Dealflow | May 12, 2021

Eight promising impact startups in fintech, fashion and education

Chia Jeng Yang
Guest Author

Chia Jeng Yang

Editor’s note: ImpactAlpha has partnered with Shaper Impact Capital, a grassroots, decentralized network that helps to connect thousands of social ventures with thousands of impact investors and angels, globally. The bimonthly issue features promising impact startups from around the world. Contact Shaper Impact Capital at [email protected] for introduction(s) to the startups

Dear Agents of Impact!

Our Shaper Impact Capital Africa team has seen a dramatic ramp-up of great companies. Shoutout to SIC Africa lead, Rumbi and team for their work helping great companies making an impact across Nigeria, Kenya and many other geographies.

Fintech, Community, Fashion, and Education are some of the key highlights for this issue and highlight some of the top spaces that are heating up around the world globally. Check some of the companies with an impact in those spaces below! Contact Shaper Impact Capital at [email protected] for introduction(s) to the startups.

  • Beacon Power Services – grid optimisation for broader, more reliable access to energy [Seed, Nigeria]
  • Unown – consumer fashion leasing, out to save trillions of tons of CO2 [Seed, Germany]
  • Wateroam – portable water filtration system for disaster-hit and rural communities [Pre-Series A, Singapore]
  • Kwara – making cooperative financial institutions more efficient for greater financial inclusion [Pre-Seed, Kenya]
  • Humans in the Loop – recruiting hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers for AI training [Seed, Bulgaria]
  • Footprint – enterprise software to track corporate carbon footprints and inspire sustainability initiatives [Seed, US]
  • Plain Sight – networking and community-building, without the systemic bias [Pre-Seed, US]
  • Fitted – turning closet management greener [Seed extension, US]

Chia Jeng Yang [SIC Janitor – in – chief]

1. Beacon Power Services

🔌 Electric Plug Emoji💡 Light Bulb Emoji on Facebook 2.1Beacon Power Services (BPS) is a Nigerian SaaS company optimising grid utilisation for utility companies.

50% of the power sent into the grid in Nigeria is lost due to poor grid infrastructure. Consequently, Nigerian households receive only around 6 hours of daily electricity, and rely on expensive and polluting generators. Utility providers, on the other hand, experience an annual revenue loss of US$ 1.5 billion.

To solve this, BPS has developed software products that provide utilities with real time visibility on their grid operations, resulting in a data-driven approach to resource allocation. Ikeja Electric, Nigeria’s largest utility company saw its revenue increase by USD$ 30 million and improved power supply to its customers by 2 hours. Unlike its international competitors, BPS provides localised solutions at much lower prices.

The company’s revenues have been growing rapidly, from US$ 1.5 million in 2017 to US$ 3.1 million in 2020, with projected revenues of US$ 8.7 million this year.

The BPS team is led by senior executives with significant power and energy software expertise at organisations like Deutsche Bank, Rolls Royce and EMCOR.

UNSDG #7: Affordable and Clean Energy

Use of funds: Grow customer base; Product offering and market expansion

Analysed by Ivy Macharia, Mouloukou Sanoh and Omar Fofanah [Africa Hub]

2. Unown

👗 Dress Emoji♻️ Recycling Symbol Emoji Unown is a seed stage company from Hamburg, offering a one-stop-shop for consumer fashion leasing.

Today, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. However, 40% of the clothes in our closets are only worn once or twice. If 20% of the EU fashion market is leasing, 27 trillion tons of CO2 emission will be saved per year, equivalent to 1,6 million 2-person households becoming CO2 neutral. 

Unown offers consumers a monthly subscription rental service and circulates products for brands and manufacturers in commission-based revenue share. Currently, they are working with over 50 brand partners. A data-driven approach and full-cycle software for both consumers and brands set them apart from competitors. 

Unown have raised from German accelerator APX and climate tech investor Übermorgen. Two co-founders Linda Ahrens and Tina Spießmacher have both been innovation strategists in their previous careers, working with consumer brands in various industries including luxury, beauty and food.

UN SDG No. 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Use of funds: Talent, Marketing, Inventory

Read about Unown’s 2021 Sustainability report, here.

Analysed by Chunchun Yao, Jerome Henrich, Sonya Lu, Jaclyn Zhu, GioSamaaavanni Corradini [DACH & UK Hub]

3. Wateroam

🚰 Potable Water Emoji on Apple iOS 10.2 Wateroam develops portable water filtration devices to help communities in disaster-hit sites and rural villages obtain clean drinking water. With Wateroam, relief organisations can provide clean water access by installing Wateroam products in local contaminated water sources instead of transporting bottled water to the affected community. 

Wateroam’s patented solution reduces the filter weight 20x and extends the longevity 4x in contrast to other filters. The team has deployed water filtration systems to over 100,000 people across 38 countries, through 50+ humanitarian organisations and government initiatives, such as Red Cross, World Vision and Mercy Relief since 2014. Total revenue of SG$ 300,000 was generated in 2020. 

The Co-founders, David, Chong Tee Lim and Vincent Loka met as undergraduates at a water initiative programme at the National University of Singapore. The team was also appointed as the United Nations Young Leader and received the ASEAN Business Award 2019. 

UN SDG No. 6: Clean water and sanitation

Use of Funds: Scaling up sales and distribution, product development of new injection mould and expanding production capacity

Check out their public deck here.

Analysed by Hazel Wei and Jo Chan, sourced by Sherilyn Chia [North America & the Caribbean Hub] 

4. Kwara

Download Open Book Emoji | Emoji Island 💵 Dollar Banknote Emoji Kwara is a Kenya-based B2B2C platform digitising Savings Cooperatives and Credit Unions (SACCOs) and other non-bank financial institutions.

Kenya’s 15,000 cooperative financial institutions, serve over 10 million members and control an asset base of nearly US$ 7 billion. They offer better returns on savings and lower interest rates on loans for underbanked populations. However, they often rely on manual record-keeping and operate informally leading to inefficient operations, insufficient and unreliable data, and high instances of fraud. 

Kwara’s banking platform-as-a-service enables SACCOs to connect to the formal financial system and digitise their manual processes. SACCOs using the Kwara platform have experienced a 9% growth in membership base and a 40% increase in loan disbursement, reducing their members’ reliance on predatory emergency loans. 

Kwara currently serves clients with a combined 29,000+ members and US$ 91 million AUM and operates in a US$ 55 billion global market of 3 billion people that are unbanked or underbanked. There is strong growth potential and early interest from other emerging markets like Indonesia and the Philippines where cooperative financial institutions have long played a critical role. 

The team of second-time founders has experience scaling businesses across Africa and is supported by a strong roster of advisors including a former GM at Mastercard. 

UN SDG No. 8: Decent work and economic growth

Use of funds: marketing, sales, and product improvement

Analysed by Rumbi Makanga, Omar Fofanah, and Samantha Wulfson [Africa Hub]

5. Humans in the Loop

Blond-Haired Man Emoji (U+1F471, U+200D, U+2642, U+FE0F)💻 Laptop Emoji Humans in the Loop is an award-winning social enterprise providing model training and validation services for Machine Learning. 

The Bulgarian-based, female-led startup operates as a data annotation company – employing over 500 refugees and asylum seekers to train AI for large computer vision businesses (clients include Zebra Technologies, Imagga, Alcatraz AI). 

Deal value is calculated per file processed and averages $2,500, with up to 30 deals per client and an average client lifetime value of $10,000. Founded in 2017, Humans in the Loop has managed to bootstrap itself to profitability, achieving 185%  year-on-year growth in 2020. 

The startup differentiates itself in the US$ 1.5 billion AI and machine learning market through its dedicated teams offering which allows annotators to acquire deep expertise in the client’s data. 

The founder’s strong network within the NGO sector has helped generate organic referrals and a consistent supply of workers. While crowdsourcing platforms still dominate the market, Humans in the Loop is one of the very few impact-focused providers, which guarantees a much higher hourly fee to employees (in some countries up to 200% of the minimum average).

UN SDG No. 10: Reduced inequalities

Use of funds: Product development and hiring.

Check out Humans in the Loops’ deck here.

Analysed by Simeon Ivanov, Tzvete Doncheva, and Katy Svennas. [DACH & UK Hub]

6. Footprint

Seedling Emoji (U+1F331)📢 Loudspeaker Emoji Footprint is an enterprise software solution for climate education and action, empowering individuals, corporate clients, and HR divisions to communicate their climate ambitions and footprint. By working with Footprint, companies can track, monitor, and improve their sustainability initiatives to attract investor support and engage employees in climate action.

Footprint is focused on capturing the ~US$ 6 billion corporate spending on sustainability initiatives across the US. Additionally, Footprint is exploring long-term growth opportunities to serve the ~20 million students and teachers in higher education, along with up to 1.5 billion individual users with an interest in sustainability initiatives.

Key competitors in this space include startups such as EcoCred, Livegreen, Oroeco, and Litterati. Footprint’s main differentiator is its integrated and comprehensive application to enterprise-level customers.

CEO Dakota Stormer, has experience leading the Shell Carbon Opportunities incubation hub, along with an M.S. in Energy Policy & Climate from Johns Hopkins. Jason Washington, Footprint’s Director of Technology, has significant experience in product management and software development at Emerson.

UN SDG No. 13: Climate Action

Use of funds: sales and developer hires – to further the application development, accommodate customizations and product iterations for clients as well as increase outreach and continue to scale the business.

Analysed by Saurabh Jha and Michael Lam [North America & the Caribbean Hub] 

7. Plain Sight

🔗 Link Symbol EmojiHandshake Emoji (U+1F91D) Plain Sight provides access to community and human capital while breaking down systemic barriers of bias. Through their app-based networking platform, Plain Sight aims to reimagine networking and combat unconscious bias by eliminating names or profile pictures and only showing bios and avatars, empowering the community to connect based on the things that matter most.

Consumer Relationship SaaS is a US$ 40.2 billion market, which Plain Sight will aim to capture through a B2B2C model.

Plain Sight has partnered with Delta Airlines to list all Delta Sky Lounges on the app. When Covid-19 hit, the company pivoted to promoting virtual communities like General Assembly as well as Covid-friendly physical spaces. Since then, the user base has increased by 250% and overall activity has increased by 20% month-over-month. The company was recently featured as the Apple App of the Day.

Plain Sight is led by two-time founder CEO James Chapman. James has dedicated the bulk of his career creating spaces for ambitious people to thrive and come together. The two other women co-founders of the company have backgrounds in human-centered design, product, placemaking, and space activations.

UN SDG No. 10: Reduced Inequalities

Use of funds: Enhance the product, grow user base to 100,000 members, reach 35% DAU/MAU ratio.

Check out their public deck here.

Analysed by Connor Harlander, Margaret Zimmer, and Hrishi Hkumbhojkar [North America & the Caribbean Hub]

8. Fitted 

👕 T-Shirt-Emoji🧼 Soap Emoji on WhatsApp 2.19.352 Fitted is a closet management service that provides a comprehensive and sustainable solution to all clothing needs through an integrated platform, making it effortless to clean, trade, and discover new clothes. Through Fitted Laundry, Fitted Closet, and Fitted Consignment, the Fitted brand uses leading garment-recognition technology and partnerships with local laundromats to provide a seamless, easy-to-use laundry and closet application. Through partnerships with local laundromats and user education, Fitted also reduces the carbon footprint of traditional closet applications. By implementing industry-leading practices around washing and drying, Fitted expects to reduce CO2 emissions by ~283,000 lbs over the next 18 months.

Fitted is squarely focused on disrupting the ~US$ 18 billion dry-cleaning and laundromat market. Further, Fitted seeks to capture significant market share in the ~US$ 28 billion consignment sector and from the ~US$ 40 billion at-home laundry market. 

Key competitors in this space include startups such as Cleanly, Tide, Cladwell, and Poshmark. However, each of these competitors targets one branch of a full-suite of laundry services, while Fitted seeks to provide an integrated and comprehensive application to service all closet needs. 

UN SDG No. 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Use of funds: First engineering hire, further market penetration across major collegiate towns in the US, ongoing technology development, and further evaluation of impact metrics 

Check out their public deck here.

Analysed by Angela Khakali, Saurabh Jha, Amber Zhang, Nico Pecchi, Prapti Khadka [North America & the Caribbean Hub]

Disclosure: The content is for informational purposes only, you should not construe any such information or other material as financial advice. The information is provided solely on the basis that you will make your own investment decisions and SIC does not take account of any investor’s investment objectives, particular needs, or financial situation.

Content regarding companies should not be considered as an offer to the public and is not directed at or offered to anyone located in a jurisdiction where it is unlawful to do so. It is strongly recommended that you seek professional investment advice before making any investment decision.

Nothing contained on our Site constitutes a solicitation, recommendation, endorsement, or offer by SIC or any third party service provider to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments in this or in in any other jurisdiction in which such solicitation or offer would be unlawful under the securities laws of such jurisdiction. Nothing in the Site constitutes professional and/or financial advice, nor does any information on the Site constitute a comprehensive or complete statement of the companies discussed or the law relating thereto.