferously, particularly over a lack of proper public consultations prior to the implementation of the system. This outcry as well as warnings from civil organisations like Outa were ignored.

Outa Chairman Wayne Duvenage told Daily Maverick the organisation was pleased with the premier’s acknowledgement. Duvenage said the issue was not only a provincial matter, but also a national one.

“E-tolls were a bad decision,” Duvenage said.

By Bheki C. Simelane for Daily Maverick

The Public Service Association (PSA) has reacted furiously to the Public Investment Corporation’s (PIC) R5bn loan to Eskom calling it an “illegal transaction” which the union feel has “betrayed” workers.

“The PSA in the meantime is consulting with its attorneys to urgently look at declaring the whole PIC board illegally constituted after the due date of the 12 February 2018 given to the PIC to prove its board’s legitimacy,” the union, said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

The union, which represents around 200 000 civil servants has written to the PIC to complain that none of the unions sit on the PIC’s board, which they claim contradicts the PIC Act.

“If we are able to prove the appointment of the board was illegal… it will be only right that all the decisions they took are [also] null and void,” PSA deputy general manager Tahir Moapa told Fin24 by phone.

The PIC Act of 2004 states: “The Minister [of finance] must, when appointing the board, have due regard to the nominations submitted to him or her by the depositors.”

The PSA said that all parties agreed in principle not to use the R1.9 trillion in the public servants pension fund, to bail out state owned companies (SOCs), until there’s agreement that governance has improved.

“It is now clear, we cannot trust both boards to look after our members’ pension,” the union said.

Cosatu supports lifeline

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) differs with the PSA and supports the R5bn lifeline to Eskom, but with conditions.

“We agree to it but with the understanding that no jobs will be touched [at Eskom], Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla commented to Fin24.

Pamla added that newly appointed Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabzua cut jobs as part of a restructuring process at Telkom, when he took over as chair of the board.

He said that workers’ pensions should be used to ensure SOCs aren’t privatised, in particular the power utility as this would lead to electricity price hikes.

“We have to look at the bigger picture, the interest pf public servants should reconcile with workers broadly”, he said.

Cosatu represents around 800 000 employees in the public sector.

Pamla said they will continue with the process of trying to have worker representation on the board of the PIC itself, instead of just at the Government Employee Pension Fund (GEPF) level.

Both Cosatu and the PSA , in September 2017, objected to reports that the PIC would bail out the flailing South African Airways (SAA) and demanded that the level of union representation on the board, be improved.

The PIC on behalf of the GEPF, advanced the R5bn bridging facility to Eskom for one month. The loan will fund the company’s operations during the month of February 2018. But three other South African banks will also have to help Eskom out, the PIC stated.

Following Eskom request for assistance with its liquidity challenges, the PIC said it conducted its own due diligence and obtained approval in line with its mandate and corporate governance requirements.

By Tehillah Niselow for Fin24

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