Mar 15, 2023, 10:53am EDT

An African unicorn backed by SVB, FTX, and Bezos said to explore sale

Collage by Emily Nadal/Semafor/Reuters/Dado Ruvic

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The News

Days after disclosing the extent of its exposure as a customer and portfolio company of Silicon Valley Bank, pan-African fintech startup Chipper Cash is said to be considering a sale.

Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg reported that a final decision has not been made and that the startup may seek new investors instead. Chipper Cash, in response, said it had “never sought to be acquired” but that it regularly receives proposals for mergers and acquisitions.

Chipper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Know More

Chipper operates money transfer, cryptocurrency and Robinhood-like stock trading services on an app available in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, and Uganda.

In the wake of bank troubles in the US last week, Chipper’s chief executive Ham Serunjogi said on March 12 that his company had “insignificant exposure” to SVB and “only about $1m” with the bank. He said SVB owned a 2% stake in it following a $100 million funding round in the first half of 2021.

The startup raised $150 million later that year with failed crypto exchange FTX as the lead investor, valuing Chipper at $2 billion. But a few months before FTX collapsed last November under the weight of fraud allegations connected to its founder Sam Bankman-Fried, Chipper’s valuation was slashed to $1.25 billion in another fundraising event.

The company has laid off about 150 employees in the months since. The most recent was in February, affecting staff across all departments in the US, UK, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.

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Step Back

Chipper Cash started off in 2018 as a money transfer app. Before receiving investment from SVB in 2021, it had raised a little of $50 million from other firms, notably the California-based fintech investor Ribbit Capital, and startup accelerator 500Global. Bezos Expeditions, the family office of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, joined a $30 million round in 2020.

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  • Chipper chose the Grammy-award-winning Afrobeats star Burna Boy as its brand ambassador in 2021. It is one of a growing number of venture-backed African startups seeking to tap the power of celebrity to rake in users and drive adoption.
  • A Forbes profile last year opened with a scene in 2018 where a California-based venture capital firm told Serunjogi to “look for donations and grants” from Unicef to fund Chipper Cash, supposedly dismissing the young startup’s profit-making prospects.