Last Week In Venture: Zambian Fintech, Lightning Payments, And The Futures Of Fish

Hello and welcome back to Last Week In Venture, the weekly rundown of deals which may have flown under your radar.

There are lots of companies operating outside the public-market and unicorn limelight, and their stories are worth sharing. In them, we find trends and a peek into the future of what the tech press and VC industry will be talking about.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into some of the deals from the week that was in venture-land.


A Fintech Platform, For Zambia And Beyond

There are pivots, and then there are pivots. Headquartered in Lusaka, the capital city of landlocked Zambia, Zazu started as a marketplace platform connecting local farmers with produce buyers. However, in 2017, the African startup pivoted into financial technology. In a beta program which launched this March, Zazu rolled out prepaid debit cards tied to a digital wallet featuring bill-pay and peer-to-peer exchanges, an app featuring a chatbot which helps educate users on the basics of personal finance, and a digital payments platform for small businesses.

The company says its chatbot has been used by 1.1 million people and hopes to have 100,000 cardholders in the near future. This week, the 15-person team closed $1.4 million in new funding from an undisclosed source, bringing the venture’s total funding to $2.3 million.

Perseus Mlambo, Zazu’s founder and CEO, wrote on the company’s blog that its prepaid cards and personal finance app will transition out of beta in November 2019:

“If we are to achieve our mission of making money simple, we will need to have clients from all walks of life – from casual workers who are looking to get paid on the go, to parents who want to teach financial discipline to their children and eventually – even banks. Put shortly, this really is the most exciting phase in our journey and we are just getting started.”

Bitcoin Payments Get Lightning Funding

Staying on the theme of payments, let’s take a look at what’s going on in the wild and wooly world of Bitcoin.

This week, there were a couple deals in the peer-to-peer and enterprise Bitcoin payments space, so let’s take a quick look at ’em.

  • Headquartered in Atlanta, Fold has gone through a couple iterations: first as a marketplace for selling USD-denominated gift cards for BTC, and now as a Lightning Network-compatible payment app featuring cash-back rewards paid out in Bitcoin. This week, Fold raised $2.5 million from Slow Ventures, Craft Ventures, Goldcrest Capital, Fulgur Ventures, and CoinShares. A new version of its mobile app will feature support for traditional debit and credit cards. “Our new app gets you [cash back] in bitcoin and keeps your data private when you shop at retailers– this is great news for any fan of bitcoin, privacy or free money,” CEO Will Reeves told The Block.
  • Also built for the Lightning Network is Bottle Pay, a spinout project from Block Matrix. Rather than building an enterprise payments solution, the UK-based venture is building a peer-to-peer tipping system for the web. Bottle Pay has developed a suite of browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Brave to facilitate payments and micro transactions through Bitcoin wallets tied to social media accounts. This week, the venture closed $2 million in seed funding. The company tells The Block that it’s grown 100 percent month-over-month since launching in June 2019. Investors in the round were not disclosed.

The Futures Of Fish

How and what we’ll eat in the future has become a recurring subject for Last Week In Venture. Just a couple weeks ago, we looked at companies manufacturing shrimp analogs from seaweed and ventures applying tissue engineering tech to 3D print steaks.

This week we’re taking a look at a couple more companies working on the future of fish:

  • Headquartered in Chennai, India, Aquaconnect is building a multi-sided marketplace for the aquaculture industry. Its flagship product, a mobile and desktop web app called FarmMOJO, helps shrimp and fish farmers manage their operations, monitor water quality, and improve traceability of their products. It offers alerts and suggestions for different products, like probiotics and anti-ammonia treatments, depending on water conditions. And for feed producers, the company provides a portal to sell fish and shrimp food to farmers and their hungry, growing shoals. Aquaconnect raised ₹77.8 million (approximately $1.1 million USD) in seed funding from Hatch and Omnivore Partners. The company aims to reach 15,000 fish and shrimp farmers across India and Indonesia by December 2020, growing fivefold from its current customer footprint.
  • In the very first edition of Last Week In Venture, we covered a funding round raised by San Diego-based cultured fish protein startup BlueNalu. The company is using cell culturing technology to make fish steaks in the lab, instead of in a fish. This week, the Telegraph reports that the company has raised another $20 million in a Series A round from investors including Stray Dog Capital, CPT Capital, and Agronomics, the latter of which is backed by billionaire Brexit advocate Jim Mellon. The deal brings BlueNalu’s total funding to nearly $25 million and values the venture at $80 million, according to Pitchbook data cited by the Telegraph.

And with that we’re done for the week! See you back here real soon.

Image Credits: Last Week In Venture graphic created by JD Battles. Photo by Jeremy Cai, via Unsplash.

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