US Asset Manager Backs Nigerian Online Travel Platform Founded By Former NBA Player With $40M Investment
The Lagos-based online travel company secured a $40-million equity investment from the U.S. asset manager’s sub-Saharan African fund, according to IOL.
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Wakanow is an online travel company that delivers travel services related to flights, accommodation, visa assistance, vacation packages, and airport transportation, with a focus on the West and East African markets.
The company also runs a network of traditional brick-and-mortar travel centers where bookings can be made directly with agents.
The Carlyle Group is a Washington D.C.-based global alternative asset manager with $212 billion of assets under management across 339 investment vehicles.
This new investment adds to Carlyle’s online travel portfolio, where it has invested in companies such as Chinese online travel agency C-trip, Latin American travel and tour operator CVC Brasil and Vasco Turismo, one of the largest travel operations groups in Peru, according to TechcityNG.
Wakanow was launched in 2008 by former NBA basketball player Obinna Ekezie, and he continues to lead the company as CEO.
Nigerian-born Ekezie played as a center for five NBA teams from 1999 to 2005, representing the Vancouver Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks, according to BasketballReferences.
He founded Wakanow after he became frustrated with the lack of online booking options available to book travel between his native Nigeria and other parts of the world, BusinessCollective reports.
Since then, the company has gone on to launch operations in Ghana, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and the U.K..
The $40 million investment makes this one of the biggest funding deals of the year for African tech, and the largest for Nigeria, with only South African fintech platform Jumo‘s $64.5 million and Kenyan digital payments solution firm Cellulant‘s $47.5 million funding rounds topping Wakanow’s investment.
Online travel market in Nigeria
Wakanow’s success in raising funding speaks volumes about its progress, but also of the maturity of the Nigerian online travel market.
The year 2018 saw successful funding rounds for some Nigerian tech firms, with a specific focus on the fintech sector.
The fintech firm, which uses blockchain to cut the cost of and increase access to digital payments in Africa, made a utility token available that was designed on the Stellar Network.
The startup aims to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses with small loans through their platform, which relies on innovative credit scoring algorithms.
The funding round was led by Omidyar Network, the Silicon Valley impact investment firm established by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay.
September then saw two more Nigerian fintech firms raise capital, with Paystack, a fintech startup providing payments tools to businesses across Africa, successfully raising $8 million in Series A funding, and Nigerian mobile payments company Paga, raising $10 million in Series B funding.
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