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February 24, 2019
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SeaBubbles shows off its ‘flying’ all-electric boat in Miami

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We were promised flying cars but, as it turns out, flying boats were easier to build.

SeaBubbles, a “flying” boat startup that uses electric power instead of gas, hit Miami this weekend to show off one of its five prototype boats — or six, if you count an early, windowless white boat they’ve lovingly dubbed the “soapdish.” This innovative boat design combines technology from nautical industries, aviation, and intelligent software to raise the hull of the boat out of the water using foils, which helps it to consume less energy by allowing it to travel on rougher waters with reduced drag, while also keeping the passenger cabin relatively comfortable.

When raised, the boat is “flying” above the water, so to speak.

Founded only three years ago in Paris, the idea for SeaBubbles was dreamed up by Alain Thébault, a sailor who previously designed and piloted the Hydroptère, an experimental hydrofoil trimaran, using a similar system that lifts the boat up in order to reduce drag. That boat went on to break the world record for sailing speed twice, at 50.17 knots. Meanwhile, SeaBubbles co-founder, Anders Bringdal, is a four-times windsurf world champion, who also set a windsurfing world record, at 51.45 knots.

Together, the two have envisioned SeaBubbles as a way for cities to reduce traffic congestion and help the environment by taking advantage of the area’s waterways to move people around in fast water taxis.

“The cities today have one thing in common: pollution and congestion,” explains Bringdal. “Every city has waterways — ones that are fairly unused. Think about having a giant freeway that goes straight down the center of the city, and no one uses it… why is that?,” Bringdal continues.

“You could do this with a normal boat,” he admits. “But with a normal boat with a normal combustion engine, the fuel price you’re paying is between $70 and $130 per hour. With us, it’s $2 dollars,” he says.

The cost savings come from an all-electric design, which means the boat charges at a power station — preferably one that’s solar charged, of course, instead of guzzling gas.

The company has experimented with all sorts of designs and models before settling on its first-to-market SeaBubbles water taxi: a smaller, 4.5-meter version that seats four in addition to the pilot. However, the technology itself is scalable to larger boats or even ferries.

According to SeaBubbles’ U.S. partner, Daniel Berrebi, whose company Baja Ferries has made a “small” investment in SeaBubbles, even larger boats like his could eventually benefit from the technology.

Beyond his obvious business interest on that front, Berrebi is also working with SeaBubbles to help the company make its first U.S. sales. He says he’s sold four boats to private individuals in the area — yes, sold as in “checks in hand, and signed on the dotted line.” These buyers don’t want to be named, but may include well-known names in music and sports. (Of course one has to wonder how much anonymity they will really have when tooling about Miami waterways in one of only a handful of these flying boats currently in existence?)

SeaBubbles has been able to come to market with its technology so soon because it’s not building everything in-house.

The boats’ engines are from Torqeedo, for example, while the fly-by-wire software to control the boat comes from foiling and flight control systems engineer Ricardo Bencatel’s company, 4DC Tech. His software solution also powered America’s Cup teams’ boats, like those from Artemis Racing and Oracle. But the version running on SeaBubbles has customized components to control the boat’s unique features.

“The [SeaBubbles] boat has three main sensors — it has two high altitude sensors to measure the height of the water, then it has a gyroscope — like the one in cell phones,” explains Bencatel.

“The computer combines those measurements from the sensors, then it knows the angles of the boat, the height and the speed,” he says. The software then uses this information to control the flaps on the boat to make adjustments. “For example, the lift — if you want to go higher,” Bencatel says. “Or if it’s rolling to one of the sides, it uses the flaps to turn it to the other side. Or if it’s pitching — bow down or bow up — it uses the front or the rear flaps,” he adds.

And all of these adjusts are being made automatically, by way of software, meaning the boat operator only really has to turn the wheel and drive. They don’t have to think about when to raise or lower the boat — it just happens when the boat reaches a certain speed. Under six knots, the boat is experiencing 100 percent drag, while above eight knots, the boat is ‘flying’ and the drag is reduced to 60 percent. This makes the ride less bumpy, too.

The lithium-ion batteries used by SeaBubbles are IP67 waterproof, and, over time, the boat could make up for its high sticker price — $200,000 at its suggested retail price — with savings on gasoline and reduced maintenance costs.

The prototype version of the SeaBubbles boat has only 1.5 hours autonomy and a five hour battery recharge to show off the technology. But the company claims the versions going into production have 2.5 hours autonomy and a 35 minute recharge. These are the ones they expect to ship this summer to the first purchasers.

In addition to Miami, SeaBubbles also has customers in Russia — a luxury hotel in Moscow and a deal in St. Petersburg — as well as in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. It plans to start building boats for these markets, and hopes to reach Paris by this summer or the next. In Paris, the prototype boats run slower — takeoff speed is six knots, and cruising speed tops out at 15 knots. The production version is faster due to bigger engines, with an average cruising speed of 16 knots and a top speed of 20 knots.

The company is in Miami this week to show off its boat to more buyers, and take meeting with local officials.

Bringdal admits that some of the company’s earlier statements may have been overly ambitious — like having boats in 50 cities by 2024. ”I think, in reality, it’s step by step,” he says  “We’re very happy to be seeing something here in the U.S.”

SeaBubbles, which has seven staff full-time and 25 people including contractors, has raised $14 million to date from investors including the founder of drone maker Parrot, Henri Seydoux; Partech Ventures; the French government-backed BPI fund; MAIF, a French insurance group; as well as friends, family and other angels.

The company is preparing to raise a Series A.

(Photo credits: Alain Thébault and Sarah Perez)

News Source = techcrunch.com

BeliMobilGue raises $10M for its used-car sales platform in Indonesia

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BeliMobilGue, a used car sales platform in Indonesia, has fueled up with a $10 million Series round for the race to dominate the automotive market in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The company was started in 2017 as a joint venture between Europe’s Frontier Car Group (FCG) and Intudo Ventures, a VC firm focused on Indonesia. BeliMobilGue said today that the capital came from FCG and new investors, which include Tunas Toyota — the authorized dealership for Toyota cars in Indonesia.

It’s worth noting that FCG itself is a venture which, as the name sounds, develops on automotive ventures in emerging (frontier) markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Its investors include Naspers/OLX, Balderton Capital, TPG Growth and Partech Ventures.

This Series A round follows a $3.7 million round last year for BeliMobilGue — which means ‘buy my car’ in Indonesia’s Bahasa language.

BeliMobilGue is aimed at making it easy for car owners to sell their vehicle.

The first step is an online price estimation for vehicle. If the owner is happy with the valuation, BeliMobilGue takes the vehicles in and, after a one hour check attended in person by its testers, it arranges a sale to its network of over 1,000 dealers and private buyers. The entire process is targeted at one hour and is free for consumers, BeliMobilGue CEO Rolf Monteiro told TechCrunch.

The company has 30 physical testing points across Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, and with this money in the bank it is targeting expansion to Java. By the end of this year, Monteiro forecasts that the number of physical stations will have passed 100.

Another target for this year is ancillary services. BeliMobilGue is focused on enabling dealers, many of whom are often small businesses rather than nationwide chains, to growth with its service so it is offering financial packages financed by a third-party bank.

“The difference between small and large dealerships is their access to capital,” Monteiro explained in an interview. “We are a little bit more comfortable [than a bank] to extend their finance because we’re not just using data, we’re sitting on that dealer relationship.

“Plus we are sitting on cars, so we are financing cars that come from our platform and [if necessary] we can help offload the car for the dealer,” he added.

BeliMobilGue aims to sell vehicles within an hour, that includes a comprehensive inspection that’s carried out by its staff and covers 300 points.

BeliMobilGue is far from alone in going after Indonesia, which is the world’s fourth most populous country and the cornerstone of most digital strategies for the region. An annual report from Google and Temasek forecasts that Indonesia’s online economy will grow to $100 billion by 2025 from $8 billion in 2015. Southeast Asia as a whole is predicted to reach $240 billion, which is telling of the significance of Indonesia.

With that in mind, regional rivals have doubled down on Indonesia.

Carro has raised $78 million to date — including a $60 million Series B last year — while Carsome has $27 million and iCar Asia, from venture builder Catcha, has pulled in $39 million to date.

Each of that trio serves multiple markets across the region, not Indonesia exclusively, which is where Monteiro believes he can find an advantage. While he admitted that BeliMobilGue could have raised more money — it stuck to finding ‘smart money’ over amassing pools of cash, he said — he sees the existance of competition as win-win for the industry.

“Indonesia is a massive market,” he said. “Whether it is us, Carro or Carsome, the competition helps educate the market and it will get us new business. But, as much as I welcome them, I want that dominant position.”

Adding strategic investors like Tunas Toyota is, Monteiro believes another key differentiator.

“An investor like Tunas has 25-30 years of experience, so, for us, this partnership is golden. We’re quite content with the round and how it played out,” he said.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Partech is doubling the size of its African venture fund to $143 million

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Partech has doubled its Africa VC fund to $143 million and opened a Nairobi office to complement its Dakar practice.

The Partech Africa Fund plans to make 20 to 25 investments across roughly 10 countries over the next several years, according to General Partner Tidjane Deme. The fund has added Ceasar Nyagha as Investment Officer for the Kenya office to expand its East Africa reach.

Partech Africa will primarily target Series A and B investments and some pre-series rounds at higher dollar amounts. “We will consider seed-funding—what we call seed-plus—tickets in the $500,000 range,” Deme told TechCrunch on a call from Dakar.

“In terms of sectors, we’re agnostic. We’ve been looking at all…sectors. We’re open to all plays; we have a strong appetite for people who are tapping into Africa’s informal economies,” he said.

African startups who want to pitch to the new fund should seek a referral. “My usual recommendation is to find someone who can introduce you to any member of the team. We receive a lot of requests…but an intro and recommendation…shortcuts one through all that,” Deme said.

Headquartered in Paris, Partech has offices in Berlin, San Francisco, Dakar, and now Nairobi. To bring the Arica fund to $143 million the VC firm tapped a number of other funds, several undisclosed corporate venture arms, and development finance institutions.

They include Averroes Finance III, the IFC, the EBRD, and African Development Bank. Deme would not list figures, but confirmed “the IFC and European Bank for Reconstruction committed the largest amounts.”

On why players like the IFC, which has its own VC shop for African startups, would place capital with Partech, Deme explained, “many have existing mandates to co-invest…others may not know this territory as well and would rather invest in another fund” with regional experience.

Partech used that experience in 2018 to make 4 investments in African startups (2 undisclosed). They led the $16 million round in South African fintech firm Yoco (covered here at TechCrunch) and a $3 million round in Nigerian B2B e-commerce platform TradeDepot.

Partech Africa joined several Africa focused funds over the last few years to mark a surge in VC for the continent’s startups. Partech announced its first raise of $70 million in early 2018 next to TLcom Capital’s $40 million, and TPG Growth’s $2 billion.

Africa focused VC firms, including those locally run and managed, have grown to 51 globally, according to recent Crunchbase research.

As for a bead on total VC spending for African tech, figures can vary widely.

By Partech’s numbers, compiled from an annual survey it does on Africa, 2017 funding for African startups reached $560 million.

Partech hasn’t released its 2018 Africa VC estimate but it will now be up  some $70 million more from its own recent raise.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Local venture capital fund formation is on the rise in Africa, led by Nigeria

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Africa’s VC landscape is becoming more African with an increasing number of investment funds headquartered on the continent and run by locals, according to data from Crunchbase.

The study also tracked the emergence of homegrown corporate venture arms and more Africans in top positions at outside funds. These results derived from a year-long project to boost Crunchbase’s Africa data capture and increase awareness of its platform across the continent’s tech ecosystem.

Drawing on its database and primary source research, Crunchbase identified 51 “viable” Africa-focused VC funds globally—defining viable as formally established entities with 7-10 investments or more in African startups, from seed to series stage.

Those who made the list with 7 investments indicated they would reach 10 by early 2019.  

Of the 51 funds investing in African startups, 22 (or 43 percent) were headquartered in Africa and managed by Africans.

Of the 22 African managed and located funds, 9 (or 41 percent) were formed since 2016 and 9 are Nigerian.

Four of the 9 Nigeria located funds were formed within the last year: Microtraction, Neon Ventures, Beta Ventures, and CcHub’s Growth Capital fund.

The research prioritized organizational viability and number of investments over fund and round size. Therefore, the range in typical investment values across the group was wide, with some offering $25K seed investments, and others doing $1 to $10 million rounds at the series A and B stage.

In the group of 51 total funds, TPG’s Growth Fund led the largest round on the continent in 2018 (so far):  $47.5 million to Kenyan fintech startup Cellulant.

This has only been topped by the $52 million round to South Africa’s Jumo, but that was led by Goldman Sachs—which (by the information we have) hasn’t invested significantly in African startups, aside from Jumia.   

The Nigerian funds with the most investments were EchoVC (20) and Ventures Platform (23).

Notably active funds in the group of 51 included Singularity Investments (18 African startup investments) Ghana’s Golden Palm Investments (17) and Musha Ventures (36).

At least one corporate venture arm—Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund—made Crunchbase’s list of 51. The research also tracked a rise in corporate venture funding and acquisition activity. MTN has invested in African startups and Standard Bank added $1 million to Founders Factory’s new African accelerator. Fintech firm Interswitch has been in the acquisition market and established its E-growth Fund to invest in startups.

Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge indicated recently his company will likely go acquisition shopping for local startups in the near future.

During the course of Crunchbase’s research sources speaking on background flagged the pending launch of three new African corporate venture arms within the next 12 to 16 months.

In addition to tracking more funds on the continent, another emerging trend point was Africans in senior positions at those located elsewhere—including the three that raised the most capital over the last 24 months.

Former Nigerian ICT minister Omobola Johnson is a senior partner at TLcom Capital’s $40 million fund. Yemi Lalude is Managing Partner of TPG Growth’s Africa fund, which announced $2 billion in its coffers last year. And at French firm Partech—which raised $70 million for its Africa fund—Tidjane Deme is General Partner.

Crunchbase’s overall findings come as a several recent articles (and a heap of Twitter debate) have expressed concern about possible outsized influence of external actors in Africa’s tech ecosystem — primarily East Africa — and bias among VC investors toward non-African founders.

More accurate data on Sub-Saharan Africa’s VC could help better inform these discussions.

Pinning down solid stats on the region’s nascent startup scene is a budding exercise. The core growth in Sub-Saharan Africa’s tech sector has occurred over the last 5-7 years so there’s less accompanying infrastructure—i.e., analyst reporting, long-term databases, and robust media coverage—than other markets

Some VC firms have taken stabs at quantifying the value of VC investment over select timeframes. In 2017, Village Capital did a report tracking fintech funding in East Africa.

The last two years, Partech and media firm Disrupt Africa have done reports on Africa’s annual VC values. Their diverging numbers demonstrate the continued challenges to producing confident stats. Partech’s study tallied 2017 funding to African startups at $560 million, while Disrupt Africa came up with $195 million for the same year.

For its part, Crunchbase aims to create as accurate a VC representation for Africa as it does for other global markets. In addition to tracking stats on African funds, the platform has extended its  Venture Program—which allows partners to directly update their Crunchbase data and investments.

To date, Crunchbase has added 33 African focused Venture Program partners including Greenhouse Capital, TLcom Capital, Draper Darkflow, Silvertree Internet Holdings, Naspers, Orange Digital Ventures, and Accion Venture Lab.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Breaking down France’s new $76M Africa startup fund

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Weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a $76M African startup fund at VivaTech 2018, TechCrunch paid a visit to the French Development Agency (AFD) — who will administer the new fund — to get more details on how le noveau fonds will work.

The $76M (or €65M) will divvy up into three parts, according to AFD Digital Task Team Leader Christine Ha.

“There are €10M [$11.7M] for technical assistance to support the African ecosystem… €5M will be available as interest free loans to high potential, pre seed startups…and…€50M [$58M] 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 $100K “as early, early funding to allow entrepreneurs to prototype, launch, and experiment,” said Ha.

The $58M in VC startup funding will be administered through Proparco, a development finance institution—or DFI—partially owned by the AFD. The money will come “from Proparco’s balance sheet”…and a portion “will be invested in VC funds active on the continent,” said Ha.

Proparco already invests in Africa focused funds such as TLcom Capital and Partech Ventures. “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 $58M by contacting any of Proparco’s Africa offices (including in Casablanca, Abidjan, Douala, Lagos, Nairobi, Johannesburg).

And what will AFD (and Proparco) look for in African startup candidates? “We are targeting young and innovative companies able to solve problems in terms of job creation, access to financial services, energy, health, education and affordable goods and services…[and] able to scale up their venture on the continent,” said Ha.

The $11.7M technical assistance and $5.8M loan portions of France’s new fund will be available starting 2019. On implementation, AFD is still “reviewing several options…such as relying on local actors through [France’s] Digital Africa platform,” said Ha.

Digital Africa­—a broader French government initiative to support the African tech ecosystem—will launch a new online platform in November 2018 with resources for startup entrepreneurs.

So that’s the skinny on France’s new Africa fund. It adds to a load of VC announced for the continent in less than 15 months, including $70 for Partech Ventures, TPG Growth’s $2BN Rise Fund, and $40M at TLcom Capital

Though $75M (and these other amounts) may pale compared to Silicon Valley VC values, it’s a lot for a startup scene that — at rough estimate—attracted only $400M four years ago.  African tech entrepreneurs, you now have a lot more global funding options, including from France.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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