Jambo, MaishaPay, Tinda… The rising tech scene in DRC

By Mehdi Bouzouina

Posted on Thursday, 9 February 2023 16:05
Photo by JA

From education to e-commerce and cryptocurrencies, five tech entrepreneurs are helping to modernise DRC’s economy. Despite some shyness on the part of investors, they are able to take advantage of an increasingly favourable legal environment.

Since September 2022, DRC has had its own regulations for start-ups. This includes a “start-up act”, which allows entrepreneurs to label their company, thus benefiting from social advantages and support programmes.

The possibility of joining a government-approved incubator, having access to dedicated funds and public contracts, and implementing tax exemption measures are just some of this act’s advantages.

The Congolese authorities hope to boost the country’s tech market. In 2022, about 75% of African start-ups that raised more than $100,000 came from the quartet of Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria. The Congolese company Web3 (blockchain technology) nugget Jambo, which raised $30m last year, was responsible for raising most of the funds in DRC. This solo venture could well pave the way for other success stories in DRC.

James Zhang, founder of Jambo

The start-up founded by James Zhang was 2022’s big revelation. It offers educational programmes about Web3 technologies, from NFT to cryptocurrencies and metaverse.

The goal of the young Chinese entrepreneur who grew up in Kinshasa is to bring the African continent into the blockchain revolution. To achieve this, the man who studied computer science at New York University (NYU) in the US is deploying ambassadors across the continent to extol the merits of decentralised finance. And the Congolese nugget is not skimping by any means. To achieve this, the company, which is just blowing out its first candle, has already raised $37.5m, including $30m in series A.

Its investors include the giant Coinbase and financing vehicle Paradigm. At present, the start-up is even offering its own smartphone, the Jambophone. Incorporating the features of the latest generation of terminals for less than $100, it is able to naturally integrate Web3 applications and a crypto wallet.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur is banking on French-speaking Africa and has just launched Jambo Academy, a 10-week online programme to train in blockchain technologies.

Landry Ngoya, founder of MaishaPay

The MaishaPay fintech was born from an observation. Landry Ngoya, like many African expatriates, struggles to send money to his family. The computer science student at the Shenzhen Institute of Technology then decided to come up with an application that would simplify transactions by paying the money directly to the recipient’s phone, via mobile money.

There is no longer any need to go through a bank account, access the Internet or go to a post office to receive the traditional transfer made through Western Union or MoneyGram.

Only a telephone number is required and the commission is reduced to 1% of the total amount of the transaction. MaishaPay uses the blockchain to authenticate transaction.

Ngoya is not new to the business. The 33-year-old entrepreneur is also the CEO of LinKube, a website creation company launched in 2010. MaishaPay claimed more than 60,000 users and a turnover of $2m in 2022, mainly in DRC and Côte d’Ivoire.

The start-up was a finalist in the Ecobank Fintech Challenge 2022 and is now targeting other countries on the continent such as Mauritania, Angola and Somalia, where the fintech market is still in its infancy. To do this, Ngoya is planning to raise $5m this year.

Mannick Syllas Bryant, founder of Shule system

Mannick Syllas Bryant, the 28-year-old developer behind Shule System, was selected as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 Africa in 2022. Shule System is a health-tech company based in Goma that provides administrative management software to schools as well as an application to monitor children’s academic progress in real-time.

The aim is to centralise and protect schools’ financial and pedagogical data, and facilitate communication between teaching staff and parents. The solution currently costs $5 per pupil per year. Thanks to a partnership with Orange DRC, Shule system provides schools with computer equipment, a network and solar panels.

Launched in 2017, the start-up is already used by 30,000 pupils and 6,900 parents. The entrepreneur’s goal is to equip 1,000 schools across Africa and three million pupils (i.e. 10% of pupils in DRC). To finance his ambitions, he is currently preparing to raise $3m in funds in the hopes of achieving $15m in turnover within three years. The entrepreneur is already planning to export his model to Mali, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Bonny Maya, founder of Tinda

Initially, it was a simple transport service for eMart.cd, a company owned by Bonny Maya and specialised in delivering essential food financed by the diaspora. But the needs of other professional actors led the serial entrepreneur to create a full-fledged company in 2017.

In 2022 alone, the platform transported 51,000 different products across the country and was growing at an annual rate of 53%. It has 12 employees and uses freelancers to carry out its shopping, which ranges from food to ready-to-wear. Tinda also offers storage services to its customers and operates on a monthly subscription basis.

The start-up now aims to expand throughout French-speaking Africa, starting with the Republic of Congo and Gabon. In order to establish its legitimacy, it has set up an annual meeting for players in the sector, the national e-commerce and fintech forum.

Mike Nlemvo, founder of E-blood bank Makila

The lack of blood available in hospitals results in the deaths of 25% of pregnant women in DRC, according to statistics from the national blood transfusion programme in Kinshasa.

Mike Nlemvo decided to act after losing his 13-year-old niece to anaemia. With a degree in medical biology and haematology and a decade of experience as an inspector at the Ministry of Health, the young entrepreneur launched E-blood bank Makila in 2019.

The app allows hospitals to geo-locate blood bags and receive them by drone within an hour of purchasing them via electronic money. The 38-year-old entrepreneur, who charges $5 per bag for his services, was selected in 2022 to be part of the Congolese delegation at the last Vivatech trade fair.

He now wants to specialise in delivering medical supplies to the frontline and hard-to-reach areas. To do this, he has formed a partnership with the French company Hdrones and has been certified by the Congolese Ministry of Health. The health-tech company is planning to raise €250,000 in seed funding in order to strengthen its workforce in Kinshasa.

Nlemvo then hopes to tackle the rest of Central Africa, which also suffers from a shortage of blood bags, starting with Congo-Brazzaville and Angola.

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