Despite providing nearly 80% of jobs in Africa, SMEs on the continent have a hard time accessing capital for their operations. Although traditional financial institutions offer loans, they require extensive documentation, which many of these businesses lack due to their informal nature. Furthermore, these institutions often require the provision of collateral or offer loans at high interest rates, discouraging most businesses from applying.
Another issue related to financing is payment delays. This happens when an SME has delivered a service to a larger corporate but does not get paid immediately. Depending on the organisation, this delay could last anywhere from 30 to 90 days.
In some cases, it could last for up to six months. 48% of MSMEs in Nigeria have experienced delayed payments while 33% have had their cashflows and revenues affected by these delays.
Recently, fintech startups like FairMoney and Pennee have begun to provide financing for these businesses with loans that are often received within 48 hours.
Today, a new startup is emerging from stealth with $4.5 million to provide invoice financing for SMEs in Africa. Founded in 2021 and currently operating out of Nigeria, Zuvy provides invoice discounting and an invoice management tool for its customers.
Co-founders Angel Onuoha and Ahmad Shehu met on Twitter and connected over their shared interest in digitising and providing financing for small businesses in Africa. But there's also a personal motivation for Onuoha.
"When I first came to Lagos, I was helping one of my aunties run her food catering business, and I saw just how much of an impact that invoice financing could have had on her business. This was primarily because most of her work is determined by large contracts that she would get from large oil and gas companies. They wouldn't pay her for 30 or 45 days at a time, and I found that a lot of these payment delays are very common for vendors."
Payment delays, such as those experienced by Onuoha's aunt, are common in Nigeria. Large corporations often take as much as 90 days to pay for services that have been rendered. While this helps with their cashflow as the money can be used for other projects, SMEs with significantly lower cashflows are negatively impacted.
Zuvy targets businesses in the FMCG, healthcare, and supply chain industries where payment delays are common. To access Zuvy's invoice financing, businesses provide an invoice for the service they've rendered, and Zuvy provides them with cash.
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For Zuvy to disburse a loan, the business that the service is being rendered to has to confirm that the business issuing the invoice is a client and agree to domicile the repayment with Zuvy. Repayment terms range from 30 to 90 days, but are determined by a business' needs.
By liaising with the business receiving the service, Zuvy is able to ensure that the application is legitimate, while making repayment easier. It also has internal metrics it uses to determine whether a business is eligible for financing. Compared to taking out a loan, Onuoha believes that invoice financing is a more suitable option for small businesses.
"Oftentimes, if businesses take loans, they might overcapitalise themselves and not be able to do enough things with the money in order to get that paid back. Whereas with invoice financing, businesses can actually take just as much as they know that they're going to already earn."
Before founding Zuvy, Onuoha was a product manager at Google and co-founded BLK Capital Management, a student-run hedge fund, as an undergraduate at Harvard. Meanwhile, Shehu was previously a product engineer at open banking startup, Mono.
Zuvy makes money by charging a fee when paying out cash advances. Users also get a wallet, which it provides through a partnership with some commercial banks. Its inventory management tool, which helps users issue invoices and manage their finances, helps the startup determine how much financing it offers each business. Every offer is tailored to the needs of the business and their capacity to repay.
TLG Capital led Zuvy's funding, which is split between debt ($4 million) and equity ($580k), with other VCs and angel investors joining the round. The debt will be used to expand its loan book to meet growing demand from vendors in Nigeria.
"TLG’s innovative approach to lending in Naira, a critical aspect of our operations, has demonstrated their deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities within our market. Most importantly, their deal execution speed is unparalleled and we are highly aligned with their mission in fostering the growth of SMEs on the continent," Onuoha said in a statement shared with Techpoint Africa.
Speaking on TLG Capital's investment into Zuvy, Isaac Marshall said, "Factoring invoices represents a massive opportunity to bring capital to these small businesses, but only if you can build the tech stack to make it scalable. This problem is exactly what Zuvy is solving — building the capital capillaries to fund small businesses. Angel and Ahmad are excellent founders and Zuvy gets this opportunity and is perfectly positioned to pull this off."
While the challenge of delayed payments affects millions of SMEs across Africa, Zuvy is not yet planning international expansion as it works to expand its coverage of the Nigerian market.