Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of African exports to the rest of the globe ranged from 80% to 90%. As a result, Africa’s growing urge to become less reliant on commodity exports and instead focus on regional trade. This not only reduces reliance on exports but also creates new markets for the exchange of value-added goods.
Despite this, Africa has among the world’s slowest and most expensive ports. According to reports, it is sometimes logistically cheaper and faster for African enterprises to trade goods with distant outside partners than it is to transfer commodities through Africa’s intracontinental trade corridors. That’s a major problem, and Jetstream, a Ghanaian startup that wants to fix it, just raised $3 million in a seed round.
The round attracted both domestic and foreign investors. Alitheia IDF, Golden Palm Investments, 4DX Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Asia Pacific Land, Breyer Labs, and MSA Capital are among those who have invested.
Miishe Addy and Solomon Torgbor launched the company in 2018. Jetstream was founded by African entrepreneurs who wanted to be able to view and control their own cross-border supply chains. It gathers and connects private sector logistics companies at African ports and borders.
The founders’ initial insight revolved around fragmentation issues and a lack of coordination at African ports, which Torgbor was all too familiar with. He had spent eight years with Maersk’s freight forwarding subsidiary Damco. He witnessed cargoes that had been lying at container terminals for weeks, unable to move ahead in the supply chain. The delays were caused by customs issues and improper paperwork, importers and exporters not having the operating cash to pay their logistics fees on time, and inadequate ground coordination. For exports, cargo volumes were sometimes too small to ship by sea freight cost-effectively.
Meanwhile, Addy worked as a business instructor at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a Pan-African incubator and entrepreneur training program. Before joining MEST, the Stanford law graduate worked for management consulting firm Bain & Company.
When Torgbor told Addy about the challenges he’d noticed at Damco, she immediately thought they were worthwhile to tackle. “A light bulb went off in my head as he was speaking. ‘These are the kinds of problems that technology solves,’” the CEO told TechCrunch. “After discussing and testing a variety of solutions for about a year, we discovered that cargo aggregation generated significant traction almost immediately.”
Jetstream launched a Less Than Container Load (LCL) aggregation service in Ghana in March 2019. Agricultural exporters could use the service to consolidate their shipments into shared sea freight containers. Jetstream then added trade finance in November of that year for customers who were having difficulty filling large purchase orders.
Jetstream is now white labeling the internal systems it built to manage shipments and financing for customers.
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Is Metaverse The Next Big Thing After The Internet?
The metaverse was originally envisioned as a scenario for dystopian science fiction novels in which virtual universes serve as a haven for people fleeing disintegrating societies. Now, the concept has evolved into a Silicon Valley moonshot objective, and it has become a popular topic of conversation among entrepreneurs, venture funders, and tech behemoths.
The goal is to build a world that is similar to the internet, but where users may walk around and communicate with one another in real-time using digital avatars. In principle, you could sit around a virtual meeting table with coworkers from all over the world (rather than staring at their 2D faces on Zoom) and then go over to a virtual Coffeehouse to meet up with your mother, who lives across the country.
Zuckerberg has been touting his vision for turning Facebook (FB) into a “metaverse corporation” in recent weeks, stating that he first considered the idea in middle school. Zuckerberg described the technology as “the successor of the mobile internet” when the business announced the formation of a new metaverse product division.
Epic Games launched a $1 billion investment round in April to support its metaverse goals, pushing the Fortnite maker’s worth to roughly $30 billion. Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella said last week that his company is working on establishing the “enterprise metaverse.” In June, venture capitalist Matthew Ball assisted in the development of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that allows consumers to invest in the metaverse market, which includes companies such as graphics chipmaker Nvidia (NVDA) and game platform Roblox (RBLX).
Despite the current hype cycle, the concept remains nebulous, and a fully functional metaverse is likely years and billions of dollars away – if it ever happens. Big firms joining the conversation now may just want to reassure investors that they won’t lose out on the next big thing, or that their investments in virtual reality, which has yet to garner widespread commercial appeal, will pay off in the long run. And, in the case of Facebook, exaggerating the metaverse’s long-term promise could be a good strategy to divert attention away from the company’s current problems.
Whatever the motivations, major questions remain, including how tech companies will handle safety and privacy issues in the metaverse, as well as whether individuals actually want to spend so much of their time within a virtual reality simulation.
“My biggest issue about the metaverse is whether we’re ready,” said Avi Bar-Zeev, the founder of AR and VR consultancy RealityPrime and a former employee of Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft, where he worked on the HoloLens.
“Are we emotionally evolved enough to get beyond the secure separation of screens between us and typing words?” he wondered. “Are we safe to start communicating with each other on a more personal level, or will the **holes ruin it for everyone?”
What exactly is a “metaverse”?
The term “metaverse” was popularized in the 1992 cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash,” in which the main character Hiro Protagonist — a hacker and, for a brief period, a pizza deliveryman — uses it to escape from his life, which he lives in a 20-by-30-foot storage container with a roommate in a bleak world where the government has been replaced by corrupt corporations.
The metaverse is a platform for virtual creativity in that story, but it’s also plagued by issues such as technology addiction, prejudice, harassment, and violence, which occasionally cross over into the actual world.
That’s a big cry from the upbeat visions presented by Zuckerberg and others. But there’s one hint that the metaverse is still a long way off: no one can agree on what it is or may be.
Experts in the field tend to agree on a few important characteristics of the metaverse, such as the idea that users will feel “embodiment” or “presence,” which means they’ll feel as if they’re within a virtual world with other people, viewing things in first-person and likely 3D. It will also be able to accommodate a large number of users who will be able to engage with one another in real-time.
On the call, Zuckerberg added, “You can kind of think of [the metaverse] as an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.”
The metaverse, like the internet today, will be an ecosystem constructed over time by many different companies employing a range of technologies, rather than a single technology that is turned on all at once. According to Jesse Alton, a leader at Open Metaverse, a group establishing open source metaverse standards, “ideally, those various portions of the ecosystem will be integrated and interoperable.”
“In their favorite Xbox game, someone could win a blazing sword, keep it in their inventory, and later in VR, they can show it to their friend and have their friend wield it,” said Alton, who is also the founder of extended reality firm AngellXR. “It’s the ability to move [knowledge] from one world to another, regardless of the platform on which it’s stored.”
Some elements of the metaverse have already been discovered. Fortnite, an online game in which users battle, socialize, and develop virtual worlds with millions of other players, can give users an early taste of how it will work. And other people have already invested tens of thousands of dollars on virtual dwellings to secure their slice of metaverse real estate.
What’s the big deal about it now that everyone’s talking about it?
The metaverse is an old concept that seems to gather traction every few years, only to drift away in favor of more immediate chances. Those working on this technology, maybe predictably, find hints that this time may be different.
“A lot of the people who were working on it before are still participating,” Alton explained. “It’s just that we’ve been waiting for certain technological improvements.”
Mobile device processors, gaming systems, internet infrastructure, virtual reality headsets, and cryptocurrencies are all essential building elements for the metaverse’s creation and user adoption.
Furthermore, many people may feel more comfortable connecting digitally than they did two years ago after the pandemic drove most of the world to work, learn, and socialize from home, which internet businesses may be looking to capitalize on.
Despite the fact that [a transformation like] this is always a multi-decade, iterative process… there is an unmistakable sense that the underlying components are coming together in a way that feels very fresh and very different over the last few years.
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