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Why PE firm Alitheia is banking on women in Africa



African women-founders find it incredibly hard to raise capital from private markets, and even banks, a gap that “gender-lens” funds like Alitheia IDF exist to bridge.

Alitheia IDF was co-founded by Tokunboh Ishmael and Polo Leteka in 2015 as a private equity fund to back the often marginalized founders. Through the $100 million Alitheia IDF, currently the biggest “gender-lens” fund in Africa, it backs the often ignored women-led or women-focused businesses.

Ishmael, an active investor for over two decades, has previously invested in multiple sectors across Africa, but with a leaning to climate and fintech, through her private equity firm Alitheia Capital, which she founded in 2007 after a stint at another PE firm. Alitheia Capital, based out of Nigeria, and through other funds, has to date invested in a number of startups, including fintechs Lidya and Paga, and logistics startup

She told TechCrunch that full deployment of Alitheia IDF is expected next year, with plans for another fund to double down on “gender-lens” investing down the line.

Below are excerpts from an interview Ishmael had with TechCrunch, where she delves deeper into impact investing, banking on women-led and women-focused businesses, and doubling down on investments in Africa.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TechCrunch: You are an early investor in Africa’s tech space, with Alitheia Capital being among the first institutional investors in the ecosystem. What inspired you to take this path?

Tokunboh Ishmael: I wanted to invest for impact, and also leverage technology as a key tool to drive transformation and access and, therefore, impact. At Alitheia we make investments not just to make financial returns, but for developmental impact. Particularly for us, that has meant driving inclusion in finance, energy, education and health.

Our first fund was a financial inclusion fund, which we co-managed with Goodwell investments, and was intentional about helping micro-finance banks transform to better serve low-income populations, and small and growing businesses. Our take with the fund was to use technology to enhance access. With our first investments over 17 years ago being in fintech, we were an early adopter of mobile money in driving financial inclusion.

One notable micro-finance we with worked with is Baobab. We helped create infrastructure that has enabled it to acquire a national license, and place it among the top two national micro-finance banks in the country, while growing its balance sheet over 10 times.

We have also had an energy inclusion fund, looking to make energy cleaner for the low-income households that majorly rely on firewood, which causes indoor air pollution and drives illnesses and infant mortality.

The energy fund sought to drive energy inclusion, and reduce deforestation, through clean energy options for cooking and lighting, which improved the lives of smallholder farming families, and particularly for girls, who were no longer required to spend hours sourcing firewood.

We later launched our second inclusion fund, which went beyond financial inclusion, to look at access to essential services, finance, health, education, housing. We’ve had a series of funds since that time around that theme, all underpinned by the use of technology in driving transformation and access.

Then came the launch of Alitheia IDF in 2015; what informed this decision?

Inclusion being a key part of what we do, we looked at the portfolio of assets that we had, their management and the teams behind them, and we saw that even within our own portfolio, there was a scarcity of female owners.

There was a poor representation of women in boardrooms, and in management, and we felt that we could do better to diversify capital and address the issue that less than 5% of capital went to female founders. We sought to address the imbalance in capital to founders, as well as the representation in senior boardroom positions and management, as well as within value chains — both production and consumption.

The dividends of diversity are better corporate governance, broader perspectives, enhanced innovation and entrenching many gender factors in decision-making, like broadening market access and reach to tap women, who control over $15 trillion of purchasing power.

So, we created a first-of-its-kind fund that uses the gender perspective to address the imbalance, and create a factor for alpha performance by companies. However, not all of the eight businesses supported by this fund (JetStream, ReelFruit, SweepSouth, Chikas, Skld, Psaltry, Wemy and Ivili Loboya) are by women founders; we have also backed male-dominant teams because the fund is also about businesses that have an impact on women. We are not just addressing the imbalance of funding to female founders, but also the imbalance of products and services to ensure that women can access them. We want them to scale, and help inject gender consciousness into the founding teams, the management teams, the boards and the companies.

How does Alitheia IDF invest, what are its sectors and regions of focus?

We invest in businesses that are at the point of scaling; businesses with a proven product and service, that have customer revenue, and are looking to grow their footprint, access new markets.

As fund managers, we partner with the management and founders to grow their companies. And, we rarely take a controlling stake — our typical sweet spot is a stake of 10% to 40% of a company; very rarely do we go past 20%. Typically, we are looking for growth companies with an absorptive capacity of $2 million to $8 million.

Our work is to provide financing, mentorship, strategic growth, access to markets and access to talent. We don’t go in and start wielding swords; it’s a partnership, and we seek to help them grow the businesses beyond their sights, through access to our networks for finance and talent.

We also help them think of how to push for the right types of products, and very importantly, governance — with the right governance, you can make the right decisions and you can grow properly.

We are also keen on sectors, where we can get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of job creation and inclusion from three perspectives: financial, essential services and gender. Thus, we invest in what we regard as essential sectors including health and finance, food security and manufacturing.

We do look at companies that have headquarters in the western and southern regions of Africa, but are expanding to other regions within Africa. We consider those with provenance in East or other parts of Africa and are growing into western or southern Africa.

We will probably back 10 to 12 businesses with this fund. The $100 million just scratches the surface of the paucity of funding for female founders and companies that serve women. We anticipate that there will be other funds that will come along to further address and increase funding to these types of companies.

What notable impact have you had since launching the fund?

It has been a very rewarding journey because we’ve helped address a key challenge for the recipients, which has been access to finance and the ability to tap into pools of capital, but also enabling them to raise their aspirations for scaling beyond what they may have already thought of. We do this by addressing the confidence gap that some may have had in terms of approaching equity investors, and by helping them become investor and scale ready.

What needs to change for an increase in funding opportunities for women-led companies in Africa?

Our fund is managed by a women-led team, and I think that has been instrumental in us being proactive about seeking out women founders. Thus, I think it is important to have diversity in fund management (we still have some way to go to having more women-led fund management, and partnerships) to commit to action on diversity.

Also, decision makers investing in funds need to recognize and address any unconscious biases that may have prevented them from intentionally seeking out female fund managers, female founders and companies that serve women.

Disclaimer – This is just shared content from above mentioned source for knowledge sharing.


Russian zero-day seller offers $20M for hacking Android and iPhones



A company that acquires and sells zero-day exploits — flaws in software that are unknown to the affected developer — is now offering to pay researchers $20 million for hacking tools that would allow its customers to hack iPhones and Android devices.

On Wednesday, Operation Zero announced on its Telegram accounts and on its official account on X, formerly Twitter, that it was increasing payments for zero-days in those platforms from $200,000 to $20 million.

“By increasing the premium and providing competitive plans and bonuses for contract works, we encourage the developer teams to work with our platform,” the company wrote.

Operation Zero, which is based in Russia and launched in 2021, also added that “as always, the end user is a non-NATO country.” On its official website, the company says that “our clients are Russian private and government organizations only.”

When asked why they only sell to non-NATO countries, Operation Zero CEO Sergey Zelenyuk declined to say. “No reasons other than obvious ones,” he said.

Zelenyuk also said that the bounties Operation Zero offer right now may be temporary, and a reflection of a particular time in the market, and the difficulty of hacking iOS and Android.

“The price formation of specific items is heavily dependent on availability of the product on the zero-day market,” Zelenyuk said in an email. “Full chain exploits for mobile phones are the most expensive products right now and they’re used mostly by government actors. When an actor needs a product, sometimes they’re ready to pay as much as possible to possess it before it gets into the hands of other parties.”

For at least a decade, various companies around the world have offered bounties to security researchers willing to sell the bugs and hacking techniques to exploit those flaws. Unlike traditional bug bounty platforms like Hacker One or Bugcrowd, companies like Operation Zero don’t alert the vendors whose products are vulnerable, but instead sell them to government customers.

This is inherently a gray market, where prices fluctuate and the identity of the customers is often secret. But there are and have been public price lists such as the ones published by Operation Zero.

Zerodium, a company that was launched in 2015, offers up to $2,5 million for a chain of bugs that allows customers to hack an Android device with no interaction from the target, meaning the target doesn’t have to fall for a phishing link, for example. For the same type of chain, Zerodium offers up to $2 million, according to its website.

On modern mobile devices, thanks to improved security mitigations and defenses, hackers might need a series of zero-days to fully compromise and take control of a targeted device.

Crowdfense, a competitor based in the United Arab Emirates, offers up to $3 million for the same kind of chain of bugs on Android and iOS.

Referring to the bounties offered by Zerodium and Crowdfense, Zelenyuk said that he doesn’t believe they will ever drop so low.

“The Zerodium price sheet is outdated, but it doesn’t mean the company still buys for such low prices. They just don’t need to update them, the zero-day business works fine regardless of that,” said Zelenyuk.

The market for zero-days is largely unregulated. But in some countries, companies may have to obtain export licenses from the governments they operate from. This process essentially entails asking permission to sell to certain countries, which may be restricted. This has created a fractured market that is increasingly affected by politics. For example, a recently passed law in China mandates that security researchers alert the Chinese government of bugs before they alert the software makers. This law, according to experts, effectively means China is cornering the market for zero-days in an attempt to use them for intelligence purposes.

“This new regulation might enable elements in the Chinese government to stockpile reported vulnerabilities toward weaponizing them,” Microsoft said in a report from last year.

Corrected an earlier version of this story to remove “tenfold” from the second paragraph, this was due to an editor’s error. ZW

Do you have more information about the market for zero-days? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, or via Telegram, Keybase, and Wire @lorenzofb, or email You can also contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

Disclaimer – This is just shared content from above mentioned source for knowledge sharing.

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TC Startup Battlefield master class with Canvas Ventures: Creating strategic defensibility as an early-stage startup



Each year, TechCrunch selects the top 200 early-stage founders from across the globe to feature at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. And as part of our programming, we host master classes with industry experts and venture capitalists to provide tactical advice and insight to these founders.

Today, I’m excited to share the first of a four-part series with Canvas Ventures’ Mike Ghaffary. In this session, Ghaffary outlined the important components of startup defensibility, the key strategic advantage buckets, and what startups can do to stay competitive as they build and scale.

This private session took place in August, and we are sharing these now so all of you can also reap the benefits of Startup Battlefield.

Disclaimer – This is just shared content from above mentioned source for knowledge sharing.

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Meta’s $500 Quest 3 targets consumer mixed reality



Meta’s Quest Pro arrived to a mixed reaction when it launched late last year. The consensus – if one can be found – was that the headset presented some impressive technological leaps over its consumer predecessor (the Quest 2), but the $1,500 price tag was ultimately prohibitively expensive. If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because that’s more or less the same feedback we see every time an intriguing new headset his the market.

I had the opportunity to try the headset out back in January at CES, along with the latest from HTC, Magic Leap and Sony PlayStation. I probably shouldn’t have tried it on immediately after the Magic Leap 2 – which was the ultimate example of very good, but entirely too expensive XR technology.

The Quest Pro isn’t the Magic Leap, even though the two are effectively going after the same subset of users: enterprise clients. Meta and Magic Leap both – I think rightfully – determined that the real money is in selling headsets for training, prototyping and other business-minded functions. Many big corporations will spend $1,500 (or even $3,300) without batting an eye, if it means saving money in the long run.

But Meta is not quite ready to abandon the consumer market just yet – nor is it ready to put all its eggs in the AR basket. Sticking to mixed reality affords a fuller spectrum of applications, including more immersive VR experiences – including games. For the AR bit, opaque headset like the Quest Pro rely on passthrough technology, using on-board cameras to effectively reconstruct an image of the world around you.

It’s no surprise, then that the new Quest 3 maintains that technology. The big question is why the Quest Pro is sticking around. The obvious answer is that the Pro is less than a year old. The Quest 2, on the other hand, if a week or two short of its third birthday – in fact, it was released so long ago that it still carried the Oculus name.

The Meta Quest 3 mixed reality headset, sitting on Meta's first-party charging stand

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Ultimately, however, there is a lot on this new headset that makes the pro version seem almost redundant – or, at very least, very overpriced. While it’s true that new headset lacks some of that enterprise edition’s more premium features, the Pro’s starting price is around 3x that of the Quest 3. That’s not easy to justify. Of course, Meta’s not really thinking much about enterprise year.

Last week, we attended briefing in the Bay Area, featuring the new headset. The Meta Quest 3 inherets a lot of DNA from the Pro, including its mixed reality platform. Even if the company had already invested years and millions into the VR content side of things, maintaining both categories would be foundational, as full immersion lends itself better to the non-casual end of the gaming spectrum. With the exception of a relative handful of titles like Pokemon Go, the current generation of titles don’t require a player to be tied to a fixed real-world location.

According to Meta, the Quest 3’s full-color Passthrough tech has 10x as many pixels as its predecessor and 3x more than the significantly pricier Quest Pro. The visuals are powered by a pair of displays (one per eye) that measure in at 2064 x 2208 pixels (“4K+ Inifinite Display”). It’s the highest res display on any Meta/Oculus device. The 110-degree field of view is roughly 15% wider than the 2. 

Man wearing the Meta Quest 3 mixed reality headset, holding a controller, viewed from the side

Man wearing the Meta Quest 3 mixed reality headset, holding a controller, viewed from the side

The system is powered by the newly announced Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip, which itself promises double the GPU processing power than the Gen 1. In keeping with that 50 upcoming titles are actually graphicly improved versions of older games. Or you can just go ahead and play any of the 500 or so Quest 2-compatible games/apps. There are also 50 entirely new titles coming up on the platform.

Our hands on experience with the handset involved some quick game demos, none of them nearly long enough to give you a full-on review. But that’s kind of the whole deal with these sorts of events. Among the titles were Ghostbusters: Rise of the Ghost Lord, Samba de Amiga and Stranger Things: Tender Claws. Of the three, Ghostbusters is the one that really stuck with me. I admit I’ve got a childhood soft spot for that one – but also, when I close my eyes and think about VR’s promise, it’s these sorts of immersive experiences.

The headset is fairly comfortable. Again, I admit that I didn’t have a ton of time with it – I’ll have to save the more comprehensive writeup for a review. But at 515 grams, it’s a good bit lighter than the notoriously heavy 722 gram Quest Pro. It’s also not a huge bump from the Quest 2’s 500 grams. It’s far easier to imagine working out in Quest 3, versus the professional model.

The visuals are a marked improvement over the last generation. They’re higher res and crisper, which goes a long way toward adding immersion to the whole experience. So, too, does the 40% louder speakers, pai4red with 3D spatial audio tech.

Close up of the top of the Meta Quest 3 touch controller

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The headset looks a good bit like the Quest 2, though there are now three slits in the front of the visor, positioning the cameras directly in front of the eye. The system also uses SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) to map the environment and determine the position of walls and other landmarks. This is more or less the same technology found in autonomous cars and robotic systems. This can help you avoid getting too close when in VR and tie graphics to real world object in AR. They do, however, drop the Pro’s face and eye tracking — so that’s a point in the pricier model’s favor.

The system ships with a pair of refined Touch Plus controllers, which drop their predecessor’s rings, while getting improved haptic feedback. “Feel more connected to every experience with ergonomic, ring-free Touch Plus controllers that let you experience realistic sensations and fine-tuned precision – as if you’re actually holding a bow, scrambling up skyscrapers or blasting through space,” Meta writes. “You can even explore without controllers, thanks to Direct Touch that follows your gestures, letting you use just your hands to find your way.”

The Meta Quest 3 mixed reality headset, sitting on a first-party charger with an orange headstrap

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The controllers weigh in at 126 grams (including the AAA battery) — 38 grams lighter than the older Touch controllers. The headset should take around two hours to charge from 0-100%. 

Meta is promising roughly the same battery life for the headset as the Quest 2, which was rated at 2-3 hours. Here’s a more complete breakdown directly from the company,

  • Overall: Up to 2.2 hours of usage on average
  • Media: 2.9 hours of usage on average
  •  Gaming: 2.4 hours of usage on average
  • Social: 2.2 hours of usage on average
  •  Productivity: 1.5 hours of usage on average

Pre-order starts today, shipping on 10/10. If you buy the 128GB model ($499) before 1/27/24, Meta will toss in a free company of Asgard’s Wrath 2. Pick up the 512GB model ($650), and you get the game, along with a six month Meta Quest+ subscription. 

Read more about Meta Connect on TechCrunch

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