As Africa’s youth population continues to grow exponentially, it is of the utmost importance that entrepreneurs develop a variety of healthcare solutions to meet the continent’s future medical requirements.
Women’s health, a subcategory dominated by women founders that broadly addresses women’s menstrual and reproductive health, is discreetly neglected despite the pandemic’s effect on investor interest in Africa’s private healthcare industry.
Nevertheless, given the precedent set by other emerging markets, it is only a matter of time before this category receives the venture capital dollars it deserves; the recent $21 million Series B investment in Rwandan startup Kasha is a subtle indication of this.
However, Kasha is not your typical women’s health startup. The company, which CEO Joanna Bichsel founded in 2016, is best characterized as an e-commerce platform with women’s health components that caters to a wide range of customers.
The four-year-old startup provides a digital retail and last-mile distribution platform for pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), with an emphasis on women’s healthcare requirements and household goods. Individual consumers, modest resellers, hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics are among its customers. They can order sanitary pads, contraceptives, diapers, and housekeeping supplies via the website or USSD.
In its first year, Kasha approached the Rwandan market exclusively through a direct-to-consumer model that provided last-mile delivery of health products for women and infants. However, it would not be long before small stores began to place orders for these products.
The e-commerce platform entered the wholesale market after acquiring the requisite pharmaceutical license to serve pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics. Kasha’s wholesale and retail products span newborn infant health, maternal health, and menstrual hygiene, as well as family planning, sexual and reproductive health, and non-communicable diseases.
“We have always understood that women are the most influential customers in the health space, both because they have the most health requirements and because they are the household’s health decision-makers, thereby unlocking the majority of the population.
Because many women’s health products are stigmatized, Kasha offers a wide variety of products, including personal care products like soap, health products like contraceptives, and household staples like rice,” Bichsel said in an interview with TechCrunch.
Bichsel noted that the most popular products on the platform are HIV self-tests, contraceptives, and pregnancy tests. “We have continued to expand our product selection based solely on customer demand and the needs of the various customer segments, including small kiosk shops, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and consumers.”
Kasha raised $1.5 million in initial funding from angel and impact investors in Rwanda. After its expansion into Kenya, Kasha secured a $3.6 million Series A investment from Finnfund, Swedfund, DFC, and Mastercard Corporate in late 2020.
Recent Series B funding was led by Knife Capital, with participation from Finnfund, DFC, Tim Koogle (ex-CEO of Yahoo), Beyond Capital Ventures, Altree Capital, Bamboo Capital’s BLOC Smart Africa Fund, and Five35 Ventures.
“The team [led by founder and CEO Joanna Bichsel] has proven their mettle in rapidly scaling to date, and this round of capital will help to accelerate that,” noted Koogle regarding the growth-stage transaction.
Kasha, which recently registered in South Africa in addition to its operations in Kenya and Rwanda, will use the investment to promote its platform in South Africa and West Africa later this year.
According to Bichsel, optimizing around health products distinguishes Kasha from other East African-founded B2B e-commerce platforms, such as Twiga and Wasoko, which have a broader range of SKUs outside pharmaceuticals (a product offering for which Bichsel claims Kasha is the largest supplier in Rwanda).
“Our primary strategic focus is on the health industry, and that’s where we intend to win,” she said, noting that Kasha has capabilities in telehealth and credit, a prominent characteristic of B2B e-commerce startups. “If a consumer orders from us without a prescription, we connect them to a doctor,” said Bichsel, who worked for Microsoft for several years and served as a technology advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
There are additional health technology capabilities; we offer pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals inventory credit. Consequently, we overlap in the general FMCG market, but our area of expertise is health. Additionally, we expand our distribution network, reaching mass market customers across the nation and going the extra mile.
To ensure the authenticity of its products, the startup sources and stocks the products it distributes to consumers, resellers, and clinics directly from manufacturers and suppliers.
This is in line with its last-mile efforts of using various content channels to disseminate information on how its consumers can stay secure and to the benefit of its enterprise business, where it provides visibility and insights to global health organizations regarding their route to market strategies.
In reference to the investment, Keet van Zyl, co-founder, and partner at Knife Capital, a $50 million Pan-African fund, said, “In the current economic climate, it is refreshing to come across such a high-growth, capital-efficient business that is female-led and optimized to serve the large mass market segment in Africa, with an emphasis on serving women customers. With this purpose-driven, dedicated team, we look forward to being a partner in the Pan-African expansion voyage.”
Bischel reports that since Kasha concluded its Series A in late 2020, its annual recurring revenue has multiplied by 50. She also stated that the company, which was widely misunderstood as a social impact business in its early years, plans to “continue growing its revenue aggressively, become a global company, achieve a strong return for investors, and ideally go public.” The most venture-backed company in Rwanda has hitched its wagon to a star, and it may be only a matter of time before ambition becomes a reality.
We are even more inspired and determined to achieve Kasha’s mission of becoming Africa’s foremost digital platform for last-mile access to health now that Series B funding has been secured. Our business model and team’s ability to execute have been validated by the exponential revenue growth we’ve experienced over the past several years, which was driven by the high market demand for quality, affordable health products and household goods from mass market customers in urban and rural areas of East Africa.
With Knife Capital leading our Series B, bringing their strong track record of portfolio companies that have scaled across the continent with successful exits to industry-leading global corporations, we have the proven experience we need to achieve our company’s goals and move forward.
We will use the Series B funds to expand throughout Africa and invest in strategic business areas to continue our rapid growth trajectory. Existing Kasha investors, including FinnFund, DFC, Beyond Capital Ventures, and others, continue to support and reinvest in the company, which excites us greatly.