This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Read our privacy policy

We look for innovative companies offering “must-have” services

Four starts-ups and a VC

Using ICT for development pays big dividends in India, Africa

Patricia Chin-Sweeney is a Venture Partner at Beyond Capital Ventures, a US-based VC with offices in Nairobi and a team in Delhi and Bangalore. It invests in early-stage startups in Sub-Saharan Africa and India.

You started your own consulting firm while you were in business school? 

Yes. In 2009, when I was getting my MBA at New York University, I founded I-DEV International, an emerging markets consultancy. I-DEV worked across 45 countries and five continents over a decade.   

To date, I’ve advised more than 17 emerging-markets investors, helping them identify companies that fit their investment criteria and advising on company growth and exit strategies thereafter.

Why did you join Beyond Capital Ventures?

I wanted to use my 20 years of experience to identify and support rising business innovators. These companies are building solutions that actually matter to society, to the planet, and to investors who expect an attractive financial return on their investment. 

And right now you’re focused on Africa?

Yes, Africa and India. I joined Beyond Capital in 2019 to help with their 2nd fund, focused on critical innovations in the world’s fastest-growing economies; I’m also involved with the new debt fund and next equity fund. Africa is poised to represent nearly more than one-third of the world’s young people, according to the UN’s World Population Prospects 2022. It is already the continent with the youngest population worldwide, with 70% of Sub-Saharan Africa under 30. This poses a risk of unemployment and poverty, but also a great opportunity because of the large workforce and consumer base. 

What sorts of start-ups do you normally invest in?

We look for innovative companies offering “must-have” services that address the needs of a large, growing population in countries where there is notable poverty but also great opportunity. We concentrate on fintech, healthcare, and climate enterprises. Many of these firms help alleviate poverty by stimulating small business growth and raising overall living standards.

Four good examples – Xeno, Ampersand, Lal10 and Viebeg – were identified by me. Each uses tech in a way designed to raise living standards, spur economic growth, help people escape poverty – or all three.

Helping people save and invest: XENO, Uganda

People in Uganda struggle to save money and invest it productively. Only 10% of the labor force has a formal retirement account, and good investment options are scarce – a situation that is true across much of Africa.

Things are especially tough for Ugandan women, who historically have not inherited land or other assets from their families or husbands. 

One solution comes from XENO, a “goals-based” investment platform focused on individuals who want to achieve a particular financial objective such as buying a house or paying for their children’s education.

“Xeno represents an incredible opportunity to include Africa’s youth population in early wealth creation and financial wellness,” says Patricia Chin-Sweeney, who identified Xeno as an investment for Beyond Capital Ventures. “This is something that simply isn’t found in Uganda or Kenya today. Even in the US, young people generally aren’t taught these skills, and the options are far more limited in Africa.” 
XENO was started by the former head of Ugandan’s pension fund, who was inspired by how hard his mother worked to make sure her children became educated and successful. 

But even at the pension fund, colleagues often asked him how to invest. “Most Ugandans don’t have access to investment guidance,” Chin-Sweeney says. Clearly, there was a need that the market had failed to meet. 

There were (and are) several other investment platforms in Africa.  But most lack the sophisticated back-end functionality or financial expertise that XENO provides, giving users a better experience. “Xeno automates the advisory process,” Chin-Sweeney says, “and makes professional financial advice accessible to everyone, even those with only a few dollars to invest per month.”

Connecting micro-businesses with global markets: Lal10, India

Small businesses are an engine of wealth creation. But in low-income countries, entrepreneurs often can’t access customers who want to buy in large quantities. 
The key is to connect small sellers with high-volume buyers. 

That’s precisely the role of Lal10, a tech platform that connects more than 2,300 Indian artisans with 300 retailers in 18 countries. “Lal10 is a bit like Alibaba, but it’s specifically designed for small merchants,” Chin-Sweeney says. “Through Lal10, stores like Zara, Anthropologie, and Eileen Fisher can get beautiful Indian-made blankets or other home décor items.” 

But Lal10 is about more than e-commerce. With roughly 2,300 micro, small, and mid-sized enterprises (MSMEs) on its platform, it has become India’s largest aggregator of textile factories. The company’s goal is to digitalize those factories and become India’s – and indeed, the world’s – largest cloud-based export operation. 

Co-founder and CEO Maneet Gohil points out that India’s handicrafts industry holds less than 1% of the US$700 billion global market for artisanal goods. The goal now, he says, is to unleash the latent potential of the country’s MSMEs for global trade.

Helping small businesses manage their inventory with AI: Viebeg Medical – Rwanda, Kenya, Congo

Fragmented supply chains function as a brake on growth for small medical and dental clinics. They rarely get favorable pricing on equipment or supplies, and often have trouble maintaining the inventory they need. 

This problem is especially acute in Africa, which bears 30% of the world’s disease burden even though it has just 17% of the global population. In fact, a flawed medical supply chain is one of the main causes of preventable deaths in Africa that are caused by disease. 

Viebeg is a platform that optimizes procurement. “Small dental or medical clinics are often mom-and-pop shops, as opposed to commercially scaled health systems,” says Chin-Sweeney. “When they buy products, like dental or medical equipment, they’re buying in small quantities, and have to go through middlemen who add a mark-up, so they have to pay more. Also, small businesses don’t always understand their own inventory needs, and are prone to run out of stock, which affects their reputation.”  

Viebeg uses artificial intelligence to help small clinics keep track of inventory and order more when supplies run low. And by purchasing in larger quantities and building stronger manufacturer partnerships, Viebeg eliminates middle-men and mark-ups. This can shave up to 40% off the customer’s cost. 

Currently it works with more than 900 healthcare providers. Products purchased through its platform have been used to treat over 1.7 million patients, roughly 60% of whom are women.

Facilitating green transport: Ampersand – Kenya, Rwanda

To get around urban Kenya or Rwanda, many people catch a lift on a boda-boda, a bicycle or (more often) motorcycle taxi common in East Africa. 

Boda-boda drivers ferry passengers around, and provide delivery service for local businesses. But rising fuel prices has put a strain on their pocketbooks, while the noise and exhaust from the petrol-powered motorbikes make city life dirtier and noisier than it has to be.  

Ampersand’s electric motorbikes and convenient battery swap stations help boda-boda drivers lower carbon emissions and pollution in cities, while also saving on fuel costs. E-bikes emit 75% less greenhouse gases than regular motorcycles. And since many drivers cover 190 kilometers a day, switching from petrol to electric products lowers their petrol bill substantially, increasing their take-home pay by up to 50% a year. 

Drivers buy an e-bike from Ampersand, then use the company’s app to check when the battery is low. At a designated “swap point” (usually a gas station run by their partner Total, the French oil company), drivers swap out their depleted battery for a fresh one and continue on their way.  

The technology that makes it all work: Ampersand's unique Amper-Ops connected network of smart batteries, swap stations, and a vehicle drivetrain tailored to the needs of its customers and the realities of African roads – that serves to optimize performance across roughly 1,700 e-bikes in Rwanda and Kenya.  

Through various partners, Ampersand also provides financing to help riders make the green transition to e-bikes.

Contact us!