BY TOM JACKSON
Some VC firms are more active than others, but Japanese company Kepple Africa Ventures is setting all kinds of records having so far invested in more than 50 African tech startups – with 20 of those deals done in 2020 alone.
Founded by Ryosuke Yamawaki and Takahiro Kanzaki in December 2018, Kepple Africa Ventures has offices in Nairobi and Lagos and makes seed investments of between US$50,000 and US$150,000 in early-stage tech startups on the continent.
Since starting out, the seed-stage VC firm has made 52 investments, averaging US$100,000 each, in companies from Kenya, Nigeria and five other African countries, with 20 of those investments having been done in the first five months of this year.
Kepple has been most active in Nigeria in 2020, investing in credit service Indicina, real estate platform Seso Global, logistics startup MVXchange, educational finance platform Schoolable, e-health startup Lifestores, training and recruitment company Decagon, commodities platform TradeBuza, marketing service Termii, and investtech platform Bamboo.
In Kenya, the company has funded vehicle manufacturer Mobius Motors, health platform Connect Afya, connectivity startup Koko Networks, music platform Mdundo, commerce platform Sky.Garden, digital counselling service Wazi, and payments platform Boya, while also added to its portfolio in 2020 were two Ghanaian companies – digital banking platform Boost and agri-tech startup Complete Farmer.
The rest of the list is completed by Cameroonian e-health startup Health Lane, the fully distributed but Africa-focused USSD integration platform Hover, and France-based, Tunisia-focused insect-based protein producer NextProtein.
Yamawaki told Disrupt Africa the fund prided itself on being able to move extremely quickly.
“Our due diligence is exceptionally quick compared with other VCs. We’ve completed some of our deals within two weeks from end to end,” he said.
Tech-focused but sector agnostic, and primarily focused on East and West Africa, Kepple is primarily focused on seed-stage opportunities. However, it does sometimes go in on bigger rounds, as in the case of Kenyan logistics company Sendy, whom it helped raise cash from Japanese investors like Yamaha and therefore gained a chance to contribute to its recent bumper investment.
In general, Kepple, whose LPs are mostly Japanese high net worth individuals, helps link the African and Japanese startup ecosystems, and helps its portfolio companies access follow-on funding.
“We do something we call “Gateway to Japan”, where we arrange a trip to Tokyo and set up meetings with top-notch Japanese corporate investors,” Yamawaki said.
There are further benefits to portfolio companies to being part of the large Kepple stable.
“We actively connect startups in our portfolio for knowledge sharing and business partnerships,” Yamawaki said. “We also run a WhatsApp group for all our portfolio companies, which serves as a robust mutual Q&A platform. Given the size of our portfolio, the community value we provide is unparallelled.”
Yamawaki said the Kepple fund has grown to US$13 million in size since its launch, and that it plans to continue making investments during the COVID-19 crisis while also helping its existing portfolio navigate the “new normal”.
He says the African tech startup space is a very exciting one to be active in, combining robust macro economic trends with innumerable pain points that are yet to be solved and a large talent pool.
“Missing is only money. We fill this gap and take this great opportunity,” he said.