Startup pitches with promises to provide various services to Africans – in different sectors – are now commonplace. And in trying to flatter investors, what is not taken into account or often ignored is that Africa is a fragmented $3 trillion market. The continent is also home to more than 1.2 billion people with below-average disposable income, most living in landlocked countries.
This is one of the few reasons why intra-continental trade has proven difficult for years. But in 2019, various policy makers from different parts of the continent signed the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement – a framework for Africa to be a single market for trade and services – to make intra-community trade less painful (side note: the deal has yet to have a significant impact.)
Adetola Onayemi was part of the negotiating team that saw the deal come into effect in January 2021. His experience in this business, coupled with his work as a technical adviser to the Vice President’s office in Nigeria a few months ago , led him to launch Norebase, a commercial tech startup that raised $1 million in a pre-seed round.
In an interview with TechCrunch, CEO Onayemi, a lawyer by profession, said the idea for Norebase came after various conversations about how his tech clients and colleagues could leverage the AfCFTA for their businesses.
“I had done all this work on policy, on the ease of doing business, on the free trade agreement, and I was advising tech people who were saying, ‘Look, I just raised new capital to break into new markets, I don’t know how I’m supposed to navigate it,’” the chief executive told TechCrunch on a call.
From Onayemi’s perspective, the growth of Africa’s digital economy revolves around gains in six segments: education, payments, logistics, transportation, identity and commerce.
The trade has the least startup activity in a market that received $5 billion in venture capital funding last year. Tola believes this is because special skills and an understanding of intracontinental nuances are needed to create beneficial solutions. And as someone with deep knowledge and experience, it made sense for him to take on the challenge.
“Providing a framework where people can operate and scale their solutions to multiple markets at once is hugely important,” said Onayemi, who also co-founded Future Africa, an Africa-focused venture capital fund. “Our solution is for local market people entering their first market or a company in their fourth market trying to scale their business.”
Traditional options involve the painstaking process of interfacing with various law and accounting firms, trademark registries, and hiring a team to manage these processes. Meanwhile, there is also a trust and accountability factor between clients and companies hired to complete incorporation in another country.
“People can make mistakes in this kind of situation and Norebase has shared learnings over time to help people avoid these mistakes. We aggregate this knowledge and provide a platform that ensures you don’t have too much to worry about trust,” added the CEO. “Telling us to settle takes days. We know the rules, so you don’t have to spend time talking to lawyers and getting documents – we make it all simple.
Onayemi launched Norebase with Tope Obanla in September 2021. It allows founders and businesses to start and grow in multiple African countries at once or periodically. According to Norebase, companies that use its platform can be incorporated in any African country in “minutes” and expand to new locations within a week. These countries include Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mauritius and Burkina Faso.
Additionally, Norebase offers upsells on other services as long as they meet regulatory and compliance requirements. They include opening bank accounts, virtual mailing addresses, and registering trademarks and intellectual property. Norebase has no fixed fees and charges its customers based on the services they want, Onayemi said on the call without commenting on the company’s price range.
Recently, Norebase began offering African companies the opportunity to incorporate in the United States. He also launched Embed APIa plug-and-play service that allows other businesses such as payment processors and banks to provide onboarding services to their customers.
Here is a use case on how it works. Payment processors such as Flutterwave and Paystack have caps for unregistered merchants on their platforms, limiting the transactions they can make. These merchants are usually asked to fully register their business before resuming use.
The problem with this is that some merchants may refuse to proceed with this process even though they know their revenue is at stake. So Norebase’s argument to these payment processors – and other platforms with commitments KYC and strict regulations – is that through its onboarding API, they can prevent this opt-out by letting merchants complete their registration directly on their sites.
This embed-as-a-service plugin positions Norebase as a global player in the business technology space. It is one of the few companies to offer such services, including Firstbase. The service, which is only available for company incorporation in Nigeria, the United States and Kenya, currently has nine partners; however, the CEO declined to mention their names.
In traction, Norebase claims to have seen 100% monthly growth in transaction volumes over the past six months. It also saw 40% monthly revenue growth over the same period. Some of his regular clients include startups we’ve covered before such as Brass, Nestcoin, Edenlife, Orda, Sudo Africa and others like GetEquity, Workpay, Kloudcommerce and Patricia.
“What we do multiplies the valuation of almost any startup, because then they can access more markets from the start,” said the founder of the partners using his platform.
Although the company is playing in an uncompetitive market (Lagos-based Sidebrief is a similar service company), it won’t stay that way for long as the opportunity for commercial technology – especially as African companies continue to do business with each other and with the West. country – is set to open up in the next two years and attract more funding.
Pan-African funds Samurai Incubate and Consonance Investment led Norebase’s pre-seed round. Other VCs include Sahil Lavingia of Gumroad, Kinfolk VC, Future Africa, Ventures Platform, Microtraction, Boleh Venture, Voltron Capital, Wuri Ventures and Afropeneur.
The round also welcomed the participation of well-known executives from the African tech ecosystem, including Shola Akinlade, CEO of Paystack; Odunayo Eweniyi, COO of PiggyVest; Adia Sowho, COO of MTN Nigeria; Seni Sulyman, CEO of BlackOps.
Norebase will invest the funds in improving its plug-and-play API, expanding its trademark registration technology stack and hiring more talent, Onayemi said.