Headquartered in Shenzhen, Transsion is a top-seller of smartphones in Africa that recently confirmed its imminent IPO. In 2019 it opened and financed Future Hub, an incubator and seed fund for African startups.
Wapi Capital is the venture fund of Kenyan fintech startup Wapi Pay — a Nairobi-based company that facilitates digital payments between African and Asia via mobile money or bank accounts.
Starting in September 2019, Transsion Future Hub will work with Wapi Capital to select early-stage African fintech companies for equity-based investments of up to $100,000, Transsion Future Hub Senior Investor Laura Li told TechCrunch via email.
Wapi Capital won’t contribute funds to Future Hub’s Africa investments, but will help determine the viability and scale of the startups, including due diligence and deal flow, according to Wapi Pay co-founder Eddie Ndichu.
Wapi Pay and Transsion Future Hub will consider ventures from all 54 African countries; interested startups can reach out directly to either organization, Ndichu and Li confirmed.
The Wapi Capital fintech partnership is not Transsion’s sole VC activity in Africa. Though an exact fund size hasn’t been disclosed, the Transsion Future Hub will also make startup investments on the continent in adtech, fintech, e-commerce, logistics and media and entertainment, according to Li.
Future Hub’s existing portfolio includes Africa-focused browser company Phoenix, content aggregator Scoop and music service Boomplay.
Wapi Capital adds to the list of African-located and run venture funds — which have been growing in recent years — according to a 2018 study by TechCrunch and Crunchbase. Wapi Capital will also start making its own investments and is looking to raise $1 million this year and $10 million over the next three years, according to Ndichu, who co-founded the fund and Wapi Pay with his twin brother Paul.
Transsion’s commitment to African startup investments—through funding to Future Hub—comes as the company is on the verge of listing on China’s new Nasdaq-style STAR Market tech exchange. Transsion confirmed to TechCrunch this month the IPO is in process and that it could raise up to 3 billion yuan (or $426 million).
Transsion sold 124 million phones globally in 2018, per company data. In Africa, Transsion holds 54% of the feature phone market — through its brands Tecno, Infinix and Itel — and in smartphone sales is second to Samsung and ahead of Huawei, according to International Data Corporation stats.
Transsion has R&D centers in Nigeria and Kenya, and its sales network in Africa includes retail shops in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Egypt. The company also has a manufacturing facility in Ethiopia.
Transsion’s move into venture investing tracks greater influence from China in African tech.
China’s engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities.
Transsion’s Wapi Pay partnership is the second recent event — after Chinese-owned Opera’s big venture spending in Nigeria — to reflect greater Chinese influence and investment in the continent’s digital scene.
Update: This article has been updated to reflect that Future Hub is a subsidiary of Transsion and the source of the investments for the Wapi Capital partnership.