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Naspers shuts down Foundry, its $100M fund focused on South African startups

Naspers, Africa’s most valuable tech company by market capitalization, has wound down the operations of its R1.4 billion (≈$100 million) South Africa-focused venture capital fund Naspers Foundry, according to local news outlet BusinessDay.

According to the report, the firm, which is taking this approach as venture capital takes a hit globally, will maintain the investments, including writing follow-on checks, in its nine portfolio companies such as Planet42, SweepSouth, Naked, Aerobotics and WhereIsMyTransport. Naspers is aligning its efforts with the approach it adopts internationally via Prosus Ventures -- which now carries the mandate of maintaining Naspers’ local investments -- and will no longer have a dedicated team focused on South African startups, the report said.

“The global investment environment, as well as the local SA one, has changed, and we have made clear the need for our business to adapt. In line with changes across the wider business, we have reviewed our early-stage investment strategy within SA to bring it in line with our international approach,” a Naspers spokesperson said. “Naspers will continue to support the development of SA’s early-stage tech sector, assessing the market and new opportunities in a way that is consistent with our other global markets.”

Naspers Foundry launched in 2019 to back South African startups in Series A and B stages that aligned with the internet businesses on which Naspers focuses — such as food, payments or classifieds — and any other digital venture that addresses a societal need. For its VC allocation, Naspers Foundry told TechCrunch at the time that it would invest over three years; while this timeline has elapsed, the VC firm had only deployed half its fund size before calling it quits.

While it’s easy to blame the global downturn for Naspers Foundry’s shutdown, the firm faced other home-grown challenges, such as its relationship with South Africa’s Competition Commission.

Image Credits: Preamble Africa

Last July, the commission released a report revealing some institutions that excluded historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs), including people of color and women, from the country’s internet economy. Naspers Foundry was one such company; of the R700 million disbursed funds to 23 founders, only 13% were people of color, and 8% were women, further highlighting the diversity problems facing South Africa’s startup and VC landscape. In 2019, the commission also infamously blocked Naspers’ bid to buy 60% of WeBuyCars. According to local investors, the commission maintained this aggression over the years and prevented Naspers Foundry from making specific deals for fear of being too dominant. They have expressed displeasure with the outcome; however, some believe stabilizing solutions are being put in place to fill in the void left by the venture capital firm, which has been a source of growth and development for South African startups.