As Africa’s youthful population continues to grow exponentially, it’s of the utmost importance that entrepreneurs create various healthcare solutions that will cater to the medical needs of the continent’s future. While the pandemic made investors pay attention to Africa’s private healthcare space, women’s health — a subcategory dominated by women founders that broadly addresses women’s menstrual and reproductive health — is subtly neglected.
Yet, considering other emerging markets have set a precedent, it’s only a matter of time before this category gets the venture capital dollars it deserves; the recent $21 million Series B investment in Rwandan startup Kasha is a subtle testament to the fact.
Kasha isn’t the typical women’s health startup, though. The best way to describe the startup, founded in 2016 by CEO Joanna Bichsel, is a digital retail platform — serving a wide range of customers — with women’s health elements.
The seven-year-old startup provides a digital retail and last-mile distribution platform for pharmaceuticals and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) with a specific product focus on women’s healthcare needs and household items. Its customers include individual consumers, small resellers, hospitals, pharmacies, and clinics. They can order products ranging from sanitary pads and contraceptives to diapers and cleaning supplies via its website or USSD.
In its first year, Kasha strictly approached the Rwandan market with a direct-to-consumer model offering last-mile delivery of health products for women and newborns. But it wouldn’t take long for small shops to begin placing orders for these same products. The e-commerce platform, easily sensing an opportunity, ventured into wholesale after acquiring the necessary pharmaceutical license to serve pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. Serving a beachhead wholesale and retail market, Kasha products cut through newborn child health, maternal health and menstrual hygiene to family planning, sexual and reproductive health and noncommunicable diseases.
“We have always understood that women are the most influential customer in the health space, both because they have the most health needs and are decision-makers for health in the household and unlock the rest of the population. Since many health products for women are stigmatized, Kasha has purposely offered a wide variety of products, including personal care products like soap, health products like contraceptives, and household staples like rice,” Bichsel told TechCrunch in an interview. Bichsel also noted that the platform’s most sold products include HIV self-tests, contraceptives, and pregnancy tests. “We have continued to expand our variety of products purely from customer demand and the needs of the different customer segments who purchase from us, including small kiosk shops, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics and consumers.”
Starting in Rwanda, Kasha raised $1.5 million in seed funding from angel and impact investors. In late 2020, after expansion into Kenya, Kasha secured a $3.6 million Series A from Finnfund, Swedfund, DFC and Mastercard Corporate. Knife Capital led this recent Series B with participation from Finnfund, DFC, Tim Koogle (ex-Yahoo CEO), Beyond Capital Ventures, Altree Capital, Bamboo Capital’s BLOC Smart Africa Fund and Five35 Ventures.
“The team [led by founder and CEO Joanna Bichsel] have proven their mettle in scaling rapidly to date and this round of capital will help to accelerate that,” noted Koogle on the growth-stage deal. In addition to its operations in Kenya and Rwanda, Kasha, which has recently registered in South Africa, will use the investment to push its platform in the country and also West Africa later this year.
According to Bichsel, optimizing around health products differentiates Kasha from other East African–founded B2B e-commerce platforms, including Twiga and Wasoko, which have a more comprehensive range of SKUs outside pharmaceuticals (a product offering that Bichsel claims Kasha is the largest supplier of in Rwanda).
“Our core strategic focus is in the area of health and that’s where we aim to win,” she said while noting that Kasha has capabilities around telehealth and credit, a prominent feature of B2B e-commerce upstarts. “If a consumer orders from us and they don’t have a prescription, we connect them to a doctor,” said Bichsel, who worked several years for Microsoft and was a technology adviser to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “There are other health tech capabilities; we offer inventory credit to pharmacies, clinics and hospitals. So, we overlap in that general FMCG space, but our expertise is more in health. We also build a broader distribution network, reaching the mass market customer around the country and going to the last mile.”
To ensure its products are authentic, the startup works directly with manufacturers and suppliers, sourcing and stocking the products it distributes to consumers, resellers and clinics. This is in tandem with its last-mile efforts of using various content channels to spread information on how its consumers can keep safe — and to the benefit of its enterprise business, where it provides visibility and insights to global health organizations on route to market strategies.
Speaking on 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, being especially strong at serving women customers. We look forward to being a partner in the Pan-African expansion journey with this purpose-driven dedicated team.”
Since Kasha closed its Series A in late 2020, it has seen its annual recurring revenue grow by 50x, according to Bischel. She also mentioned that the company, widely misperceived as a social impact business in its early years, intends to “continue growing its revenue aggressively, become a global company, achieve a strong return for investors and ideally go public.” While it may seem grand for a female-founded and female-led startup whose counterparts commanded less than 3% of Africa’s $6 billion venture capital market last year, Rwanda’s most venture-backed company has hitched its wagon to a star and it might be only a matter of time before ambition becomes a reality. Bischel says:
Having reached this major milestone of closing our Series B, we are even more inspired and determined to achieve Kasha’s mission of being Africa’s leading digital platform for last-mile access to health. The exponential revenue growth we’ve experienced over the last several years 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, and this has proven out our business model and our team’s ability to execute.
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, provides us with the proven experience we need to achieve our ambitions as a company and to take it to the next level. We will be using the funds from Series B to expand across Africa and investing in strategic areas of the business to further continue our high growth trajectory. We are especially excited to have the continued support and reinvestment from existing Kasha investors such as FinnFund, DFC, Beyond Capital Ventures and others.