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QED and Partech back South African payment orchestration platform Revio in $5.2M seed

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The payment landscape in Africa is still fragmented, with several payment operators providing different payment options to customers as well as businesses. Due to this fragmentation, payment failures are inevitable due to factors such as invalid cards, inactive accounts and high dispute rates.

One of the few startups working on payment orchestration to address this fragmentation is Revio from South Africa. Ruaan Botha, the co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that he started the fintech after learning how much time and manual effort businesses spend collecting payments across various providers and engaging customers on outstanding and failed payments.

“Digital payments are growing rapidly across Africa, projected to reach $146 billion in 2023, before taking into account almost $500 billion in mobile money transactions,” explained Botha. “However, there are unique market challenges and opportunities in how payments are made and collected on the continent. The most glaring is the immense fragmentation of the payments ecosystem, with more than 280 licensed payment service providers, 42 currencies and the unique consumer payment cultures that exist.”

The two-year-old startup assists companies in streamlining their order-to-cash lifecycles while handling issues brought on by employing various payment options via its APIs. In the latest development, the startup has raised $5.2 million in seed funding to strengthen its efforts in tackling these failed payments that cost digital businesses billions in recurring revenue yearly.

This is the second round of funding that Revio has received in the last 12 months. In November, it secured $1.1 million in pre-seed funding from investors, including Speedinvest, Ralicap and Everywhere VC. These investors wrote follow-on checks in the QED-led seed round, joined by growth-stage pan-African VC Partech.

The participation of QED and Partech, which are typically known for their growth-stage investments, in Revio’s seed round, according to co-founder and chief operating officer Nicole Dunn, is a testament to the relevance of its product (Partech Africa invests in Series A and B deals, and this is QED’s first seed check in an African startup after Moniepoint’s pre-Series C and Remedial Health’s Series A).

She remarked on a call with TechCrunch, “I think it’s a great signal for the ecosystem, not only for us but hopefully to the rest of the ecosystem. This should also encourage some of those investors that had committed to investing in Africa and started deploying before the downturn to follow the example that QED set by coming early into a seed round, even in this current market, especially in an African context.”

Orchestration reduces the cost, risk and complexity of payments

When a business operates in different countries and accepts various payment methods, using payment orchestration platforms becomes increasingly crucial. Just as Primer, Spreedly, and Zooz, via their APIs, handle this heavy lifting in the U.S. and Europe, Revio and similar upstarts, including Egypt-based MoneyHash, do the same for Africa.

Dunn stated on the call that Revio has developed an order-to-cash lifecycle or end-to-end payment value chain that merchants can use to collect revenue from their customers. Through its API, these merchants connect to more than 70 payment methods and service providers, giving them access to transaction routing, automated failover and retries, and real-time customer engagement workflows to increase payment success rates.

In addition, Revio recently unveiled a revenue recovery use case based on the realization that payment failure in Africa isn’t always due to technical difficulties; it might also be the consequence of insufficient funds or an abandoned authorization. To that end, the platform drives real-time action via channels like email, SMS, WhatsApp and push notifications to re-engage consumers in the checkout process and provide them with a more convenient payment method (cash or flexible payment plans). “It’s really around bridging the merchants’ need to connect with the consumer realities on the ground. And that’s been quite differentiated in the broader market context,” says Dunn.

Another reality is that payment orchestration platforms need broad coverage to serve businesses that transact across different markets to capture enough value for them. The Cape Town-based fintech says it has made strides in that regard, expanding its scope to encompass over 25 African markets.

The Revio team. Image Credits: Revio

Even though Revio has roughly 50 customers, less than half of them — enterprise and mid-market customers — are mostly responsible for this growth in coverage. Last year, Revio described its customers as large-scale enterprises to midmarket corporates and fast-growing scale-ups involved with recurring revenue businesses and high transactional volumes. However, due to learnings over the past year, Revio concentrates more on large-scale enterprises with complex payment requirements.

“We’re not actively going for a high volume of clients. We’re going for very high-value clients that have very complex payment needs. We’ve switched off things like product-led onboarding to being able to build and dominate in the enterprise sales,” the COO said. “These companies are typically in multiple markets but headquartered in Africa or recurring revenue businesses that are somewhat underserved and have unique risks and complexities around collecting payment tokenization and tackling high failure rates. They’re the ones that benefit from Revio’s services.”

These clients include four of Africa’s largest insurers and two of the continent’s largest telcos (Old Mutual, MTN’s aYo, Innovation Group and Standard Bank are examples).

According to Dunn, Revio, which has seen its revenue increase by 1,000% in the past year, also plans to target global retailers servicing the African market during its next development phase. She said the startup has begun interactions with a few of these merchants to understand better what it would take to service them effectively, mainly as it builds capabilities around cross-border reconciliation settlement. The newly injected capital will develop the company’s technological capabilities in this regard and expand its team by hiring talent within and outside the continent.

“We have a strong conviction that payments in Africa hasn’t been fully solved. Revio is building a platform that can unlock increased e-commerce and digital payment activity on the continent and help global and local merchants reach new customer segments,” said Gbenga Ajayi, partner and Africa lead at QED Investors. “We are excited to back the exceptional team that has proven they can execute even in tough market conditions and localize very strongly to win enterprise customers.”



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Webb Telescope Just Found The Holy Grail In A Famous Supernova

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At long last scientists believe they have the answer to what happened to a star that died in a famous supernova explosion not far from home.

The James Webb Space Telescope detected strong evidence supporting the existence of a neutron star, one of the densest objects in space, in its infancy. While some supernovas result in a new black hole, others create neutron stars when the core of a massive star collapses.

Though astronomers have known about neutron stars for decades, no one had actually seen one of these objects being formed before. The hunt for a neutron star within this close supernova remnant has been regarded as a holy grail quest.

“With this observatory, we have now found direct evidence for emission triggered by the newborn compact object, most likely a neutron star,” said Claes Fransson of Stockholm University, the lead author of the study, in a statement released by NASA.

Scientists first saw this stellar explosion — dubbed SN 1987A — with the naked eye nearly 40 years ago in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small satellite galaxy of the Milky Way about 160,000 light-years away. Since then, they’ve investigated it at radio, gamma-ray, and X-ray wavelengths — searching for clues among the ashes for what came of the deceased star.

But supernovas, by their very nature, churn out a lot of dust, clouding the view. Stars on the verge of dying and supernovas are element factories: They make carbon, for instance, the same chemical on which humans and much of life on Earth are based. Then they spread elements like calcium found in bones and iron in blood across interstellar space.

This dispersal seeds new generations of stars and planets, but scientists admit they have much to learn about the early stages of the process.

The James Webb Space Telescope has observed the best evidence yet for emissions from a neutron star in supernova remnant SN 1987A.
Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Claes Fransson / Mikako Matsuura / M. Barlow / Patrick Kavanagh / Josefin Larsson

Webb, the leading infrared telescope, was finally able to “see” what other telescopes couldn’t in the aftermath. The new study, published this week in the journal Science, found evidence of heavily ionized argon (meaning argon atoms that had become electrically charged) in the center of the exploded material. Researchers think the most likely explanation for the changed argon is ionizing radiation from a neutron star.

“To create these ions that we observed in the ejecta, it was clear that there had to be a source of high-energy radiation in the center of the SN 1987A remnant,” Fransson said in a statement. “Only a few scenarios are likely, and all of these involve a newly born neutron star.”

Solving this mystery may help scientists better understand how stellar corpses evolve over time.





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NASA Spacecraft Spots Dramatic View Of New Impact Crater On Mars

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There’s a fresh crater on Mars, a reminder of our still-dynamic solar system.

NASA‘s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft orbiting Mars since 2006, uses an extremely powerful camera to observe the Martian surface. The team running the aptly named High Resolution Imaging Experiment, or HIRISE camera, recently released a detailed image of this impact crater.

“A Small, Very Recent Impact Crater,” they succinctly posted online. “That’s it. That’s the whole caption.”

It’s not that small. Maybe small compared to the Martian behemoths. The image above is 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) across, while the zoomed-out view below shows a Martian scene 5 km (3.1 miles) wide.

It’s unclear when such a recent object, likely an asteroid, crashed into Mars, leaving a sizable dent in the equatorial region of the Red Planet. But you can see markings from ejecta strewn around the impact basin.

The “very recent” impact crater spotted in the equatorial region of Mars.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UArizona

Mars is absolutely covered in craters. NASA estimates there are over a quarter-million impact craters about the size of Arizona’s famous Barringer Crater, which is some 4,000 feet across. And there are over 43,000 Martian craters larger than three miles wide.

The Red Planet is much closer to our solar system’s asteroid belt, a region teeming with millions of asteroids. When they do collide with Mars, the Martian atmosphere is just 1 percent the volume of Earth’s, meaning these space rocks are less likely to heat up and disintegrate. What’s more, Mars isn’t nearly geologically dead — marsquakes frequently occur there — but it’s not nearly as active as Earth, a water-blanketed planet teeming with erupting volcanoes. On Mars today, there’s no geologic activity or volcanism to wash away, or cover up, new craters.

(Meanwhile, Earth has just around 120 known impact craters. That’s because over hundreds of millions of years, different parts of Earth’s surface have both been covered in lava or recycled as the giant plates that compose Earth’s crust, tectonic plates, continually move rock below and back up to the surface.)

As for us Earthlings, significant strikes from asteroids are rare:

– Every single day, about 100 tons of dust and sand-sized particles fall through Earth’s atmosphere and promptly burn up.

– Every year, on average, an “automobile-sized asteroid” plummets through our sky and explodes, explains NASA.

– Impacts by objects around 460 feet in diameter occur every 10,000 to 20,000 years.

– And a “dinosaur-killing” impact from a rock perhaps a half-mile across or larger happens on 100-million-year timescales.

So there’s no reason to live in fear — but it’s reasonable to have a healthy level of respect for the big space rocks out there. After all, with the asteroid deflection technology being created and tested today, we might be able to nudge a menacing asteroid off its course, should one ever barrel toward our humble blue planet.



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Miranda Bogen is creating solutions to help govern AI

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To give AI-focused women academics and others their well-deserved — and overdue — time in the spotlight, TechCrunch is launching a series of interviews focusing on remarkable women who’ve contributed to the AI revolution. We’ll publish several pieces throughout the year as the AI boom continues, highlighting key work that often goes unrecognized. Read more profiles here.

Miranda Bogen is the founding director of the Center of Democracy and Technology’s AI Governance Lab, where she works to help create solutions that can effectively regulate and govern AI systems. She helped guide responsible AI strategies at Meta and previously worked as a senior policy analyst at the organization Uptown, which seeks to use tech to advance equity and justice.

Briefly, how did you get your start in AI? What attracted you to the field?

I was drawn to work on machine learning and AI by seeing the way these technologies were colliding with fundamental conversations about society — values, rights, and which communities get left behind. My early work exploring the intersection of AI and civil rights reinforced for me that AI systems are far more than technical artifacts; they are systems that both shape and are shaped by their interaction with people, bureaucracies, and policies. I’ve always been adept at translating between technical and non-technical contexts, and I was energized by the opportunity to help break through the appearance of technical complexity to help communities with different kinds of expertise shape the way AI is built from the ground up.

What work are you most proud of (in the AI field)?

When I first started working in this space, many folks still needed to be convinced AI systems could result in discriminatory impact for marginalized populations, let alone that anything needed to be done about those harms. While there is still too wide a gap between the status quo and a future where biases and other harms are tackled systematically, I’m gratified that the research my collaborators and I conducted on discrimination in personalized online advertising and my work within the industry on algorithmic fairness helped lead to meaningful changes to Meta’s ad delivery system and progress toward reducing disparities in access to important economic opportunities.

How do you navigate the challenges of the male-dominated tech industry and, by extension, the male-dominated AI industry?

I’ve been lucky to work with phenomenal colleagues and teams who have been generous with both opportunities and sincere support, and we tried to bring that energy into any room we found ourselves in. In my most recent career transition, I was delighted that nearly all of my options involved working on teams or within organizations led by phenomenal women, and I hope the field continues to lift up the voices of those who haven’t traditionally been centered in technology-oriented conversations.

What advice would you give to women seeking to enter the AI field?

The same advice I give to anyone who asks: find supportive managers, advisors, and teams who energize and inspire you, who value your opinion and perspective, and who put themselves on the line to stand up for you and your work.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing AI as it evolves?

The impacts and harms AI systems are already having on people are well-known at this point, and one of the biggest pressing challenges is moving beyond describing the problem to developing robust approaches for systematically addressing those harms and incentivizing their adoption. We launched the AI Governance Lab at CDT to drive progress in both directions.

What are some issues AI users should be aware of?

For the most part, AI systems are still missing seat belts, airbags, and traffic signs, so proceed with caution before using them for consequential tasks.

What is the best way to responsibly build AI?

The best way to responsibly build AI is with humility. Consider how the success of the AI system you are working on has been defined, who that definition serves, and what context may be missing. Think about for whom the system might fail and what will happen if it does. And build systems not just with the people who will use them but with the communities who will be subject to them.

How can investors better push for responsible AI?

Investors need to create room for technology builders to move more deliberately before rushing half-baked technologies to market. Intense competitive pressure to release the newest, biggest, and shiniest new AI models is leading to concerning underinvestment in responsible practices. While uninhibited innovation sings a tempting siren song, it is a mirage that will leave everyone worse off.

AI is not magic; it’s just a mirror that is being held up to society. If we want it to reflect something different, we’ve got work to do.



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