SA’s Ekasi-bucks launches ICO to take blockchain to townships

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South African startup Ekasi-bucks has an ambitious goal, to take blockchain-based financial systems to businesses in the country’s townships.

Launched last year, Ekasi-bucks provides blockchain-based digital payment, point of sale, loyalty programmes and inventory management systems to township businesses, and is already active across the country in the likes of Soweto, Soshanguve and Khayelitsha.

“We create monetary value in rewards for customers supporting township businesses. Customers buy ekasi-bucks, and they are stored in their mobile wallets. Customers use ekasi-bucks to transact iat registered merchants,” co-founder Lucky Kgwadi told Disrupt Africa.

“We are also bringing mobile banking over the blockchain to over 300,000 unbanked clients on our database. Our systems give the previously disadvantaged group total control over their money and redistributes wealth back into their hands.”

Ekasi-bucks launched a pilot with only a handful of merchants, but is now building its customer base. Its loyalty programme has over 4,000 merchants and 20,000 card users, and Kgwadi is plotting further expansion.

“We have a database of a potential client base of over 4,000 merchants and around 27,000 users around Gauteng townships, who have the potential to adopt the payment system. We also aim to bring mobile banking over the blockchain platform to over 300,000 unbanked clients on our database,” he said.

“We are currently in the townships in South Africa, and in communication with a few companies who are looking to offer our services in their countries. This includes Zimbabwe, Botswana and Kenya.”

But the startup, which charges monthly subscription as well as small transaction fees, has just the one investor, and needs financing in order to scale. Thus, it has turned to the initial coin offering (ICO).

An ICO is kind of like an IPO, but with some major differences. It is an unregulated way of raising funds for a new cryptocurrency venture, selling cryptocurrency to early backers. ICOs have been in the news lately after South African entrepreneur Vinny Lingham raised US$33 million for his US-based startup Civic by selling digital currency tokens in a public sale.

Ekasi-bucks has made available half of its 200 million coins for US$50 per coin, with the sale beginning tomorrow (July 14, 2017).

Kgwadi said the founders of the startups are serial entrepreneurs within the townships, and fully understand the problems they face.

“We got to fully understand the challenge facing the township market: a lack of proper business systems,” he said.

“This hinders growth not only in businesses but also in the township economy. Our systems equip businesses, thus encouraging the consumers to spend locally, and increase money circulation in the townships.”

Ekasi-bucks, then, aims to revolutionise the way townships transact, using a decentralised cryptocurrency. This has, however, not proven difficult to explain to township businesses.

“We clearly explain the benefits of the systems. We also give them added value by consulting biweekly to monitor the progress and ensure successful implementation,” Kgwadi said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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