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  • Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya

Rising African FinTech Startup Lupiya Aims To Expand Services Into Rest of Africa

PIC CAPTION: Muchu Kaingu, Lupiya co-founder and CTO and Evelyn Kaingu, Lupiya co-founder and CEO emerged as the Overall Winner of the GITEX Africa Supernova Challenge at the GITEX Africa 2024 event in Morocco.

Image: Supplied / Lupiya

Lupiya, an African-bred, female-led Zambian based microfinance startup emerged as the winner of the GITEX Africa Supernova Challenge at the recent GITEX Africa 2024 event in Morocco. GITEX Africa is Africa’s largest technology and digital economy trade show, attracting over 30,000 visitors. In the wake of this exciting win that is rippling through Africa’s tech, innovation and investment ecosystem, AfricArena’s Jabulile Sonya Ngwenya caught up with Lupiya co-founder and CEO Evelyn Kaingu to congratulate her and her co-founder and CTO, Muchu Kaingu and find out how this win will shape Lupiya’s upward trajectory going forward. 

“I still have to pinch myself!” Evelyn says, smiling broadly. “Winning the overall GITEX Africa Supernova Challenge has been an absolute adrenaline rush! This win further validates the hard work our whole Lupiya team has poured in over the years. But more than that, it gives us the visibility and credibility to truly drive our mission forward at full speed across Africa. The interest and opportunities from GITEX have been overwhelming in the best way. We're buzzing with ideas to expand access to financial services for the underserved.” 

"Most importantly,” Evelyn says, “I hope our story inspires other Zambian innovators to dream big. If we could impress global investors, there's no limit to what our people can achieve. Get ready Africa, because an era of brilliant African innovators is inevitable!”

Winning the overall winner title at the GITEX Africa Supernova Challenge meant Lupiya received a $50,000 prize, which Evelyn says will make a difference to their startup operations. “For a startup focused on financial inclusion, every dollar counts towards our mission of reaching more underserved communities. This influx of funding will turbocharge our efforts to fine tune our products, services and reach.”

Her co-founder, Muchu beams proudly as Evelyn chats about their vision to make borrowing simpler and more accessible to Africa’s underfunded and underrepresented micro entrepreneurs, specifically women. 

“You know, when we first started Lupiya back in 2016, we had a simple but ambitious goal - solve the decades-old problem of financial exclusion. Easy, right?” Evelyn laughs. Her laughter is contagious, particularly as every startup knows the age old adage, ‘easier said than done’. 

Launching into a new sector, Evelyn says, especially as a startup, “isn’t for the faint of heart.” Sharing the challenges they experienced in the early days, she says, “one of the first hurdles we faced was, building trust in a new sector: Fintech, especially, was a relatively new concept in Zambia. Educating our target audience about the security and benefits of Lupiya's platform took time and strategic communication.” 

And don’t forget the team, she emphasises. “A product is nothing without the right team and finding the right talent who understands both finance and technology, while also being passionate about financial inclusion, was a challenge. We focused on building a strong company culture that attracts top talent who share our vision and so far, so good. Ultimately,

we overcame all obstacles, challenges and hurdles through sheer determination, a strong team spirit, and a willingness to adapt. We actively seek feedback from our team, users and are constantly iterating.”

On any given day, Evelyn can be found busy with strategic planning, engaging with her team and focusing on how to stay ahead of the curve in the ever evolving world of fintech. Even if her days are a whirlwind, Evelyn points out that “there is a common thread in each day – it's all about facing forward while staying present.” 

Evelyn shares that wise words a mentor shared with her, that “it’s better to pursue the meaningful, not the expedient.” This, she says, keeps her and Muchu focused on their mission and it is a daily reminder to conduct their business with integrity as in the end, integrity, together with treating people well pays rich dividends in the long run. 

“The recurring theme of our journey has been an unwavering commitment, and it's something that has steered us at every turn,” Evelyn shares. “From the very beginning, we were committed to truly understanding the grassroots realities of the unbanked and underserved communities we wanted to empower. That meant committing to having lengthy community meetings, walking side-by-side with them and creating products that will help them.” Pausing to reflect on Lupiya’s journey thus far, Evelyn says, “that commitment extends far beyond just the products - it’s in how our team approaches work. It's a wilful determination to find and evolve solutions that can drive economic empowerment and inclusion where it's needed most.”

Aptly named after the Bemba word for money, Lupiya is making inroads in transforming people’s lives across the African continent. But Lupiya’s beginnings were not a bed of roses. Evelyn tells AfricArena that she and Muchu, who has been her partner in building Lupiya from day one started the company with just $500 and a vision. “The inspiration behind Lupiya really stemmed from the lived experiences growing up in Zambia and witnessing firsthand how lack of access to basic financial services held so many people back from reaching their full economic potential,” she says. 

In some parts of the world, $500 may not be a lot, but in Zambia, in the hands of a woman determined to rise, it became gold. “In those first years, we literally bootstrapped Lupiya with our personal savings and the supportive investments from a few friends and family members who shared our belief that affordable digital finance could be transformative. From that we built the core products and achieved initial traction.” Muchu adds, this experience of building a startup with limited funds “forced us to be incredibly scrappy and resourceful from the outset.” He notes that while they launched Lupiya a few years before the covid pandemic gripped the world’s financial belt, since they were operating in a post-2008 financial climate, “Lupiya still had to contend with the adversity that was presented that time. A lot of lessons were learned.”

These lessons came in handy when the funding winter hit Africa’s investment landscape. “The funding winter tested our resilience, but it also taught us to be creative,” Muchu shares. “Some of the things we did to flourish were that we became laser-focused on making our operations more efficient and ensuring a strong return on investment for every kwacha spent; we actively explored grants and competitions designed to support innovative startups in Africa and we built and sought partnerships to allowed us to leverage their resources and reach a wider audience and untapped markets.” 

An AfricArise alumni, Lupiya first made its debut at AfricArena during the AfricArena Southern Africa Summit in 2021 where they won the AfricArena Best Series A Startup Award, five years after they launched. Winning this award, Evelyn tells AfricArena, “has significantly boosted our startup's growth. The recognition enhanced our credibility and visibility, attracting interest from investors, partners, and customers.” She adds that this win “opened doors to new funding opportunities and provided valuable networking connections with industry leaders and potential collaborators. The award validated our business model, affirmed our strategic direction, and boosted team morale, encouraging continued innovation. Overall, it has been transformative, driving us to achieve new milestones and elevate our startup to new heights.”

Lupiya’s recent GITEX Africa Supernova Challenge win is a testament to the impact AfricArena has on raising Africa’s tech superstars out of obscurity into the global mainstream where investors can appraise them for investment potential.

Not every founder is blessed with the right co-founder from the start, but Evelyn and Muchu have been a formidable team from the beginning. Two, it is said, is better than one. “Muchu has been my partner in this journey from day one,” Evelyn says. “His technological vision and expertise perfectly complemented my understanding of the socio-economic realities we wanted to tackle. We're a real yin-and-yang team who recognized that driving true financial inclusion would require a potent blend of deep contextual insights and innovative fintech solutions. Having a steadfast co-founder made taking that initial entrepreneurial leap feel like less of a solo plunge into the unknown.”  

What made the long nights, and hard work of pioneering into new territory and breaking new ground was the defining moment when Lupiya’s co-founders realised there was truly a need for their product within the market, especially as they started to see people’s lives change for the better.

“We are driven by the belief that financial empowerment is a sure gateway to achieving one's fullest potential,” says Evelyn. “The turning point for us was an accumulative experience of seeing just how many people's lives were constrained by lack of access to capital from the widow juggling multiple side hustles to feed her kids, to the taxi driver unable to grow his business - these were hardworking, aspirational people needlessly trapped. That human dimension of financial exclusion, of spotting so much untapped economic potential, really solidified that Zambia and the continent needed trailblazing fintech solutions designed ground-up for the underserved. It became our rallying cry and commitment to shake up the status quo.” 

The largest amount of funds Lupiya has raised to date was a $8.25 million Series A investment led by Alitheia IDF Fund with support from INOKS Capital, Mastercard and the German Investment Bank KfW DEG. “This investment was used to better serve our customers and provided us with an opportunity to provide holistic financial solutions,” Evelyn shares.  

For the year 2024, says Evelyn, “we are raising a series A extension of $10 million for loan book growth to support us with getting to a $50 million+ valuation for our series B round next year.”

“Building a fintech startup is hard work,” Evelyn says. “Our advice to anyone who wants to build a fintech startup may sound very cliché but stay focused on your impact, never lose sight or compromise on the positive social impact you are striving to achieve.” 

Looking toward the future, she declares, “Lupiya's future is bright! We are expanding our product offerings to provide a wider range of financial services, payments and enhanced mobility through a mobile app. We also have ambitious plans to scale our operations across the region.” 

There is no stopping this female-led fintech startup determined to attain an even greater impact within Africa’s fast growing fintech market that is expected to reach $65 billion in value by 2030 and enable the unbanked and underrepresented to access financial resources that will empower them to become financially independent and achieve their dreams. 

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