On Monday, March 13th, Naspers took an axe to its venture capital fund, Naspers Foundry, putting the kibosh on R1.4 billion (~$77 million) in funding. Henceforth, the fund’s portfolio companies and any additional investments shall be tended by Prosus Venture.
The Foundry was born in October of 2019, when Naspers’ South Africa CEO, Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, declared that it would invest in startups that fit snugly with the Internet-based businesses of its parent company, like food, payments, and classifieds. But the fund was also open to any digital venture that served a societal need, such as edtech and agritech startups.
To date, the Foundry has invested over R700 million (about $40 million) in a dozen startups spanning edtech, mobility, and insurtech. All of these companies still exist, which is encouraging. However, none of them have yet achieved unicorn status or even had an exit, a critical measure for assessing the efficacy of a venture capital fund.
But that was not the only problem with Naspers Foundry’s portfolio. Last year, South Africa’s Competition Commission released a report that called out companies for imitating the Spartans’ krypteia. Several companies, including Naspers, had been excluding historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs), including people of colour. Only three of its 23 recipient founders were people of colour while two were females.
Nevertheless, we can’t overlook its impact. Let’s take a look at the fund’s portfolio companies and how they have fared after receiving checks.
SweepSouth, an online cleaning services platform that connects clients with domestic cleaners, was the first investment made by Naspers Foundry in June 2019, when the fund provided the startup with a $2.1 million check for its Series A round. Founded in 2014 by Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, SweepSouth has had mixed fortunes so far. While it raised $11 million in September 2022 to 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, it has also faced difficulties in Nigeria and Kenya, where it has had to make budget and headcount cuts.
Planet42, a car subscription startup that offers an inclusive car subscription service to customers who can’t access traditional bank credit, was funded by Naspers Foundry in December 2021 as part of its $5 million funding round. The startup, which is based in South Africa but was founded in Estonia, received another check from Naspers Foundry in February 2023 as part of its recent $100 million funding round. The startup is currently focused on ramping up its operations in South Africa and expanding into the Mexican market.
Naked Insurance, an insurtech startup that provides customers with an end-to-end digital platform for managing their insurance experience online, received $11 million from Naspers Foundry in August 2021 for its Series A round. The startup raised another $17 million in February 2023 in a Series B round led by the International Financing Corporation (IFC). Naked Insurance is currently expanding its team as part of an effort to re-engineer its value chain.
Aerobotics, a Cape Town-based agri-tech startup that provides tree crop health and yields intelligence data to the agricultural industry using drones and satellite-enabled AI technology, received $5.6 million from Naspers Foundry in January 2021 as part of its $17 million Series B round. The startup launched a yield management platform in July 2022 that offers farmers tools to measure, manage, and protect their yields.
Ctrl, a digital insurance advisor that enables users to compare policies using an app, received $2 million from Naspers Foundry in July 2021 as part of its Series B funding round. The insurtech startup is currently rolling out its app in South Africa and plans to focus on that market for the time being.
Floatpays, a fintech startup that provides employees with access to a portion of their earned income at any time during the month through a mobile app, received $1 million from Naspers Foundry in February 2022 as part of its $4 million funding round. The startup, which was founded in 2019 and was 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 invested $1 million in Food Supply Network, a food-tech startup that provides an online marketplace connecting manufacturers, distributors, and buyers. Since receiving the funds in September 2020, the startup has expanded from South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia to Angola, with plans to reach other African countries.
Nile.ag is an agritech startup that aims to connect farmers with enterprise buyers through its online marketplace. Naspers Foundry contributed $5.7 million to Nile.ag’s seed round in May 2022, and the startup is currently expanding its reach across southern Africa.
Launched in 2018, Life Cheq is a fintech platform that provides personalized financial advisory solutions for individuals and businesses. Following Naspers Foundry’s $2.5 million Series A investment in May 2022, the Cape Town-based startup has expanded its operations across South Africa.
The Student Hub
The Student Hub is an edtech startup that partners with accredited Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to deliver courses online, thus increasing access to vocational education and reducing the costs of delivery. The Naspers Foundry invested $2.9 million in the startup’s funding round in December 2020, and The Student Hub is currently scaling its product offering across South African tertiary institutions.
Valenture Institute is a UK-based edtech startup that offers a global private online high school curriculum recognized by leading universities. The startup, which is currently operational in South Africa, raised $7 million in September 2020, with Naspers Foundry contributing an undisclosed amount.
WhereIsMyTransport is a mobility startup that maps formal and informal public transport networks, using the data to improve the public transport experience and make commuting safe and accessible. Naspers Foundry co-led the startup’s $14.5 million Series A extension in June 2021, contributing $3 million towards the round. As of May 2022, WhereIsMyTransport had mapped 50 cities in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Europe, and Asia.
Naspers Foundry launched on the back of massive hype from the media. TechCrunch predicted that Naspers would be a springboard for South African VC funding. But as we’ve seen, that’s not the case. South Africa’s standing as an attractive destination for VC funding has not improved. Instead, it has dropped. And now that Naspers Foundry is gone, we have to remember that it takes more than a $100m VC to boost a market.