SMEs at the centre of gravity: How Oze empowers African entrepreneurs to reach their full potential
By: Patricia Rinke, Daniela Weber, Yassine Oussaifi
In 2018, the credit gap for African SMEs stood at a staggering $331 billion. While SMEs account for more than 70% of the local GDP in countries such as Ghana, most of the funding still goes to corporate clients with the top 50 customers usually representing over 50% of the loan portfolio of most banks.
At the Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund (CAIF), we believe technology and innovation can bring unprecedented economic and social development to the African continent. We are backing fast-growing startups that are tackling Africa’s unique challenges. Following our broader investment thesis at AfricInvest, fostering financial inclusion for SMEs is a big focus for us as over 60% of Africans are still unbanked.
Our dedicated Financial Inclusion Vehicle (FIVE) recently invested in MFS Africa, supporting the creation of a payment infrastructure that benefits growing businesses across the continent. And through the Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund (CAIF), we have stakes in Migo, a micro-lending platform, PalmPay, a next-generation mobile wallet, and most recently in Oze, the Ghanaian fintech looking to bring African SMEs into the digital era with recordkeeping and embedded finance products.
We believe that Oze has the potential to unlock the potential of SMEs in Africa. Here’s why.
The Problem: Building scalable SME financing requires a different approach
Although traditional banks still have the deepest balance sheets in the African financial sector, their current processes make customer acquisition and conversion lengthy and complicated. Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) have provided one potential solution for SME financing, but MFIs in most African countries stay small as they lack balance sheet refinancing options and have a business model that is complex to scale.
Building scalable SME financing demands a different go-to-market strategy. As most SMEs still transact essentially in cash, any new model requires gathering relevant data and establishing a direct and digital relationship with them to accurately assign credit risk scores.
Introducing Oze: Bridging the gap between SMEs and financial institutions
By creating Oze in 2018, Meghan McCormick and Dave Emnett found an innovative way to bridge the gap between SMEs and financial institutions. The company enables SMEs to record transactions, manage cashflow and access embedded finance products, such as lending and digital payment, while banking partners can harness a network of new, high-margin customers by leveraging the records and credit score built using the Oze app.
Building a network of business owners (over 125,000 in Ghana and Nigeria so far) allows Oze to foster digital inclusion and connect them with a circle of likeminded entrepreneurs. This opens the door to a realm of value-added services: catalogue and inventory management, personalized invoices and receipts, ecommerce storefront development, supplier and customer relationship tools, business insurance, and more. Oze encourages its users to grow their businesses and understand their performance over time. If they seek to learn more, they can have a chat with a business coach or read through frequently asked questions on the Oze blog.
This combination of access to credit, payment, and business education bears fruit: 97% of business owners using the platform run businesses that are growing, profitable, or both.
The gap that Oze aims to fill is exceptionally compelling when looking at the types of businesses that use the app. Oze does not specifically target the typical Mom-and-Pop shops — which are already served by a range of digital solutions for supplier credit and logistics services — but entrepreneurs who sell differentiated products and services and are particularly focused on growth. Those businesses are less integrated in the supply chain and have less access to credit, although the potential economic impact is enormous: the typical Oze user grew their revenue by 40% in 2021.
If adopted on a large scale, services like Oze can transform how SMEs are doing business on the continent. Encouraging entrepreneurs to make a habit of recording and following transactions can make the SME-led economy more efficient. This should in turn improve the trust of financial institutions in the capabilities of SMEs and “start the flywheel” to close the financing gap and achieve economic growth.
“The Oze App has helped me cope with current business trends, because I’m able to track the financial status of my business on a daily basis without stress, send receipts to customers as well as remind customers about their debts through WhatsApp in a more professional way.”
- Debora Nma Agansabiga, CEO of DNA Smocks and Fabrics
Looking forward: Global insights, local scale
At AfricInvest, we have built distinct sector expertise counting over 40 investments in companies that enable access to financial services for more than 40 million Africans as well as over 3 million SMEs and micro-entrepreneurs. As an experienced pan-African investor, we look forward to supporting the Oze team in its expansion across the continent and helping to further develop its offering of value-added services for the SME community.
Through this investment, we are excited to join forces with Speedinvest which recently scaled Indonesian book keeping app Lummo (formerly BukuKas) from Seed to a $80m Series C to expand across Southeast Asia. And thanks to our valued partner Cathay Innovation, with several investments in SME-centered fintech such as Latam’s Xepelin or Zenbusiness in the US, we can take learnings from global startup ecosystems to help companies like Oze scale locally.
Oze is hiring! If you seek to become part of a growing team and create impactful solutions for SMEs, check out the job postings on their website.
Want to learn more about the activities of the Cathay AfricInvest Innovation Fund? Follow AfricInvest and Cathay Innovation on Medium to stay updated on news and insights in the African VC ecosystem.