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BY Abu Mubarik, 9:00am January 29, 2022,

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status

Olugbenga Agboola is the Co-founder and CEO of San Francisco and Lagos-based Flutterwave. Photo credit: Shoppe Black

The last two years have seen some Black-led startups achieving success and hitting unicorn status. “Unicorn” is a venture capital term used to describe firms that have achieved a valuation of more than $1 billion.

Recently, Esusu joined the list of growing Black-led startups that have hit the $1 billion valuation mark. Calendly, Zepz, Marshmallow, Flutterwave and Chipper Cash are other Black-led startups to reach unicorn status.

Below is a profile of the firms:

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Abbey Wemimo is co-founder of Esusu. (Photo provided)


Esusu is a fintech company that uses data to bridge the racial wealth gap by reporting rent payments to credit bureaus. The company achieved a unicorn status of $1 billion after raising $130 million in a Series B fundraising round.

SoftBank Vision Fund 2 led the funding round, with participation from Jones Feliciano Family Office, Lauder Zinterhofer Family Office, Schusterman Foundation, SoftBank Opportunity Fund, Related Companies and Wilshire Lane Capital, TechCrunch reported.

Esusu was co-founded by Nigerian-born American Abbey Wemimo and Indian American Samir Goel. They experienced financial exclusion while growing up in immigrant homes and that inspired them to establish Esusu. According to them, their families had no savings or credit, compelling them to rely on payday lenders that charged outrageous interest rates.

They, therefore, founded their company in 2018 to help reverse the trend. Esusu reports on-time rent payments to major credit agencies to help renters improve scores and qualify for financial products. The New York-based company has partnered with some of the top property managers in the U.S., including WinnResidential, Mercy Housing, Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Related Companies in this regard. Over 2.5 million homes currently use Esusu’s service.

The company charges property managers and owners a $3,500 set-up fee and $2 per unit monthly while renters pay an annual subscription fee of $50 to report their rental payment data to credit agencies or bureaus.

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Calendly CEO Tope Awotona. Photo credit: Shoppe Black


Calendly is a cloud scheduling app founded by Tope Awotona. Calendly is designed to make the process of finding meeting times easy. Currently, about 10 million people use the platform monthly since it was created in 2013, making it very popular.

The popularity of the app has been attributed to the rising number of people working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Calendly is used by the majority of Fortune 500 companies as well as nearly all companies in the SaaS 1000.

Calendly in 2021 was valued at $3 billion after it announced that it has closed a $350 million investment led by Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners and included participation from Iconiq Capital.

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Photo: WorldRemit


Zepz, formerly WorldRemit, is a digital cross-border payments platform operating two market-leading brands (WorldRemit and Sendwave, acquired in 2021), with over 11 million users across 150 countries.

In 2021, the company announced that it has raised $292 million in new primary financing, achieving a valuation of $5 billion. Zepz is revolutionizing the P2P cross-border payments market, an estimated $1tn market opportunity that continues to be predominantly offline and is characterized by high prices and poor customer experience.

It is the first Black-owned company to reach unicorn status in Britain.

The company was founded by Ismail Ahmed, originally from Somalia. In 2019, he was named the most influential Black Briton by Powerlist. Powerlist is a list that highlights 100 people with African, African-Caribbean and African-American heritage who are considered influential.

He established the company to make it easy for migrants to remit to their relatives in Africa and the Caribbean.

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Marshmallow co-founders Alexander and Oliver Kent-Braham. Photo: Marshmallow


Marshmallow was founded in 2017 by identical twins Oliver and Alexander Kent-Braham, and David Goate. The firm is an ‘insurtech’ startup in the U.K. building a product for immigrants/expats who are poorly served by the car insurance market, according to TechCrunch.

The firm reached unicorn status recently after it reached the $1bn threshold after its latest Series B funding round, making it the second UK unicorn with founders of Black heritage.

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Flutterwave was founded in 2016 as a Google incubator project. Less than a decade on., it is a $1 billion financial tech company. Photo Credit: Flutterwave


Flutterwave was not the first of its kind in Africa when it was started in 2016 by Nigerian technologists and former bankers. But perhaps, the point of its success can be attributed to the fact it was a financial tech platform that had a lot of input from those in finance.

Often, the process of technological innovation can seem like a developer’s license to play to the gallery. The app or whatever is developed could therefore lose its ergonomic utility. Flutterwave turned out differently and by 2018, it was a market leader in sub-Saharan Africa.

A digital payment app known for being seamless and secure, Flutterwave continues to be the choice for small to medium-scale enterprises (SMEs).

Founder and CEO, Olugbenga Agboola said via social media that the plan was always to “build a payments technology infrastructure that connects Africa to the global economy by making local and international payments seamless.”

Flutterwave’s website says the app is available in 11 countries, however, it will soon be 20. This is thanks to a Series C funding that was announced recently to much funfair in Nigeria and across Africa.

The $170 million secured in the third round of funding means that the fintech start-up is now a unicorn – a startup worth over $1 billion. This is the first time an indigenous African fintech is valued at that amount.

Meet six Black-led startups that have achieved unicorn status
Co-founders of Chipper Cash. Photo Credit: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash offers a cross-border, peer-to-peer payments service in African countries such as Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

The firm has over 3 million users on its platform and processes an average of 80,000 transactions daily, according to Techcrunch. It raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Ribbit Capital, a U.S based VC firm that invests in early-stage startups in 2020.

Chipper Cash was founded two years ago in San Francisco by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled. The two met while studying at Grinnell College. After college, they had stints in big tech firms: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

Co-founder Serunjogi believes having the backing of Jeff Bezos has incredible benefits beyond the venture. “It’s a big deal when a world-class investor like Bezos or Ribbit goes out of their sweet spot to a new area where they previously haven’t done investments,” he said, according to TechCrunch.

According to TechCrunch, Chipper Cash is valued slightly above $2 billion.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 29, 2022


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