Safaricom invests $1m in research startup

Safaricom invests $1m in research startup

Ajua – previously mSurvey, has partnered with Safaricom’s Spark Venture Fund, in a USD 1 million fund with an objective of accelerating high-potential Kenya-based mobile technology startups.

The investment in Ajua marks the second and largest Spark Venture Fund investment, underscoring the fund’s commitment to supporting startups that use mobile technology as an enabler and the Ajua platform’s transformative ability to power conversations at scale.

With the investment, Safaricom Spark joins Silicon Valley’s Cross Culture Ventures and the Virgin Group-backed, Caribbean-focused Alpha Angels network as investors in Ajua. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Ajuawill use the Spark Venture Fund investment to drive a value-add to merchants who use Safaricom’s Lipa Na M-PESA service, a solution that allows consumers to pay for goods and services easily through their phones using M-PESA.

“This investment enhances our efforts to leverage Ajua’s highly-sophisticated technology as a significant opportunity for growth and innovation throughout our network, while also enabling us to interact and engage with our 25 million customers in one-to-one conversations,” said Bob Collymore, the CEO Safaricom.

“Ajua has consistently demonstrated its value to us as clients and now as investors, we see broad potential across a variety of sectors and beyond borders. We are pleased to help fuel a new paradigm of data-driven innovation powered by Ajua.”

Built out of a passion to simplify access to high-quality data from hard-to-reach communities, Ajua was founded in 2012 by Kenfield Griffith, an MIT alum and Caribbean Native of Bajan/Montserratian descent who experienced first-hand the frustration of going blindly into a new market with limited or no actionable data.

Inspired to build a solution in the heart of his first target market in Nairobi, he set off to Kenya to bring his idea to life, pulling together a team of fellow MIT alums, interns and home-grown Kenyan talent including Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Louis Majanja, whose experience spanned 18 years as a software developer in the Bay Area.

“As a mobile technology startup, there’s no greater validation on the continent than an investment from Safaricom, a giant in the African telecom market,” said Kenfield Griffith, Founder and CEO, Ajua.

“For too long, direct access to emerging world data has been inaccessible, but we are witnessing the power of technology – specifically mobile messaging on our ever-present smart and simple phones –to connect people to local audiences. With Safaricom’s support, we are accelerating our vision of bringing high-integrity data from frontier and emerging markets that informs better decisions and fuels growth, change and transformation.”

Mobile phones have emerged as the communication lifeline in most emerging markets, with usage seeing a dramatic surge over the last decade – over 84 percent in Kenya, 140 percent in Trinidad and over 70 percent throughout the Caribbean.

In Africa alone, there are more than half a billion mobile phone users. Recognizing the opportunity, Ajua has attracted highly strategic investors from Silicon Valley, the Caribbean and Africa including early angel investors Ashish Patel, Managing Director, the Abraaj Group, Steven Tamm, Chief Technology Officer, Salesforce and Bob McNeel, CEO, Robert McNeel & Associates. Joining Safaricom in this initial investment round include the following:

Investing in tomorrow’s culture, Cross Culture Ventures (CCV) invests in entrepreneurs creating next generation technology and consumer products.

Through a strategic partnership with Atom Factory, CCV works to discover, invest in and develop companies that fuel shifts in cultural trends and behaviors within an increasingly diverse global marketplace.

The group, which was also an early investor in Uber, Spotify and Warby Parker via the Atom Factory, was attracted by Ajua’s potential reach and impact given the rising popularity of chat and text messaging.

“We believe culture is the catalyst for winning solutions and Ajua fits perfectly into our thesis as mobile messaging becomes the primary platform for communication around the world,” said Marlon Nichols, Founder & General Partner at Cross Culture Ventures.

“Ajua is disrupting traditional research models by using a medium that transcends borders, demographics and a range of industries, capturing the voice of the consumer like never before.”

Backed by the Virgin Group’s Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Alpha Angels, the Montego Bay based network of investors, is committed to expanding the map for the Caribbean’s most promising entrepreneurs by investing in early-stage companies with the potential to scale overseas through seed investments. Ajua is the group’s first investment.

“As early stage investors, the caliber of the entrepreneur is key to attracting our support and Kenfield Griffith is a stand-out talent who has remarkable foresight and an impressive track record,” said Yoni Epstein, Chairman, Alpha Angels.

“Riding the wave of the emerging market mobile boom, Ajua is reinventing the way data informs decisions and the platform’s potential applications are limitless. Virtually anyone seeking answers can engage in conversations on any topic – from gauging pop culture and political views to facilitating groundbreaking healthcare research and helping businesses build deeper customer engagement and loyalty.”

Unlike traditional research tools that can be time-consuming, expensive and subject to low response rates, Ajua opens a dynamic, interactive and unfiltered communication channel that delivers insights from real people, in real time – no printed questionnaire, local administrator or long response time needed.

Using the intuitive interface to target select local audiences or random, diverse populations, users can design structured conversations, similar to customized bots, push questions as chats to the mobile phones of millions, and then watch as the responses roll in on a live data stream – within minutes and with an average 60 percent response rate that triples the reach of traditional survey tools.

In the past six months, the platform has engaged 1.58 million consumers – asking everything from their response to BREXIT, Rio Olympic Games and U.S. elections to groundbreaking HIV/AIDS research and customer feedback.

“The unique combination of Cross Culture Ventures, Alpha Angels and Safaricom as our investors strategically positions Ajua as a truly globally driven and funded startup backed by a diverse set of investors that see our value proposition and understand our vision,” continued Griffith. “We are excited about their support and look forward to creating new markets and opportunity using data as a door-opener to economic growth, entrepreneurship and development.”

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