New initiative launched to help SA startups boost resilience of spaza shop owners post-pandemic

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Research, advisory, data analytics and product innovation firm BFA Global has launched a new initiative, working alongside tech startups to improve the livelihoods and resilience of spaza shop owners in South Africa’s townships, following the COVID-19 crisis.

Founded in 2006, BFA Global is a research, advisory, data analytics and product innovation firm focused on the intersection of finance, data and technology. Its flagship programmes include Catalyst Fund, a global inclusive tech accelerator for innovators in emerging markets.

Its new initiative, supported by J.P. Morgan, will see experts at BFA Global support three South African tech companies with innovation pilots over the next nine months, focusing on solutions across the value chain, including digital ordering, delivery of stock, digital stock management, wholesale linkages and access to appropriate financial solutions, such as credit to refill stock, that are relevant and affordable for spaza owners. 

Those three startups are A2Pay, which offers a combination of hardware and digital tools tailored to spaza shop needs, as well as digital credit, business training and coaching; Yebo Fresh, which offers direct, optimised access to supply and delivery of stock, a platform inclusive of stock management, data analytics, and education to improve retail practices; and Vuleka, which offers an ordering and delivery platform for spazas, facilitated through bulk buying from wholesalers, while enabling spazas to build credit profiles and access working capital loans.

In partnership with these startups, the programme will assist spaza owners to increase their operational efficiencies, sales and revenue growth due to more efficient digital stock management, increased control over purchases, and reduced costs of transportation and handling cash. Traders will also gain a digital financial identity that will enable access to digital financial services and working capital from other financial service providers or FMCG companies.

Currently, only one per cent of informal retailers in South Africa accept electronic payments, and 56 per cent do not have access to a bank account. They also find margins squeezed as they lack the relationships with manufacturers and wholesalers that enable many larger shops to enjoy bulk discounts, and are forced to travel to market to purchase stock.

The companies supported through this initiative will each receive grant capital, technical support led by fintech experts at BFA Global and connections with partners and corporate innovators who can help them scale their solutions to more spaza shops.

 “Challenges faced by informal micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in South Africa have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, impacting their financial health,” said Amolo Ng’weno, chief executive officer (CEO) at BFA Global. “Many of these business owners lack access to working capital, lack digital stock management solutions, rely on cash transactions, and many do not have access to a bank account. The fintech innovators we’ve selected for this programme are developing solutions that can help MSEs to digitise, improve their business operations and provide much-needed access to working capital. Moreover, the results from these pilot initiatives can serve as a playbook for other innovators working to solve similar problems across emerging markets.”

J.P. Morgan has worked with BFA Global as a key supporter for its inclusive tech accelerator, Catalyst Fund, since the fund launched in late 2015. It has since accelerated 43 inclusive fintech startups, six of which are from South Africa. For this initiative, the BFA Global team will draw on learnings from its work with fintech innovators over the last five years, such as digitisation of South Africa’s Spoon Money, a startup providing savings tools and working capital loans to women entrepreneurs via stokvels, in South African townships. 

Through Catalyst Fund and BFA Global’s FIBR project, the team also worked with Sokowatch – a B2B solution in East Africa that digitises orders, payments and delivery logistics for MSEs – to roll out its digital offerings and a credit solution, reaching over 15,000 small retailers today.

“We are excited about being part of this market-leading initiative and look forward to working with our quality partners in this initiative,” said J.P. Morgan’s senior country officer in South Africa, Kevin Latter. “As key players in the local economy consumer spend, spaza shops are crucial to ensure growth in South Africa’s townships. While our country and the world are trying to manage the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important for business to play a role in addressing the future of South Africa and its much-needed growth.”

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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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