Jetstream, Ghana’s leading e-logistics startup, is placing its bets on the growth of its export loan business. In addition to its core freight forwarding services, the four-year-old company aims to become a comprehensive solution, providing elusive export loans to small-scale exporters facing financial constraints when fulfilling international orders. Jetstream Africa envisions accelerating its growth, making it more appealing to investors as it gears up for its series A funding.
Miishe Addy, the co-founder and CEO of Jetstream Africa, initially set out to assist small exporters and importers in Ghana with shipping cargo globally when the company began operations in 2019. However, the realities of building a logistics business in Africa became apparent to Addy and co-founder Solomon Torgbor, who had previously led a team in the customs unit of the global shipping liner Maersk. Recognising the need to evolve, they found that becoming the financial partner for their customers was crucial.
Jetstream Africa responded by offering cash advances ranging from $17,000 to $100,000 in asset-backed loans to support small exporters in fulfilling international orders amid the increasing demand for quality African products.
Initially, Jetstream aimed to reduce shipping costs by consolidating cargo, assuming that this would benefit SMEs in Ghana. However, despite customer retention, the company faced stagnant growth. Addy explained that the key issue was the lack of liquidity for customers to buy and sell goods, rendering the freight discount irrelevant.
A unique challenge for African exporters is the need to take significant risks due to unfavourable payment terms. Unlike other regions, African exporters often don’t receive payment until the goods reach the buyer, leading to a trust-based system across great distances.
The existing gap in trade financing in Africa, where banks are hesitant to lend to SMEs with fewer assets, further complicates the situation. According to estimates, the trade finance gap in Africa was $81.8 billion in 2019 and may have since risen to $120 billion annually.
Jetstream’s innovative approach involves integrating multiple layers of the export/import process under one umbrella. By acquiring licenses for customs handling and coordination with shipping carriers, the company aims to streamline the clearing and forwarding process. While these services contribute a modest portion to Jetstream’s revenue, they boast high gross margins, reaching up to 90%.
The company’s expansion into financing introduces an element of risk, but being a freight forwarder and customs agent in multiple countries allows Jetstream Africa to hedge its risks effectively. Jetstream’s financing model involves lending up to 30% of the required amount and holding 100% of the inventory in leased warehouses, along with control over export documents.
Jetstream Africa, which initiated a $1 million trade finance program in mid-2021 after securing $3 million in seed funding, has seen substantial growth. The program has now reached $9 million. With an additional $13 million in pre-series A funding disclosed in January 2023, Jetstream Africa aims to secure its first growth-stage financing in 2024. The company’s overarching goal remains steadfast: facilitating international trade for small businesses while assuming greater responsibilities to build a venture-scale business.