On Monday, March 13, Naspers’ R1.4 billion (~$77 million) venture capital fund, Naspers Foundry, was shut down by the company, with the fund’s portfolio companies and any further investments to be overseen by Prosus Venture henceforth.
When it was launched in October 2019, Naspers’ South Africa CEO Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa stated the fund would back companies that align with the Internet businesses on which Naspers focuses — including food, payments or classifieds — and any other digital venture that addresses a societal need including edtech and agritech startups.
Since its official launch in October 2019, the fund has funded twelve startups, from edtech to mobility to insurtech, to the tune of over R700 million (~$40 million). Of the twelve startups it invested in, the good news is that all of them are still alive, while the not-so-good is that none of the startups have either at least achieved unicorn status or even achieved an exit, an important metric in gauging the success of a venture capital fund.
In this article, we take a look at the fund’s portfolio companies and how they have fared after receiving checks from the VC fund, which was the largest in South Africa.
SweepSouth was Naspers Foundry’s first investment in June 2019, with the VC fund cutting the startup a $2.1 million check for its Series A round. SweepSouth, founded in 2014 by Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, is an online cleaning services platform that connects clients with domestic cleaners.
The startup has so far had mixed fortunes. In September 2022, it raised a further $11 million to further develop and grow its infrastructure and team in South Africa, roll out new services in existing markets, and pursue expansions and acquisitions across the African continent and beyond. However, in January 2023, TechCabal reported on the startup’s unceremonious exits from its Nigeria and Kenya markets, which involved constant budget and headcount cuts
Planet42 is a car subscription startup that offers an inclusive car subscription service to customers who can’t access traditional bank credit. The Estonia-founded and South Africa-based vehicle rental startup was first funded by the Naspers Foundry fund to the tune of R54 million (~$3 million) in December 2021 as part of its R91 million (~$5 million) funding round.
Naspers returned with another check for the startup in its recent $100 million funding round in February 2023. The Foundry co-led the $15 million equity portion of the round, which also comprised $10 million debt from existing investors and a $75 million credit facility from Rivonia Road Capital.
Planet42 is currently ramping up its South Africa operations and further accelerating the process of penetrating the Mexico market.
Naspers Foundry first funded Naked Insurance to the tune of $11 million in the insurtech startup’s Series A round in August 2021. In February 2023, Naked raised a further $17 million in a Series B led by the International Financing Corporation (IFC).
The startup’s product offering is an artificial intelligence-based end-to-end digital platform that enables customers to manage their entire insurance experience online. From getting a quote and buying insurance to managing their policy and claiming, Naked customers can do it all without speaking to a contact centre agent.
According to founder and CEO Alex Thomson in a recent interview with TechCabal, Naked is currently in the process of re-engineering its value chain by expanding its team.
Aerobotics is a Cape Town-based agri-tech startup whose flagship product is a subscription-based platform that provides tree crop health and yields intelligence data to the agricultural industry using drone and satellite-enabled AI technology.
Naspers Foundry cut Aerobotics a $5.6 million check in January 2021 as part of its $17 million Series B round. In July 2022, the startup launched a yield management platform which offers farmers tools to measure, manage and protect their yields.
In July 2021, Naspers Foundry partook in Ctrl’s Series B funding round to the tune of $2 million. Ctrl is a digital insurance advisor which uses an app that lets users conduct a detailed comparison of policies.
The insurtech startup is currently in the process of rolling out its app in South Africa, where co-founder Pieter Erasmus believes its focus will be for a while before it thinks of moving into any new markets.
Floatpays is a fintech startup which gives employees access to a portion of their earned income at any time during the month through a mobile app.
Naspers Foundry contributed $1 million to the startup’s $4 million funding round in February 2022.
The startup, founded in 2019 and an alumnus of the YCombinator batch of summer 2021, was recently awarded Heavy Chef’s South Africa’s Top 5 Most Exciting Startups Award.
Food Supply Network
Naspers Foundry funded the foodtech startup to the tune of $1 million as part of its seed round. The startup’s flagship product is an online marketplace that streamlines communication and trade between manufacturers, distributors and buyers.
After the Foundry’s funding in September 2020, Food Supply Network, which had a presence in South Africa, Namibia and Zambia, planned to expand its product offering to Angola with plans to reach the rest of the continent and beyond.
Nile is an agritech startup whose product offering, an online marketplace, aims to connect farmers to enterprise buyers. It leverages data and a logistical network to allow farmers to reach better-yielding markets beyond those closest to them.
Naspers Foundry cut the startup a $5.7 million check in May 2022 as part of its seed round. Nile is currently in the process of expanding across the southern Africa region.
LifeCheq is a Cape Town-based fintech platform that offers personal and commercial financial advisory solutions for individuals and businesses.
Launched in 2018 Life Cheq enables independent financial advisors to provide financial advisory services and guide consumers, helping them achieve their financial goals, such as the purchase of high-value assets, improving savings and investment habits, and appropriate contributions to pensions.
The startup received $2.5 million in funding from the Naspers Foundry fund as part of its Series A in May 2022. Following the capital injection, Life Cheq embarked on an expansion process across South Africa.
The Student Hub
The Student Hub claims to increase access to vocational education to a large number of students, whilst reducing the costs of delivery of education and training. It achieves this by partnering with accredited Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges to help them deliver their courses online.
In December 2020, the edtech startup received $2.9 million in funding from the Naspers Foundry fund and is in the process of scaling its product offering across South African tertiary institutions.
Valenture Institute is an edtech startup which markets itself as a global private online education platform offering a high school curriculum recognised by leading universities around the world.
It was founded in 2019 and has its headquarters in the UK but is currently operational in South Africa. In September 2020, the startup raised $7 million, with Naspers Foundry fund contributing an undisclosed amount.
In June 2021, Naspers Foundry co-led mobility startup WhereIsMyTransport’s $14.5 million Series A extension, writing a $3 million check towards the round.
WhereIsMyTransport works by mapping formal and informal public transport networks and then using the data obtained to improve the public transport experience, making commuting safe and accessible. Additionally, WhereIsMyTransport licences some of the acquired data to governments.
In May 2022, the startup announced that it had achieved its milestone mapping of 50 cities in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Europe, and Asia.
A case of a failed experiment?
When Naspers Foundry was launched four years ago, TechCrunch made a bold prediction that the R1.4 billion fund could propel South Africa’s venture capital ecosystem back to the top of the funding charts on the continent. To say that prediction has not materialised would probably be an understatement.
Not only has South Africa not improved its attractiveness for VC funding in the years post the fund’s launch, but the country has actually dropped down the rankings of top VC destinations on the continent, meaning that the fund has failed to contribute significantly to the growth of the country’s tech startup landscape.
And then there is the issue of the Foundry’s lack of diversity in its portfolio companies.
After four years and over R700 million (~$39 million) of disbursed funds to 23 founders, only 13% of the recipient founders were persons of colour (3 founders) and only 8% were women (2 founders) despite Naspers CFO Basil Sgourdos having stated that “…a significant portion of the Naspers Foundry investment will be focused on black-owned South African start-ups” at its launch in 2019.
As a matter of fact, the fund’s first-ever investment in SweepSouth in 2019 was the first and last time it invested in a startup with a woman of colour in the founding team.
Naspers Foundry’s lack of diversity was even pointed out by South Africa’s Competition Commission which stated that the fund had failed to support historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs), who include women and persons of colour.
In its obituary, the Naspers Foundry fund will be remembered, among others, for its failure to invest the majority of its fund endowment. At launch, the fund aimed to deploy all the funds within a period of three years but in four years, it only managed to deploy a little more than half of that while South African startups struggled for funding.
Its legacy will also be that of a fund which failed to address its pressing lack of diversity in its portfolio, all these failures to impact the ecosystem despite its respectable status as the largest VC fund in South Africa.
The question of whether the fund will be missed or whether it is a case of “good riddance” will remain a polarising one in the South African tech startup ecosystem for years to come.