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Pan-African contrarian investor P1 Ventures reaches $25M first close for its second fund

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Pan-African venture capital firm P1 Ventures has reached the first close of its second fund at $25 million. The venture capital firm secured this capital from some of Africa’s largest industrial conglomerates and private companies, several fund of funds and general partners of global funds based in the U.S. and Europe.

P1 Ventures expects to reach a final close by early next year, founder and general partner Mikael Hajjar told TechCrunch in an interview.

Hajjar launched P1 Ventures in 2020 with Hisham Halbouny, who also serves as a general partner. Its first fund (a proof of concept fund, as Hajjar calls it) allocated $11 million to 24 ventures, primarily concentrating on e-commerce, fintech, insurtech, health tech, and SaaS industries.

While this second fund (its first institutional fund) will still focus on these sectors, the firm is adding AI to the mix. Its first investment in this category is Zambian startup Nkoloso.ai, which gathers data and keeps track of vast tracts of agricultural land using satellite imagery and AI. It’s also one of two AI startups and five portfolio companies the Dubai–based venture capital firm has backed from its second fund.

Hajjar argues that the use of AI by the firm in the agriculture and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sectors exemplifies Africa’s potential to leverage this emerging technology to bypass traditional infrastructure, similar to the way mobile money in Africa surpassed the need for debit and credit card infra. Additionally, AI demonstrates how African companies may develop products with global reach.

“We believe that AI will be Africa’s next big leapfrog opportunity. So when you think how fintech transformed the continent and allowed it to disrupt the banking sector, we believe AI will do the same with sectors like retail, healthcare, and the creative economy,” said the general partner.

“What we see beautiful in AI is the ability to export. As you know, single market and currency risk are the main risks in investing in Africa. The beauty of AI is that you have export-first businesses.” Hajjar cited Egypt-born Instabug and BioNTech-subsidiary InstaDeep as examples of such African-founded software and AI businesses with customers in the U.S., Europe and globally.

P1 Ventures, which has offices in Lagos and Cairo, recently began an Entrepreneur In Residence program, under which Nkoloso.ai received funding. Both partners utilize their skills and expertise as past operators to manage this venture studio, which plans to incubate four more startups in the next four years headed by founders capable of achieving product-market fit and scaling the product.

During the interview, Hajjar proudly highlights his firm’s “contrarian” approach to VC investment in Africa. “We go off the beaten path and back the underdogs; we invest where no one else does,” he says, underscoring super early investments made from P1 Ventures’ first fund in startups operating within Francophone Africa markets, including Yassir, a mobility startup-turned-super app in Algeria; Chari, a B2B e-commerce platform in Morocco; and Djamo, a payments startup in the Ivory Coast. These upstarts have emerged as the most well-funded startups in their respective countries. Notably, Yassir, the firm’s first investment, stands out as one of the most valuable startups in Africa and the Middle East.

P1 Ventures

L-R: Hisham Halbouny and Mikael Hajjar. Image Credits: P1 Ventures

Although most of P1 Ventures’ investments from its initial fund were made in the seed stage, the firm characterizes itself as multistage and occasionally engages in Series A and B investments opportunistically. It is evident that P1 Ventures likely provided small checks during subsequent stages of expansion for companies such as Yassir and Egyptian fintech MoneyFellows, owing to the limited size of its first capital. Nevertheless, it is intriguing that the firm was able to participate in these rounds. Hajjar explained that the partners’ institutional track record plays a significant factor. He also noted specific instances when stage and geographical arbitrage were crucial and emphasized their active involvement in assisting companies with investors for follow-on rounds, talent, and expansion strategy.

“Very few African GPs manage funds with that institutional track record and that allows us to have better visibility on what it takes to build category-defining businesses, especially as we look at inflection points and arbitrage across stages and geographies,” the general partner said, referencing how P1 Ventures picked Chari at the pre-seed stage rather than more popular B2B e-commerce deals in Egypt and Nigeria and MoneyFellows at Series A instead of other pre-seed/seed stage fintechs at comparable price points in Egypt.

On top of that, P1 Ventures was also instrumental in connecting MoneyFellows with CommerzVentures for its Series B round and Chari in several acquisitions it has made in the last two years, Hajjar remarked.

Gameball, an Egyptian software company gamifying loyalty and customer retention with a client base across 70 countries, and General Atlantic-backed healthtech Reliance Health are among P1 Ventures’ 29 early-stage investments in 10 countries since its launch.

P1 Ventures has observed that, on average, its portfolio businesses have secured 35 times more follow-on money for every dollar it has invested, even in the face of a decline in global venture capital funding. The firm, which didn’t disclose its IRR, asserts that the metric stems from the significant value it contributes to its portfolio firms beyond capital. This value is primarily attributed to the partners’ multistage, multisector expertise and extensive networks across the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

“I’m the first Mauritanian to launch a fund; as you can appreciate, this comes with a deep sense of meaning. I know African talent is more dispersed than current VC is. I intend to be this change agent and empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs. Just like people took a chance on me as an emerging fund manager, it’s my duty now to back underdog founders and turn them into regional, if not global, winners,” Hajjar stated.

“Also, what Africa is going through right now, we believe, is very similar to what Europe went through 25 years ago or what Latin America went through eight years ago. We believe P1 is best positioned to emerge as the premier VC just like Index Ventures did in Europe or Kaszek in Latin America.”

Before engaging in angel investing in 2014 and establishing P1 Ventures in 2021, Halbouny previously had a position as a partner at Man Capital, a subsidiary of Mansour Group. Man Capital had invested early in prominent companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Bolt. He was also managing director at EFG Hermes, one of MENA’s largest investment banks. On the other hand, Hajjar, a Stanford MBA graduate and engineer, held roles in Google, Zum, and Areva.

Along with the partners, P1’s advisory group also consists of investors and operators, including Emil Michael, the former chief business officer of Uber, and Bernard Dalle, a founding team member of London-based Index Ventures. “Innovation across the African continent is booming and P1 is ideally positioned to help African entrepreneurs at the earliest stages build valuable and enduring businesses,” Dalle noted. 



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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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