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IFC leads $5M extension round in Ivorian SaaS e-commerce platform ANKA

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ANKA, an Ivorian SaaS e-commerce platform for African businesses, has raised $5 million. The pre-Series A extension round is a mix of equity and debt; last January, ANKA, formerly Afrikrea, raised $6.2 million. The seven-year-old startup has secured $13.5 million from investors since its inception.

In a statement, ANKA said it will use the fresh investment to strengthen product development and expand services, particularly in its key markets: Nigeria, Kenya and the U.S.

ANKA describes itself as an all-in-one SaaS for global African businesses. But until 2021, it operated a marketplace (Afrikrea) for African-based and inspired clothing, accessories, arts, and crafts. At the time, it had served over 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries and thousands of buyers from 170 countries.

According to CEO Moulaye Taboure, the rebranding to a SaaS e-commerce platform was prompted by the need to consolidate merchants’ focus from other channels, such as websites and social media, onto a single platform. As a result, ANKA serves as a one-stop shop for three kinds of users: exporters looking to ship globally, online merchants who use multiple channels and wish to consolidate all orders on a single platform and drop shippers seeking to create jobs, produce and ship from Africa while receiving global payment.

A million active visits and surging revenue

The platform was launched in partnership with Visa and DHL. As such, it was designed to meet the requirements of its customers in e-commerce (ANKA Marketplace), payments (ANKA Pay), and international shipping (ANKA Shipping). The marketplace includes a configurable online storefront and an omnichannel interface where vendors can monitor their sales and inventory across Africa, social media sites, and websites. ANKA Pay enables users to purchase and sell using local payment methods (mobile money, bank transfers, and Visa cards). Then DHL allows users to dispatch packages from Africa to other countries for less than $30 in under 72 hours.

ANKA’s margins and community of African SMEs (small and midsize enterprises) in these 47 countries have nearly doubled since its last capital injection. Last year, the SaaS e-commerce platform claimed to record over 700,000 monthly visits and processed $35 million in transactions. Kadry Diallo, co-founder and chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that these figures have risen to over a million visits and $50 million across 175 countries. Consequently, ANKA claims its turnover soared 18 times, from €200,000 to €3.6 million.

“We have grown in terms of community buyers and sellers since last year. The more our community grows, the more processes have to be efficient. That’s why we raised an extension to strengthen our processes and build teams too,” the COO said, referring to ANKA’s plans to actively recruit sales, technical, and product talent to catalyze its growth.

User demographic

Most of its 20,000+ vendors (80% women) are in Nigeria and Kenya. On the other hand, the U.S. is where a large chunk of its 350,000+ buyers reside. This reflects a familiar e-commerce trend. Nigeria and Kenya are among the top three African countries with the most active e-commerce consumers. Meanwhile, the U.S. houses the highest proportion of Africans in the diaspora who shop online. The U.S. is followed closely by France on the ANKA platform. Both countries, home to ANKA’s biggest exports, represent a significant growth opportunity for the company, which wishes to boost the investment in and sale of Africa’s creative economy globally.

“The countries where we have the biggest diaspora are the U.S. and France. Nigeria and Kenya are still the beacon or the powerhouse of African businesses in terms of infrastructure and economic market. Most of our sellers that fit our criteria are in those countries,” said Diallo who founded the startup with Taboure and and Luc B. Perussault Diallo. “When I say criteria, I mean sellers with internet access, shipment and payments. These are the countries where we can find the biggest population of SMEs that can do that.”

Surprisingly, Diallo who, before ANKA, held positions in large corporations such as Renault.SA reports that the French departments in the Caribbean (French Guiana and Guadalupe) rather than the U.S. have the largest average order size on the platform (€134 per order to the U.S.’s €103). If anything, this event demonstrates the e-commerce platform’s strong visibility and significant community of sellers in Francophone Africa.

Road to 100,000 sellers

Despite ANKA’s upward trend, the company has encountered some challenges common to e-commerce platforms. Headwinds such as currency devaluations and high inflation in sub-Saharan African markets have exacerbated these challenges in the past year. In Q2 2023, African e-commerce giant Jumia saw a decline in customers, orders, GMV (gross merchandise value), and revenue in part due to these headwinds. Diallo asserts that ANKA has “discovered ways to adapt its efforts in assisting users to sell abroad despite these issues.” Most importantly, unlike other African e-commerce platforms, ANKA differentiates itself as an exporter of African products. The e-commerce startup backed by Alibaba’s Joseph Tsai claims to be the continent’s largest e-commerce exporter startup. ANKA transports over 10 tonnes of cargo per month, per its website.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) led this new investment. Fellow development finance institution Proparco and the French investment bank Bpifrance participated. ANKA expects that with this funding, it can onboard 100,000 African sellers by 2030. On the other hand, the debt component will finance short-term cash cycles for activities such as shipping and payment float.

“Empowering African artisans, particularly women, and helping them access wider markets is crucial to raise the bar of economic inclusion and spur sustainable growth,” Makhtar Diop, IFC managing director, said. “ANKA’s strategy of connecting artisanal fashion designers and merchants to global markets aligns with our vision of supporting Africa’s creative industry to unlock new opportunities for inclusive growth.”



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Intrepid spacecraft beams back vivid photo before moon landing

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An uncrewed private spacecraft has reached the moon’s orbit, one day ahead of its attempt to land at the lunar south pole.

Intuitive Machines’ robotic spacecraft, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Feb. 15, beamed back a view of the near side of the moon to flight controllers just six days later. The craft took a speedier path through space to get to the moon than its predecessors over the past year.

On Wednesday, the spacecraft completed its planned main engine burn to get into a circular orbit about 57 miles above the moon. NASA and its contractor intend to broadcast the landing on their respective websites. The event is scheduled for 5:49 p.m. ET Feb. 22.

“Odysseus continues to be in excellent health,” the company said on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to its name for the lander.

If Intuitive Machines touches down without crashing, it will be the first U.S. spacecraft to complete the quarter-million-mile journey since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Though NASA isn’t controlling this spaceflight and doesn’t own Odysseus, the agency is paying the company $118 million to deliver six instruments to the moon, among other customers’ payloads.

The proposed landing site is Malapert A crater, just under 200 miles from the south pole. Several spacefarers have set their sights on this general region because of its ice. The natural resource, thought to be buried in permanently shadowed craters, is coveted because it could supply drinking water, oxygen, and rocket fuel for future space voyages.

Throughout history, about half of lunar landing attempts have failed, and only one out of three missions that tried to touch down on the moon in 2023 made it without a crash.

Odysseus, the Intuitive Machines’ moon lander, takes a photo of Earth in space.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

Already this year, another NASA contractor, Astrobotic Technologies, tried to get to the moon but never reached lunar orbit due to a detrimental fuel leak discovered early in the flight. In January, Japan became the fifth nation ever to land a spacecraft on the moon, but not without incident: It got there upside down and suffered significant power-generation problems.

NASA selected Intuitive Machines as one of several vendors for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative to explore the moon over the next few years. The program has recruited the private sector to help deliver cargo, conduct experiments, and demonstrate new technology, as well as send back crucial data. Through these contracts, NASA wants to see a regular cadence of moon missions to prepare for astronauts’ return to the moon in 2026 or later.

“What we’ve asked industry to do, which is soft land and operate on the moon’s surface, is not easy at all. It’s extremely difficult, as you probably have seen for lunar landing attempts just in the month of January,” said Joel Kearns, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, during a call with reporters.

No commercial company has achieved this feat so far, although a few have tried.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket upper stage deploys Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander, aka “Odysseus,” in space.
Credit: SpaceX

Landing on the moon is hard because its exosphere — an extremely thin atmosphere of gasses barely held by the moon’s gravity — provides virtually no drag to slow a spacecraft down as it approaches the ground. Furthermore, there are no GPS systems on the moon to help guide a craft to its landing spot.

Despite numerous failures anticipated from the new, inexperienced players in space exploration, people can expect to be dazzled by their cosmic views, such as the stunning Intuitive Machines images of the past week.

“Pretty cool when a lunar lander takes a picture of its ride to space!” SpaceX said in a post on X last week. “Wishing @Int_Machines and IM-1 a safe and soft landing on the Moon.”





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How to watch the moon landing live: See the Intuitive Machines landing attempt

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We might be watching a historic moon landing today.

Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 spacecraft, the uncrewed Odysseus, could potentially land on the surface of the Moon on Feb. 22 at around 4:24 p.m. ET, after an eight-day journey through space. While we can’t be completely sure that the landing will be successful, on Wednesday Intuitive Machines said Odysseus “continues to be in excellent health in lunar orbit.”

You can watch the official stream on Intuitive Machines’ site, on NASA’s website, NASA Television, the NASA app, or on NASA+. You can also keep up by following blog updates on NASA’s website. The live coverage begins at around 3:00 p.m. ET, will continue through the potential landing, and ends with a news conference held by NASA.

The spacecraft is expected to land near Malapert A crater in the south pole region of the moon.

Odysseus launched on Feb. 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Its landing would make the first commercial moon landing and is quite the feat. Landing on the moon is an infamously difficult task for a variety of reasons, including the lack of GPS systems and atmospheric drag. Only five countries, including the former Soviet Union, the U.S., China, India, and Japan, have landed on the moon without a significant wreck.





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U.S. company makes history with first commercial moon landing

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A small American company’s robotic spacecraft has brought the United States back to the surface of the moon for the first time in more than a half-century.

Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based space company, landed on Thursday, becoming the first commercial company to reach the moon intact. The unprecedented achievement is a win for NASA, which has invested $2.6 billion in contracts with Intuitive Machines and several other vendors to deliver instruments to the moon over the next four years.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. A few hours before the landing, flight controllers discovered the spacecraft’s laser rangefinders, which help it avoid hazards on the ground, weren’t working. The team decided to take one more lap around the moon, which bought engineers a couple more hours to troubleshoot the problem. During that orbit, they uploaded a software patch to use onboard NASA lasers, which hadn’t previously been tested in space.

Then, there were some communication challenges, but NASA was quick to call the landing a success, even before a photo was beamed back to Earth.

“Today, for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company — an American company — launched and led the voyage up there,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson in a pre-recorded message during the broadcast. “Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships.”

The moon lander dubbed Odysseus touched down on Malapert A crater, about 200 miles from the lunar south pole, just before 6:30 p.m. ET. Many nations and private ventures have set their sights on the region because of its ice, thought to be buried in the polar craters. The natural resource is coveted because it could supply drinking water, air, and rocket fuel for future missions, ushering a new era in spaceflight.

The success lends legitimacy to the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative (CLPS), a private sector recruitment program to support NASA’s lunar ambitions. Through several contracts, the U.S. space agency wants to establish a regular itinerary of moon missions to prepare for putting Artemis astronauts on the moon in 2026 or later.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s former head of science, once described each of the first CLPS endeavors as “taking a shot on goal.” The sports analogy means not every attempt will be victorious, but overall the program will give NASA a lot of chances to achieve its moon-to-Mars goals. By outsourcing NASA’s lunar deliveries — rather than fully owning each mission — the agency believes it will save money. The contract with Intuitive Machines for this mission was $118 million.

Odysseus, the Intuitive Machines spacecraft, passes over the near side of the moon on Feb. 21, 2024.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

“We don’t know how many of the early attempts will be successful,” said Joel Kearns, NASA science’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, during a news conference in November. “But I can tell you that these American companies are technically strong and rigorous, savvy, they’re resourceful, and they’re driven to be successful. They want to secure that first mover advantage in generating this new lunar economy.”

But observers have questioned how cost-effective the initiative will truly be, given the riskiness of flying on inexperienced spacelines. In January, Astrobotic Technologies, the first of the CLPS vendors, tried to get to the moon, but never reached lunar orbit due to a detrimental fuel leak. NASA spent $108 million on that mission and lost five payloads in the process.

“If we’re flying missions at one-tenth of the cost of a NASA mission, and we fail two of them, we still get eight missions for that same price,” Kearns said in a pre-recorded statement during the landing broadcast. “Even with one or two or three failures, this is still a very economical proposition.”

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus moon lander snaps a photo of Bel’kovich K crater, a 30-mile-wide pit with mountains in the center from lunar orbit.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

The likelihood of success, especially for novice space programs, is still slim. Historically, less than half of all missions to land on the moon have arrived without crashing. The lunar exosphere — an extremely thin atmosphere of gasses barely held by the moon’s gravity — provides virtually no drag to slow a spacecraft down as it approaches the ground. Furthermore, there are no GPS systems on the moon to help guide a craft to its landing spot. Engineers have to compensate for these shortcomings from 239,000 miles away.

Over the past five years, the private sector has tried and failed. An Israeli nonprofit and company collaborated in 2019 on the so-called Beresheet moon mission, which crashed on the lunar surface after an orientation component malfunctioned. Last April, Japanese startup ispace ran out of fuel on its descent and ultimately crashed. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander never made it that far and ultimately broke apart as it crashed back to Earth.

But Intuitive Machines’ landing could instill confidence in the burgeoning lunar economy.

“I know this was a nail biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting,” said Stephen Altemus, Intuitive Machines’ CEO. “Welcome to the moon.”





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