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Morocco’s Chari valued at $100M in bridge round as it looks to pilot BNPL services – TechCrunch

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Moroccan B2B e-commerce and retail startup Chari confirmed to TechCrunch that it has secured a bridge round at a $100 million valuation.

The bridge round welcomed new investors Khwarizmi Ventures, Air Angels and Afri Mobility, the venture capital arm of AKWA Group.

They join existing investors (Y Combinator, Rocket Internet, Global Founders Capital, Plug n Play, Orange Ventures, Harvard University Management Company, Village Capital and P1 Ventures) who invested in Chari’s $5 million seed round last October at $70 million.

Like many startups playing in the B2B e-commerce space across the continent, Chari digitizes the largely fragmented FMCG sector in Morocco and Tunisia.

Chari operates as a mobile app, allowing small retailers in these two countries to order products from partnering FMCG multinationals and local manufacturers and get items in less than 24 hours.

Last October, the YC-backed company acquired Moroccan ledger book Karny.ma. The Khatabook-esque platform provides credit and bookkeeping services to about 50,000 merchants. It allows these merchants to handle the credit they give to their clients.

The Karny acquisition and bridge round fits into Chari’s strategy to provide payment facilities. It puts the company in a sweet position to offer financial services, particularly buy now, pay later, to its retailers.

“Chari will use the money of this bridge round to test the BNPL services with its existing customers. Upon successful results, Chari will acquire a local credit company to enable shop owners to lend money to their end-users and further grow their business,” said chief executive Ismael Belkhayat in a statement.

Karny gives Chari valuable data on the loans provided by grocery stores to their customers and allows Chari to credit-assess the unbanked shop owners, determining the most applicable payment terms to give each.

So, in essence, Karny data allows Chari to find out about the items sold by the shop owners to their end clients and the amount lent. Through its internal closed-loop digital wallet, Chari will now offer payment terms and BNPL options to some of its shop owners based on their date of registration, order frequency, average basket order and amount of money lent to their end consumers.

Belkhayat, who founded the company with Sophia Alj, said Chari has selected a few shop owners to test run this. Based on the four criteria, merchants can have a negative balance on their digital wallets; the ceiling is between -$100 to -$500 and no more than 30 days without charge.

Once it gets operations right in Morocco, Chari plans to expand this BNPL service to Tunisia and other French-speaking countries in Africa.

BNPL services are starting to experience strong growth in Africa due to the rapid penetration of e-commerce and the effects of the pandemic.

Several BNPL services cater to consumers, such as Nigeria’s Carbon Zero, South Africa’s Payflex (recently acquired by Australian BNPL Zip) and Kenya’s LipaLater (recently raised $12 million in equity and debt). Others serve businesses like TradeDepot, a Nigerian company similar to Chari, while some make infrastructural plays like Nigeria’s ThankUCash.

Usually, companies raise debt financing for their BNPL initiatives; most of the players, as mentioned above, have done so. But Chari opted not to. According to Belkhayat, the reason was that the debt venture funds Chari was in talks with wanted to charge the company as high as 15% in interest rates.

“Since this is just a pilot, I prefer to raise the money at a high valuation from funds that could help me with my strategy. I get a little diluted, but in exchange, I get a lot of help from experienced founders,” he said, explaining Chari’s high valuation at seed level and why it only raised equity. “Once the pilot succeeds, I will need much more funding for my working capital requirement and will raise debt instead of diluting equity.”

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Rumors confirmed, Street Fighter 6 kicks off in June 2023

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Fighting Game fans are excited now that Capcom announced that Street Fighter 6 is coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC on June 2, 2023. The game was initially announced in February 2022, but that reveal did not include a specific release date beyond 2023.

The trailer at The Game Awards focused on new mini games and the international setting. In addition to the 18 previously announced fighter, the trailer also confirms that several new fighters — Dee Jay, Manon, Marisa and JP — that will join the game’s roster.

Notably, the June 2 release date for Street Fighter 6 may be a strategic choice for Capcom. June is the very beginning of Q3.

The last installment of the franchise — Street Fighter V — released nearly seven years ago so fans have been eager for another installment. A day before The Game Awards, the game’s June release date was leaked via the PlayStation Store.

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5 Things to Do Now to Propel Your Business in 2023

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Entrepreneurship is a daily leap of faith. In times of economic uncertainty, that leap may feel like a dive off a cliff. We are in one of those times. It likely will take months to fully re-adjust to the forces that have pummeled the world’s economy, and to entrepreneurs, months can feel like years.

With the right playbook, entrepreneurs can survive and thrive in whatever economic scenario. Here are five things you can do to propel your business ahead now and through the difficulties of business cycles for years to come.

1. Learn the lessons of more challenging times

A rocky economy presents a unique opportunity to make tough decisions about the business plan. Everything is open to reexamination. How has the market changed? Are your customers facing challenges that create new opportunities for your solutions? How do new conditions change your assumptions, and what actions do you need to take in response?

Critically evaluate your product roadmap. Is this the time to pivot or become more aggressive with your current plans? Prioritize the highest margin features that are achievable in the next twelve months. Push out projects that don’t make that list, and re-assign resources accordingly. Re-assess pricing. Even as inflation tiptoes back from the highest levels in forty years, raw material and transportation costs remain way up. What will impact your customers if you adjust the pricing or add surcharges to offset these costs, at least temporarily?

It’s been a rough year for hiring. Many companies took the talent they could get. If there are employees or gig workers who would fare better in a different job, now is the time to let them go. Make tough-minded corrections that will pay off overall — corrections that might be avoidable in less challenging times.

Related: How to Turn Inflation and Recession into Your Largest Business Opportunity

2. Tighten your grip on cash

Venture capitalists are pulling back. In the third quarter, Crunchbase reported that funding for startups in U.S. and Canada fell 50% year-over-year. Valuations are down across the board. If you are fortunate enough to be a later-stage startup that benefited from VC largess in 2021, make your last raise last longer than intended.

Keep your dry powder dry, and put off going for another round until the markets even out. Reemphasize the basics for early-stage companies with less market validation and greater distance between now and a potential exit. Delay all capital expenditures. Leverage the hybrid work model if possible, to reduce rent and other office expenses. Continue with Zoom or Google Meet. Now is not the time to rack up travel costs. Re-negotiate fees and terms with service providers. Seek credit terms with key suppliers, in a word, bootstrap.

3. Talk to customers, in person. Now.

How have the business needs of your customers — whether paying or beta — changed over the last 18 months? Are there benefits to your solution that have more recognized value now? Nearly every business, for example, from corporates to startups, has been forced to re-learn the lessons of supply chain management. Startups that can help their customers make better business decisions based on artificial intelligence (AI), reduce costs by improving inventory management or protect against out-of-stock scenarios by identifying and building relationships with new, more local sources of supply will have an edge.

Related: Finding Validation in Serving Customers

4. Non-dilutive capital

According to PitchBook, venture capitalists are showing greater interest in portfolio companies “whose satellite, robotics and software tools can do double duty” in military and commercial markets. International conflicts are one reason, of course.

Another is that the defense and military security industries are generally viewed as recession-proof. Our firm routinely encourages portfolio companies to consider non-dilutive funding from the Small Business Administration — grants to support cutting-edge technologies range from $150,000 to more than $1 million.

Navigating the application process isn’t for the faint of heart. A startup must be realistic about the work involved, but in many states, there are resources to help. Besides the funding, severe responses to agency requests for proposals are reviewed and evaluated by technologists. At a minimum, this can be terrific feedback and a great source of industry contacts.

5. Blue-chip cultures attract blue-chip talent

Company culture can be an asset or a liability. An inclusive, rich culture helps key hires say yes. Finding stakeholders that believe what you believe and are aligned with your team’s values significantly improves the odds that they will stick with you in good times or bad.

After months of “great resignation” fever, the over-heated demand for talent may be cooling off. Maybe offers aren’t as fast or grand as they were a year ago. Maybe Twitter won’t be the only advanced technology business to let people go. Regardless, the search for great talent isn’t a faucet that a young company turns off and on. A startup might modulate the timing or the number of hires but stand at the ready to recruit and filter for culture fit.

Related: 3 Ways to Stay Competitive in the War for Talent

With the right mindset and intentional approach, an entrepreneur can make 2023 a year to strive and thrive. As Yogi Berra, my favorite baseball player of all time, said, “Swing at the strikes.” In business, like baseball, the right swing can turn even the most challenging pitch into a hit.

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Akros Technologies, an AI-powered asset management platform, raises funding from Z Holdings • TechCrunch

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Artificial intelligence is taking over almost every industry. The investment and finance industry is no exception. In Deloitte’s 2019 report, the firm reveals that AI is transforming the financial ecosystem to reduce costs and make operations more efficient by providing automated insights and alternative data, analysis and risk management.

Technology such as AI has digitized the finance sector, ranging from payments and remittances to lending. However, asset management is still in the nascent stage of digitization, according to the chief strategy officer and co-founder of Akros Technologies, Jin Chung.

Akros Technologies wants to disrupt the current asset management industry via its AI-driven asset management software platform that mines market data for stocks. Akros just raised $2.3 million from Z Venture Capital, the corporate venture capital wholly owned by Z Holdings, which also owns the Japanese messaging app Line and internet portal Yahoo Japan.

Akros intends to strengthen strategic ties with Z Holdings via strategic investment, the startup said. The latest funding, which brings Akros’s total amount raised to $6.1 million since its 2021 inception, will help Akros to scale its software platform and asset management products and ramp up its users, including local and global financial institutions and fintech companies.

The outfit is already in discussions with potential partners to expand its AI-powered product called portfolio management as a service, or PMaaS, an all-in-one operating system for portfolio management. Chung explained to TechCrunch that PMaaS “enables B2B clients such as financial institutions, fintech startups and robot-advisors to launch their own exchange-traded funds (ETFs) without having to set up ETF teams and infrastructure.”

He added that it expects to secure more than five B2B clients in the first quarter of 2023.

The startup claims that its AI-powered portfolio management platform can reduce “the overall cost structure [of] the traditional fund development,” including management fees and unnecessary fees involved in the investment process, by more than 80%. The outfit aims to maximize the finance management performance of data-driven ETFs and offer a portfolio management solution via the PMaaS for Akros’s users to help them compete with global ETF institutions like Vanguard or JPMorgan.

In August, Contents Technologies launched Korean pop music, also known as K-pop, and Korea Entertainment ETF, on the NYSE Arca Exchange under the ticker KPOP, using Akros’s PMaaS solution to develop the ETFs. In addition, Akros listed an AI-driven target income ETF, called Akros Monthly Payout ETF (ticker: MPAY), on the NYSE in May with monthly distributions at an annualized target rate of 7%, according to the startup.

To build a slew of investment strategies that lower the cost of portfolio modeling and generate scores of investment portfolios, Akros applies a generative AI model based on a decision transformer, which predicts future actions through the sequencing model, Chung said, adding the company also employs GPT-3 natural language processing (NLP) to analyze unstructured language data.

Akros plans continuously to enhance its engineering technology by bolstering its business to disrupt the asset management market and attract new partners across the globe, including Japan, Singapore and the U.S., co-founder and chief executive officer Kyle Moon said in a statement.

Founded by CEO Moon, CSO Jin and chief marketing officer Justin Gim, Akros employs seven people.

Co-founders of Akros Technologies: (Left to right) Justin Gim, Kyle Moon and Jin Chung. Image Credits: Akros Technologies

Moon previously worked for Qraft Technologies as head of AI research and CSO and had experience listing four ETFs on NYSE. Before co-founding Akros, Gim had more than nine years of experience in the asset management industry; Chung did research work for Bayesian deep learning in autonomous driving cars at Oxford Robotics Institute.

In March, Akros raised $3.75 million in funding from PeopleFund, a South Korean peer-to-peer lending platform. The company declined to provide its valuation when asked.

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