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June 16, 2019
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Facebook still a great place to amplify pre-election junk news, EU study finds

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A study carried out by academics at Oxford University to investigate how junk news is being shared on social media in Europe ahead of regional elections this month has found individual stories shared on Facebook’s platform can still hugely outperform the most important and professionally produced news stories, drawing as much as 4x the volume of Facebook shares, likes, and comments.

The study, conducted for the Oxford Internet Institute’s (OII) Computational Propaganda Project, is intended to respond to widespread concern about the spread of online political disinformation on EU elections which take place later this month, by examining pre-election chatter on Facebook and Twitter in English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish.

Junk news in this context refers to content produced by known sources of political misinformation — aka outlets that are systematically producing and spreading “ideologically extreme, misleading, and factually incorrect information” — with the researchers comparing interactions with junk stories from such outlets to news stories produced by the most popular professional news sources to get a snapshot of public engagement with sources of misinformation ahead of the EU vote.

As we reported last year, the Institute also launched a junk news aggregator ahead of the US midterms to help Internet users get a handle on manipulative politically-charged content that might be hitting their feeds.

In the EU the European Commission has responded to rising concern about the impact of online disinformation on democratic processes by stepping up pressure on platforms and the adtech industry — issuing monthly progress reports since January after the introduction of a voluntary code of practice last year intended to encourage action to squeeze the spread of manipulative fakes. Albeit, so far these ‘progress’ reports have mostly boiled down to calls for less foot-dragging and more action.

One tangible result last month was Twitter introducing a report option for misleading tweets related to voting ahead of the EU vote, though again you have to wonder what took it so long given that online election interference is hardly a new revelation. (The OII study is also just the latest piece of research to bolster the age old maxim that falsehoods fly and the truth comes limping after.)

The study also examined how junk news spread on Twitter during the pre-EU election period, with the researchers finding that less than 4% of sources circulating on Twitter’s platform were junk news (or “known Russian sources”) — with Twitter users sharing far more links to mainstream news outlets overall (34%) over the study period.

Although the Polish language sphere was an exception — with junk news making up a fifth (21%) of EU election-related Twitter traffic in that outlying case.

Returning to Facebook, while the researchers do note that many more users interact with mainstream content overall via its platform, noting that mainstream publishers have a higher following and so “wider access to drive activity around their content” and meaning their stories “tend to be seen, liked, and shared by far more users overall”, they also point out that junk news still packs a greater per story punch — likely owing to the use of tactics such as clickbait, emotive language, and outragemongering in headlines which continues to be shown to generate more clicks and engagement on social media.

It’s also of course much quicker and easier to make some shit up vs the slower pace of doing rigorous professional journalism — so junk news purveyors can get out ahead of news events also as an eyeball-grabbing strategy to further the spread of their cynical BS. (And indeed the researchers go on to say that most of the junk news sources being shared during the pre-election period “either sensationalized or spun political and social events covered by mainstream media sources to serve a political and ideological agenda”.)

“While junk news sites were less prolific publishers than professional news producers, their stories tend to be much more engaging,” they write in a data memo covering the study. “Indeed, in five out of the seven languages (English, French, German, Spanish, and Swedish), individual stories from popular junk news outlets received on average between 1.2 to 4 times as many likes, comments, and shares than stories from professional media sources.

“In the German sphere, for instance, interactions with mainstream stories averaged only 315 (the lowest across this sub-sample) while nearing 1,973 for equivalent junk news stories.”

To conduct the research the academics gathered more than 584,000 tweets related to the European parliamentary elections from more than 187,000 unique users between April 5 and April 20 using election-related hashtags — from which they extracted more than 137,000 tweets containing a URL link, which pointed to a total of 5,774 unique media sources.

Sources that were shared 5x or more across the collection period were manually classified by a team of nine multi-lingual coders based on what they describe as “a rigorous grounded typology developed and refined through the project’s previous studies of eight elections in several countries around the world”.

Each media source was coded individually by two separate coders, via which technique they say was able to successfully label nearly 91% of all links shared during the study period. 

The five most popular junk news sources were extracted from each language sphere looked at — with the researchers then measuring the volume of Facebook interactions with these outlets between April 5 and May 5, using the NewsWhip Analytics dashboard.

They also conducted a thematic analysis of the 20 most engaging junk news stories on Facebook during the data collection period to gain a better understanding of the different political narratives favoured by junk news outlets ahead of an election.

On the latter front they say the most engaging junk narratives over the study period “tend to revolve around populist themes such as anti-immigration and Islamophobic sentiment, with few expressing Euroscepticism or directly mentioning European leaders or parties”.

Which suggests that EU-level political disinformation is a more issue-focused animal (and/or less developed) — vs the kind of personal attacks that have been normalized in US politics (and were richly and infamously exploited by Kremlin-backed anti-Clinton political disinformation during the 2016 US presidential election, for example).

This is likely also because of a lower level of political awareness attached to individuals involved in EU institutions and politics, and the multi-national state nature of the pan-EU project — which inevitably bakes in far greater diversity. (We can posit that just as it aids robustness in biological life, diversity appears to bolster democratic resilience vs political nonsense.)

The researchers also say they identified two noticeable patterns in the thematic content of junk stories that sought to cynically spin political or social news events for political gain over the pre-election study period.

“Out of the twenty stories we analysed, 9 featured explicit mentions of ‘Muslims’ and the Islamic faith in general, while seven mentioned ‘migrants’, ‘immigration’, or ‘refugees’… In seven instances, mentions of Muslims and immigrants were coupled with reporting on terrorism or violent crime, including sexual assault and honour killings,” they write.

“Several stories also mentioned the Notre Dame fire, some propagating the idea that the arson had been deliberately plotted by Islamist terrorists, for example, or suggesting that the French government’s reconstruction plans for the cathedral would include a minaret. In contrast, only 4 stories featured Euroscepticism or direct mention of European Union leaders and parties.

“The ones that did either turned a specific political figure into one of derision – such as Arnoud van Doorn, former member of PVV, the Dutch nationalist and far-right party of Geert Wilders, who converted to Islam in 2012 – or revolved around domestic politics. One such story relayed allegations that Emmanuel Macron had been using public taxes to finance ISIS jihadists in Syrian camps, while another highlighted an offer by Vladimir Putin to provide financial assistance to rebuild Notre Dame.”

Taken together, the researchers conclude that “individuals discussing politics on social media ahead of the European parliamentary elections shared links to high-quality news content, including high volumes of content produced by independent citizen, civic groups and civil society organizations, compared to other elections we monitored in France, Sweden, and Germany”.

Which suggests that attempts to manipulate the pan-EU election are either less prolific or, well, less successful than those which have targeted some recent national elections in EU Member States. And logic would suggest that co-ordinating election interference across a 28-Member State bloc does require greater co-ordination and resource vs trying to meddle in a single national election — on account of the multiple countries, cultures, languages and issues involved.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment on the study’s findings.

The company has put a heavy focus on publicizing its self-styled ‘election security’ efforts ahead of the EU election. Though it has mostly focused on setting up systems to control political ads — whereas junk news purveyors are simply uploading regular Facebook ‘content’ at the same time as wrapping it in bogus claims of ‘journalism’ — none of which Facebook objects to. All of which allows would-be election manipulators to pass off junk views as online news, leveraging the reach of Facebook’s platform and its attention-hogging algorithms to amplify hateful nonsense. While any increase in engagement is a win for Facebook’s ad business, so er…

Japan’s “Society 5.0” initiative is a roadmap for today’s entrepreneurs

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Japan, still suffering the consequences of its ‘Lost Decade’ of economic stagnation, is eyeing a transformation more radical than any the industrialized world has ever seen.

Boldly identified as “Society 5.0” Japan describes its initiative as a purposeful effort to create a new social contract and economic model by fully incorporating the technological innovations of the fourth industrial revolution. It envisions embedding these innovations into every corner of its ageing society. Underpinning this effort is a mandate for sustainability, bound tightly to the new United Nations global goals, the SDG’s. Japan wants to create, in its own words, a ‘super-smart’ society, and one that will serve as a roadmap for the rest of the world.

Japan hosts its first ever G20 summit in 2019 and this grand initiative will be on the agenda at the official B20 (Business 20) summit headed by the chairman of Hitachi .

Components of Society 5.0 and its implications for the US

Society 5.0 addresses a number of key pillars: infrastructure, finance tech, healthcare, logistics, and of course AI. The markets being grown in Japan are impressive. In robotics they predict $87 billion in investments and the IoT market is poised to hit $6 Billion in 2019

This means we are behind. We have not put enough focus on what AI can do not only for industry, but what it can do to move society forward and solve many of our most pervasive problems.

It isn’t just a problem of lack of investment by the United States government. Just this past September the Department of Defense announced a commitment of  $2 billion over the next five years toward new programs advancing artificial intelligence. This issue lies in the lack of a complete partnership between the United States Government and the private sector. But, why is Japan in the lead?

Full Fledged Embrace of AI and Cutting Edge Technology

Along with $1.44 billion from the government for AI funding, the Innovation Network Corp. of Japan is reorganizing to focus on AI and big data. They are projected to grow to $4 billion and operate to at least 2034. Much like in Britain and France, the government has made it a point to team with the private sector to move all of society forward.

Fresh Ideas to address Persistent Societal Problems

Along with the governmental and private partnership, Society 5.0 harnesses AI to address problems that continue to plague society. They are looking at how AI can help with the trappings of an aging population, pollution, and most importantly, how create such a sweeping initiate that is also agile enough to adjust to constant change of society everyday.

The goal of the work being done at Hitachi now on Society 5.0 is to create a Human-Centered Society. Technologies and innovations need to be leveraged to aid humans and our advancement, not to replace us in anyway.

How do American Technologists Close the Gap and partner with Japan?

First, in Silicon valley and beyond, American technologists and entrepreneurs must create a partnership between themselves and the U.S. government. Only when working together can we reach our full potential.

Take the British government as a model. This past April they announced a that it had put together “an AI deal worth more than £1 billion” that includes public and private funding.

France sees the opportunity and is betting on AI as well. This past spring President Emmanuel Macron announced an AI plan that includes $1.6 billion in funding, new research centers, data-sharing initiatives. The road has been clearly mapped for the U.S., just follow the path.

Next, American technologists and entrepreneurs must focus on certain industries and their ability to improve society in its entirety. There are 4 major industries technologists and entrepreneurs can focus on, and disrupt by modeling Japan’s Society 5.0 ideas and approach.

Healthcare

Japan’s society is more heavily weighted towards people over 60 than the rest of the world. In turn, more healthcare is needed to support people for a longer period of time as people live longer.

American technologists and entrepreneurs can capitalize by investing in and developing cognitive AI technologies that will greatly lessen the time needed to complete administrative tasks to allowing medical professionals to concentrate more on actually providing healthcare.

A UK  report suggests approximately 10% of NHS operational expenses could be saved through AI and automation. If this can be mirrored and then improved in the US the rising cost of healthcare, and declining public health can be tackled simultaneously.

Mobility

While the population in urban centers is growing, rural areas are being left with diminished access to everyday needs like, transportation, stores, hospitals, and community centers.
Continue to invest and develop autonomous vehicles, drones and single-driver cargo truck convoys. Access to basic everyday needs will not be a given for those residing far from urban centers. Here lies another dual opportunity for technologists and entrepreneurs, service those in need while simultaneously moving tech and society forward.

Infrastructure

28 percent of major U.S. roads are rated “poor” or in need of a complete rebuild. AI and other technologies such as robots, drones, sensors and IoT will help solve these problems. How? If only 10 percent of cars in the  U.S. became self-driving, those 26 million vehicles would generate 38.4 zettabytes of data annually.  In one year that would create over eight times the volume of the world’s current data.

Not only must we increase investment in autonomous vehicles, but we must make a concerted effort to leverage the data they will produce. Technologists and entrepreneurs will have an unprecedented advantage to leverage this data to predict everything from needs of infrastructure improvements to all bridges and roads being used by the autonomous vehicles. Companies like Hitachi are the ones you should look to work with. They’re doing amazing things in infrastructure today. How can this be translated to the U.S.? That is a question for you to ask and ultimately solve.

Mass transit is far ahead in Japan as well. Japan’s maglev train set a world record speed of 375 mph. With vast expanses of the United States landscape, and the ever growing challenges of flying, the rail transport industry is ripe for the picking. Plans for the midwest and the west coast have seem to come and go. What will be the plan that actually works?

Fintech

Blockchain is a  solution that will advance security, transparency and fraud prevention in society. Cognitive AI is producing results towards the goals of Society 5.0, ether it be a cashless society or a consumer focused one. Voice prompted AI assistants are currently providing consumer support by depositing money, performing trades, mastering trading platforms, networking, and onboarding of customers. This Omni-channel integration will result in finance and banking evolving to grow around customers needs. With this evolution we will see far less needs for cash and brick and mortar banks.

In the end, data alone is just code without meaning to its user. But, when technologists and entrepreneurs implement AI to its max potential a true difference will be seen. In Society 5.0, humanity and machines will solve the greatest issues society faces in the 21st century. We must embrace what Japan is creating with Society 5.0, or we will simply become a vestige of the technological past.

 

How France wants to become a tech giant

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Vive la France — that was the dominant message of the day during a tour of the French tech ecosystem. But is it time to invest in French startups?

Around 40 partners of venture capital firms as well as limited partners came to Paris to talk about tech in France, from Andreessen Horowitz to Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures and more. The two-day roadshow took place at Station F, the Vision Institute, iBionext and the Elysée Palace.

I grew up in France and it always surprises me that the same clichés come up again and again. When Symphony founder and CEO David Gurle answered questions about what it’s like to build an engineering team in France, it could have been easy to predict the questions — labor law is not flexible enough, French people are lazy, they go on strike all the time…

According to Gurle, who is great at storytelling, Symphony has been looking at around 15 countries for their next office. They first selected Singapore but couldn’t put a team together.

“We went to the board and said the next step is to invest in France,” Gurle said. At first, the board was really reluctant, citing the same concerns.

Chairman of Business France and Ambassador for International Investments Pascal Cagni has been dealing with those concerns for years. For instance, when it comes to labor law, he says the regulatory framework is now predictable and limited — unlike in the U.K. or Germany for instance. You can fire people whenever you want. It means that you’ll have to pay a severance package, but everything is laid out.

Silicon Valley is overheating right now. It’s become increasingly expensive and challenging to build a company — the tech industry is getting bigger and the biggest tech companies now dominate the talent market. That’s also part of the reason why Silicon Valley veterans are looking outside of their comfort zone.

Speeding things up

The question wasn’t about whether startups in France are a thing or not. The tone of the conversation was about pace and intensity. Is it time to invest now or should we wait?

“We’ve noticed that we started investing more in European startups without even thinking about it — not just French startups but all over Europe,” Battery Ventures General Partner Chelsea Stoner told me.

Depending on the study, France and the U.K. are battling to be the first European country when it comes to the number of VC deals and the total amount of money raised.

When I said three and a half years ago that France would be the tech leader in Europe, nobody believed that — and it’s happening John Chambers

But even more important than hard facts, the momentum has been pretty stunning. A few years ago, I could cover every single deal over $1 million. Now there are so many startups valued at hundreds of millions of dollars that it’s hard to keep track of all funding rounds above $20 or $30 million.

France has some of the best engineering schools in the world. And now, most students want to work for a startup. So if France has a lot of capital and a big pool of talent, what’s missing? Should French startups get more support from the French government?

“Five or six years ago, I would have said keep the government as far away as possible and I was wrong,” former Cisco CEO John Chambers told me. Chambers is now ambassador for La French Tech and doesn’t invest in French startups in order to avoid conflicts of interest. “When I said three and a half years ago that France would be the tech leader in Europe, nobody believed that — and it’s happening,” he said.

OpenClassrooms co-founder and CEO Pierre Dubuc said during a panel that one piece of regulation that has helped his startup quite a lot is the French Tech Visa. Thanks to this program, the company can get visas for future employees in just a matter of weeks.

Chambers says that it works both ways. American employees apply to the French Tech Visa, work for French startups for a while and then come back to the U.S. It moves the needle when it comes to changing mindsets in the U.S.

The French tech ecosystem also needs time. While there are a ton of good engineers, multiple people told me sales people and marketing talent are nowhere near the level of American tech companies.

Some employees will need to go through 3 or 4 different companies and experience many different situations to become better. At this point, they can reinvest back their knowledge into startups.

Big, late stage VC funds can also help speed things up. “Many people misunderstand the value of venture capital,” Chambers told me. Well-established funds have strong processes and know how to hire top management. That’s why bringing those VCs and LPs to Paris could help change things.

Macron’s macroeconomics

Without turning this article into a political piece, it’s hard to talk about foreign investors coming to Paris without mentioning the yellow vests movement.

LVMH Chief Digital Officer Ian Rogers had a nuanced take on the changes in the tech ecosystem. “It’s clear that they are [changing the mindset] and it’s clear that there’s opposition,” he said. “This is an exciting moment, it’s also probably a bubble. Let’s see what’s on the other side.”

In other words, tech can be a destructive industry. Nobody wanted to state that so directly, but everybody had that in mind.

Ron Conway even told me that Airbnb could be the solution to address inequalities. “This whole yellow coats issue, that’s about income inequality,” he told me. There are 500,000 hosts in France generating $3 billion in revenue — and there should be more according to him. But I don’t think startups can solve everything, unfortunately.

“There are going to be a few setbacks along the way and we’re seeing that with the social movement, but we shouldn’t lose the end goal,” Chambers told me.

Of course, seeing France implode is in no one’s interest. VC firms are also looking at different opportunities because Donald Trump and Brexit make the future unpredictable.

But it’s unclear if minimizing social movements is wishful thinking or long-term thinking.

Moving as a group

What was interesting about today’s visit is that some people are already investing quite a lot in French startups while others are completely new to the French tech ecosystem. When you hear Tony Fadell say that he’s invested in French startups with Xavier Niel for a few years, it creates a fear of missing out.

“You see how the valley goes, it moves as a group,” Chambers told me.

Bringing dozens of investors to Paris created some form of emulation. Nobody wants to be the first one to invest in something new, but nobody wants to be the last one either.

List of investors:

  • Joe Schoendorf, Accel Partners
  • Martin Casado, Andreessen Horowitz
  • Bernard Liautaud, Balderton
  • Chelsea Stoner, Battery Ventures
  • Philippe Lafont, Coatue
  • Matt Turck, FirstMark Capital
  • Hany Nada, GGV Capital
  • Dana Settle, Greycroft
  • Sarah Guo, Greylock Partners
  • Irena Goldenberg, Highland Europe
  • Erel Margalit, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP)
  • Samir Kaul, Khosla Ventures
  • Philipp Freise, KKR
  • Klaus Hommels, Lakestar
  • Scott Sandell, New Enterprise Associates
  • Isaac Hillel, Pitango Venture Capital
  • Boaz Dinte, Qumra
  • Ron Conway, SV Angel
  • Mark Suster, Upfront Ventures
  • Talbot Heppenstall, UPMC
  • Paul Graham, Y Combinator
  • Jessica Livingston, Y Combinator

+ 17 limited partners

Emmanuel Macron meets with the French tech community

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French President Emmanuel Macron came to France’s ginormous startup campus Station F to talk to the French tech community. The event is organized by La French Tech, the government initiative to promote and foster the startup community in France.

Station F director Roxanne Varza first took the stage to introduce the event. She announced that there will be more startups in the Fighters Program. Station F has created this program so that entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds get a chance to relocate to Station F.

La French Tech new director Kat Borlongan then talked for a few minutes about the public initiative. “My firm belief is that La French Tech should operate just like all the startups in this room today,” she said.

According to her, it means that La French Tech should think about its users first, have a data-driven approach, and test and iterate.

Macron gave a very short speech and then held a Q&A sessions with tech entrepreneurs. This is a surprising format for Macron.

He mostly reassured entrepreneurs that things are changing and France is on the right path. He announced that the French Tech Visa would be simplified by March 2019.

Some entrepreneurs said there were paying too many taxes to hire talent in France. Macron refuted that. “I like to compare a researcher in Harvard with a researcher in France,” he said. “[In France], school is free and excellent, healthcare is free, there’s a retirement system. On the other side, there’s nothing.”

He also promised stronger antitrust rules at the European level. Tech giants sometimes dominate in Europe living no room for competition.

Macron finished by saying that tech companies also need to promote France’s system. They need to pay fair taxes, they need to think about tech’s effect on society. “I know one thing, the system will implode if you’re not responsible enough,” he said.

Things have changed in just over a year. When Macron first came to Station F for its grand opening, it was shortly after the elections. He was a popular President.

Now, most people dislike him, just like his predecessors François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy when they were in office. According to a source, he even thought about canceling today’s event given that he’s about to appoint some new faces in his government.

But Macron built his reputation on the so-called startup nation. He first became a public figure thanks to a grassroots approach built on top of the startup community. That’s why the startup community is still overwhelmingly in favor of Macron’s policies. And yet, there’s now a clear divide between the startup nation and the middle class at large, who think the President is out of touch and doesn’t care about them.

MallforAfrica goes global, Kobo360 and Sokowatch raise VC, France explains its $76M fund

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B2B e-commerce company Sokowatch closed a $2 million seed investment led by 4DX Ventures. Others to join the round were Village Global, Lynett Capital, Golden Palm Investments, and Outlierz  Ventures.

The Kenya based company aims to shake up the supply chain market for Africa’s informal retailers.

Sokowatch’s platform connects Africa’s informal retail stores directly to local and multi-national suppliers—such as Unilever and Proctor and Gamble—by digitizing orders, delivery, and payments with the aim of reducing costs and increasing profit margins.

“With both manufacturers and the small shops, we’re becoming the connective layer between them, where previously you had multiple layers of middle-men from distributors, sub-distributors, to wholesalers,” Sokowatch founder and CEO Daniel Yu told TechCrunch.

“The cost of sourcing goods right now…we estimate we’re cutting that cost by about 20 percent [for] these shopkeepers,” he said

“There are millions of informal stores across Africa’s cities selling hundreds of billions worth of consumer goods every year,” said Yu.

These stores can use Sokowatch’s app on mobile phones to buy wares directly from large suppliers, arrange for transport, and make payments online. “Ordering on SMS or Android gets you free delivery of products to your store, on average, in about two hours,” said Yu.

Sokowatch generates revenues by earning “a margin on the goods that we’re selling to shopkeepers,” said Yu. On the supplier side, they also benefit from “aggregating demand…and getting bulk deals on the products that we distribute.”

The company recently launched a line of credit product to extend working capital loans to platform clients. With the $2 million round, Sokowatch—which currently operates in Kenya and Tanzania—plans to “expand to new markets in East Africa, as well as pilot additional value add services to the shops,” said Yu.

MallforAfrica and DHL launched MarketPlaceAfrica.com: a global e-commerce site for select African artisans to sell wares to buyers in any of DHL’s 220 delivery countries.

The site will prioritize fashion items — clothing, bags, jewelry, footwear and personal care — and crafts, such as pictures and carvings. MallforAfrica is vetting sellers for MarketPlace Africa online and through the Africa Made Product Standards association (AMPS), to verify made-in-Africa status and merchandise quality.

“We’re starting off in Nigeria and then we’ll open in Kenya, Rwanda and the rest of Africa, utilizing DHL’s massive network,” MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan told TechCrunch about where the goods will be sourced. “People all around the world can buy from African artisans online, that’s the goal,” Folayan told TechCrunch.

Current listed designer products include handbags from Chinwe Ezenwa and Tash women’s outfits by Tasha Goodwin.

In addition to DHL for shipping, MarketPlace Africa will utilize MallforAfrica’s e-commerce infrastructure. The startup was founded in 2011 to solve challenges global consumer goods companies face when entering Africa.

French President Emmanuel Macron  href=”https://pctechmag.com/2018/05/french-president-emmanuel-macron-launches-a-usd76m-africa-startup-fund/”>unveiled a $76 million African startup fund at VivaTech 2018 and TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get details on how it will work.

The $76 million (or €65 million) will divvy up into three parts, AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha told TechCrunch.

“There are €10 million [$11.7 million] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5 million will be available as interest-free loans to high-potential, pre-seed startups…and…€50 million [$58 million] will be for equity-based investments in series A to C startups,” explained Ha during a meeting in Paris.

The technical assistance will distribute in the form of grants to accelerators, hubs, incubators and coding programs. The pre-seed startup loans will issue in amounts up to $100,000 “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58 million in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution — or DFI — partially owned by the AFD. “Proparco will take equity stakes, and will be a limited partner when investing in VC funds,” said Ha.

Startups from all African countries can apply for a piece of the $58 million by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices.

The $11.7 million technical assistance and $5.8 million loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting in 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha. President Macron followed up the Africa fund announcement with a trip to Nigeria last month.

Nigerian logistics startup Kobo360 was accepted into Y Combinator’s 2018 class and gained some working capital in the form of $1.2 million in pre-seed funding led by Western Technology Investment.

The startup — with an Uber like app that connects Nigerian truckers to companies with freight needs — will use the funds to pay drivers online immediately after successful hauls.

Kobo360 is also launching the Kobo Wealth Investment Network, or KoboWIN — a crowd-invest, vehicle financing program. Through it, Kobo drivers can finance new trucks through citizen investors and pay them back directly (with interest) over a 60-month period.

On Kobo360’s utility, “We give drivers the demand and technology to power their businesses,” CEO Obi Ozor told TechCrunch. “An average trucker will make $3,500 a month with our app. That’s middle class territory in Nigeria.”

Kobo360 has served 324 businesses, aggregated a fleet of 5480 drivers and moved 37.6 million kilograms of cargo since 2017, per company stats. Top clients include Honeywell, Olam, Unilever, and DHL.

Ozor thinks the startup’s asset-free, digital platform and business model can outpace traditional long-haul 3PL providers in Nigeria by handling more volume at cheaper prices.

“Logistics in Nigeria have been priced based on the assumption drivers are going to run empty on the way back…When we now match freight with return trips, prices crash.”

Kobo360 will expand in Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal.

[PHOTO: BFX.LAGOS] And finally, applications are open for TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Africa, to be held in Lagos, Nigeria, December 11. Early-stage African startups have until September 3 to apply here.

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

More Africa Related Stories @TechCrunch

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