Toyota Tsusho, the trading arm of the Japanese automobile behemoth Toyota Group has committed an undisclosed investment in Verod-Kepple Africa Ventures (VKAV), a venture capital (VC) firm invests in African start-ups. Managed by Verod-Kepple Africa Partners VKAV is a joint venture between Nigeria-based private equity outfit Verod Capital and Japan’s Kepple Africa Ventures. VKAV has invested in companies like Nigerian start-up Moove, which provides vehicle financing to ride-hailing, e-logistics and instant delivery drivers, and Kenya’s Koko Networks, specialising in clean ethanol cooking fuel and cooking products.
Toyota Tsusho’s motivation for the investment in VKAV is partly to pursue opportunities for business synergies in Africa. The group has extensive interests in the continent through its ownership of CFAO, a diversified company involved in automotive retail, healthcare, consumer goods, infrastructure and energy throughout Africa. Together with CFAO, Toyota Tsusho has also established corporate VC firm Mobility 54, which backs mobility-related start-ups in Africa. Since its launch in 2019, Mobility 54 has invested about US$28m in 14 businesses.
In recent years, Japanese investors have shown interest in African start-ups. AAIC Investment, founded by former Boston Consulting Group partner Susumu Tsubaki, has a particular focus on the healthcare sector, and has backed over 25 ventures, such as Nigeria’s Helium Health, which provides a range of technology solutions to healthcare providers, and Kenyan online retail pharmacy MyDawa.
Another prominent player is Samurai Incubate Africa, founded by Kentaro Sakakibara in 2018, which has stakes in over two dozen start-ups, predominantly in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Last year, Samurai raised about US$18.6m for its second fund from 54 investors, including Toyota Tsusho. Investments from Samurai’s latest fund include Eden Life, which offers laundry, cleaning and food delivery services to time-strapped professionals in Lagos, and Africa-focused freight forwarding platform OnePort 365. Tokyo-based investor, Takuma Terakubo, who was previously involved with Samurai Incubate, has gone on to found Uncovered Fund, which last year launched a US$15m vehicle to make early-stage investments in African ventures.
Toyota Tsusho’s investment commitment coincided with the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Tunis at the end of August where Japan pledged US$30bn in public and private financial investments to Africa over the next three years.
A survey conducted by Japan External Trade Organisation earlier this year shows that the vast majority (82.2%) of Japanese firms that have invested in Africa have done so because they see it as a ‘future market potential’.
‘Japan’s Uncovered Fund launches $15m fund to back early-stage startups in Africa’, 16 February 2021, TechCrunch
‘Toyota Tsusho decided to invest in Samurai Africa Fund 2 Investment Partnership’, Toyota Tsusho Corporation, 05 April 2021
‘Japanese VC Samurai Incubate closes $18.6m fund for African startups’, 15 April 2021, TechCrunch
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‘Mobility 54 corporate profile’, Mobility54.com, Accessed 16 September 2022.