ANKA: Connecting African artisans to the global market
By Sabra Ayres
An African start-up that created an online marketplace for mostly women-led small businesses and artisans to sell worldwide recently raised $6.1 million for expansion, thanks to an initial $1.5 million investment from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s West Africa Trade & Investment Hub (Trade Hub) aimed at leveraging outside funding.
ANKA is an online marketplace platform working with 2,000 African micro-, small- and medium enterprises. Sellers use the digital export platform to sell their apparel, jewelry, decorative arts and designer fabrics to customers around the world.
Nearly 80 percent of the sellers on ANKA are women engaged in apparel and accessories making, many of them from small workshops or working in their homes. Historically, selling on Afrikrea, ANKA’s original name, raised businesses’ income by 50 percent year-over-year, according to Charles Polet, a Public-Private Partnership Manager at the Trade Hub.
The $6.1 million in new investment supports a potential job creation of 27,000 based on ANKA’s goal to onboard 3,000 new merchants to its platform within the next three years. More than 50 percent will be women.
The Trade Hub manages a pipeline of more than $1.2 billion in transactions and has engaged with more than 700 private companies, as well as business associations, development finance institutions and government agencies. It is actively working in 14 countries across 23 value chains.
During its first two and a half years, the project awarded $70 million in grants to 75 public and private sector co-investment partners, including CrossBoundary and Cordaid Investment Management. Collectively, these co-investments are expected to generate $560 million in private investment, create 59,000 sustainable jobs and facilitate more than $456 million in exports in agriculture, manufactured goods, energy and services by the end of the program. The private investment generated is so significant that it represents eight times the value of the Trade Hub funds.
CrossBoundary entered a $1.5 million co-investment partnership with the Trade Hub in February 2021. Under the pay-for-results partnership, CrossBoundary identifies potential investments, such as it did with Afrikrea in 2021. The firm then leverages its USAID-backed $1.5 million investment to encourage outside investors to help finance the potential in other African small and medium enterprises. While the Trade Hub put up the initial $1.5 million, CrossBoundary is committed to raising an additional $14 million in outside investments for at least five small- and medium-sized enterprises.
As of November, CrossBoundary is facilitating $50 million of private capital for 12 small and medium enterprises in agricultural processing, light manufacturing and commerce within eight West African countries, including Cameroon, Liberia, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria and Mali. The investments will promote regional trade, U.S. exports, the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, women’s entrepreneurship, and market-driven supply chains in post-conflict and near-conflict areas.
ANKA’s focus on women-led businesses caught the attention of CrossBoundary, an investment firm that seeks to raise capital for small- and medium enterprises typically underserved by the financing products available, for example, women-led agriculture or handicraft businesses in West Africa. Such enterprises often face prohibitive transaction costs associated with raising funds for expansion and growth.
Originally conceived as Afrikrea, ANKA’s online market lets small artisans and sellers tap into the global market to increase opportunities and profit, and get paid faster, all on one platform.
“At ANKA, our mission is to ‘Bridge Africa and The World,’” said Janis Kouassi, who has been with ANKA since its start in 2019, in a recent blog post. “As an Ivorian woman, that speaks volume to me. Being a part of something that has never been done before, i.e., export Africans’ know-how rather than sell things to Africans, was extremely attractive to me. Being in alignment with your company’s mission and values is key to one’s personal and professional growth.”
ANKA is a U.S. registered company with key operations in Côte d’Ivoire. It’s original name, Afrikrea, is derived from a French play on words, merging “Africa” with the French would for design, “creation.”
The substantial investments will allow ANKA to expand its reach to bring on 3,000 new, small- and medium-sized enterprises in Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria.
“For many of our sellers, ANKA allows them to reach markets that were out of reach just selling on their own,” said Ilan Mouyal, the head of acquisitions at ANKA. “This expansion will mean more artisans, particularly women, can share in that success.”
In addition, supporting ANKA in turn promotes regional trade under Africa Continental Frea Trade Area, or AfCFTA, Polet says, referring to a free-trade area brokered in 2018 to include 54 of the 55 African Union nations. The AfCFTA is the largest free-trade market in the world by member states after the World Trade Organization. The creation of the free-trade region aims to deepen the economic integration of the African continent.
“It’s not easy to fund African start-ups, especially those that help and target microbusinesses,” Polet says. “This is a success story because it builds on promoting U.S. investments and U.S. trade, while at the same time promotes income for micro-ateliers in Africa.”