Local start-up wins big at Visa challenge

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 23 Jun 2023
Visa SA’s Lineshree Moodley and Vuleka’s Brian Makwaiba.
Visa SA’s Lineshree Moodley and Vuleka’s Brian Makwaiba.

The Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI) saw local start-up Vuleka crowned winner of the South African edition of the fintech competition, at an event held in Cape Town last night.

Vuleka walked away with $50 000 (R926 751) in prize money, and progresses to the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (CEMEA) regional finals taking place in July.

Launched in 2017, Vuleka supports the trading ecosystem within the informal sector through its platform. Small manufacturers and large wholesalers are connected to spaza shop owners via the platform, which is accessible via an app, WhatsApp, a network of agents or by phone. It also provides the shop owner an opportunity to sell their goods directly to consumers.

Since its launch, the platform has garnered over 7 000 customers and launched a buy-now-pay-later facility for clients’ businesses, revealed Vuleka founder Brian Makwaiba last night. “We have a vision to get every informal business cashless, just like Visa does.

“I’m very happy that we won, and I’m excited for the future partnership with Visa. We plan to reinvest the funds in the business and focus more on the fintech side of things.”

Should Vuleka be successful at the CEMEA regionals, it will participate in the global finale, to be held on 19 September in San Francisco, US.

“We started this business and grew it; now, we’ve seen that there actually really is a market. The business is going to focus more on building out those solutions. We believe it’s going to be easier to scale the solution that we have,” Makwaiba said.

Lineshree Moodley, GM of South Africa at Visa, commented that the event was held to celebrate innovation and new ideas to solve tomorrow’s challenges and issues in the payments ecosystem. “It’s not just about finding innovative solutions, but how to innovate with inclusion in mind.”

According to Moodley, this year’s group of finalists had diverse ideas and aimed to solve real issues, not only in SA but across the continent.

“This is what success looks like, when we can develop solutions that build more financial inclusion. Our winner is solving a very real challenge that we have. SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy and bringing them digitally into the financial ecosystem is something we all have to work together to solve.”

Introduced in 2015, VEI is a global innovation challenge that tasks start-ups and fintech firms to solve future payment and commerce challenges faced by businesses of all sizes and sectors.

It aims to provide exposure for the start-ups’ products and solutions, as well as access to key stakeholders across the banking, merchant, venture capital and government sectors.

Visa says since its launch, the initiative has helped start-ups representing more than 100 countries collectively raise more than $16 billion in funding, with a network that includes nearly 12 000 start-ups and entrepreneurs from across the globe.

Past winners include Nigeria’s ThriveAgric, which took home the VEI global grand prize of $100 000 (R1.9 million) last year.

For the local leg of the competition, five start-ups presented their pitches before a panel of judges, at the event held at Innovation City in Cape Town.

They were investment app Franc, environmental footprint control app Tweak, buy-now-pay-later platform Float, biometric identity authentication iiDENTIFii, as well as Vuleka.

Franc was awarded $10 000 (R185 183) for the social impact award. Meanwhile, iiDENTIFii and Tweak took second and third place, walking away with $20 000 (R370 345) and $30 000 (R555 517), respectively.

Speaking about the importance of VEI, Moodley said: “With the rapid growth in the move towards digital, we know that we have to have a lot of bold ideas, need to push boundaries and look across the different players in the ecosystem. Fintechs, start-ups and entrepreneurs have a huge role to play in terms of providing those solutions.

“When you consider the five finalists’ pitches, they have very good ideas that really solve challenges we see in the future, with the big one being inclusion. The Visa Everywhere Initiative provides a platform for their voices to be heard. A lot of people have great ideas, but they don’t always see the full potential because of a lack of platforms.”

Moodley said she hopes Vuleka will win the grand prize of $100 000 in San Francisco later this year.