BD Insider 192: The second coming of 54gene's ex-CEO

Abasi Ene-Obong, ex-CEO of 54gene has launched another genomics startup. We also brought you news about Starlink in Zim.

54gene's ex-CEO launched Syndicate Bio
Abasi Ene-Obong (M) co-founded Syndicate Bio alongside; Jumi Popoola (L) and Estelle Dogbo (R)

A year after its African debut in three markets—South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, EBANX, a global technology company specialising in payments for "rising markets", has expanded into eight more African countries; Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

With this expansion, EBANX consolidates its coverage in the African continent, extending its footprint to 11 countries, including Northern, Western, East, and Southern Africa.

"The significant mobile phone penetration, low cost of mobile data, and an acceleration of digital services are also positioning countries like Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia among the 'next digital frontiers of Africa', to name just a few, that are expected to become the next growth hubs for digital companies," said Andre Allain, VP of Partnerships and Market Development at EBANX.

Away from EBANX, today's brief explores:

  • Abasi Ene-Obong's second attempt at founding a genomics startup
  • the latest about Starlink in Zimbabwe

We also shared a round-up of some important stories, as well as opportunities for African founders, developers, and Bolt drivers.

📰 The Midweek Brief

#1. Former 54gene CEO Abasi Ene-Obong launches new genomics startup

The news: Abasi Ene-Obong, the former co-founder and CEO of 54gene, an African genomics startup, has announced the launch of his new venture, Syndicate Bio, a genomics company aimed at advancing global genomics science.

The company's mission is to drive genomics and precision medicine initiatives, with a particular focus on the world's most diverse regions, beginning with Africa.

Abasi Ene-Obong's LinkedIn page shows that Syndicate Bio has been in stealth since March 2023, he also co-founded the startup alongside; Jumi Popoola, who is the chief scientific officer, and Estelle Dogbo, the chief operating officer.

Why it matters: Syndicate Bio's launch represents a continuation of Ene-Obong's mission to drive inclusive progress in genomics, particularly for Africans who have been historically underrepresented. Less than 3% of genetic material used in pharmaceutical research is of African origin, highlighting the importance of initiatives like Syndicate Bio.

By collaborating with governments, pharmaceutical companies, academia, and other stakeholders, the company aims to foster local precision medicine impact while generating valuable datasets for drug discovery and development.

Zoom in: However, the conditions under which Ene-Obong left his first company 54gene already cloud the prospects of Syndicate Bio. His departure from 54gene in October 2022, followed a challenging period for the startup. The company faced a significant valuation reduction and had to lay off a portion of its workforce. The exact reason for his resignation remains undisclosed, but it followed claims of financial mismanagement amid a challenging economic downturn which required the company to raise more funds. 

Ene-Obong was replaced by Ron Chiarello as CEO following a short stint by the company's legal counsel, Teresia Boost as interim CEO. Chiarello was charged with raising more funding to keep the company running, but he couldn't, and 54gene folded up in July this year.

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The news: The Zimbabwean government has changed its stance toward Starlink, confirming that it is actively reviewing the satellite internet provider's application for an operating licence.

This shift comes after initial warnings about the unlicensed use of Starlink in the country. Jenfan Muswere, Zimbabwe's Minister of Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services, disclosed that the application is currently under scrutiny by the Postal & Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

Why it matters: This news comes in the wake of a warning issued by POTRAZ against unlicensed Starlink usage in the country, coinciding with reports of rampant reselling of Starlink services. Mozambique, Zimbabwe's neighbour where Starlink is already live, had made it simpler for Zimbabweans to obtain Starlink kits.

By registering the kits in Mozambique, Zimbabwean users bypassed roaming and licensing limitations, a development that did not go down well with the Zimbabwean government.

However, Zimbabwe's change in approach towards Starlink highlights the pressing need for improved internet connectivity in the country, especially in rural areas. Traditional fibre-optic cables that power Zimbabwe's internet have limitations, and satellite technology, as represented by Starlink, offers a viable solution to connect every citizen, bridging the digital divide. As Zimbabwe plans to boost internet penetration from 25% to 75% by 2025, Starlink's application review is seen as a positive step towards achieving that goal.

The company plans to launch its services in the country in Q4 2023, with a revised estimate of Q2 2024 following a pre-order surge.

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🔍 What else happened?

💼 Opportunities

  • NCC hackathon for Nigerian startups: Startups working on solutions in blockchain-enabled data protection, renewable energy, and assistive technologies for the elderly and disabled can apply for a chance to win a ₦10 million grant.
  • For African developers: Whether you're already familiar with ARM or looking to get started, the ARM Developer program will help you better software and provide a community of experts and developers to learn new skills. Apply here.
  • Accelerator program for Bolt drivers: Bolt drivers with viable and relevant business ideas within the tech-mobility sector, with a focus on sustainability and enhancing mobility solutions in Nigeria can apply for the program

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