Kenya-based educational entertainment startup Kukua nabs $6M – TechCrunch
Kukua, a Nairobi- and London-based educational entertainment company and the creators of “Super Sema,” the first African animated superhero franchise, has raised $6 million in its latest round of investment.
Tencent, which made its first African edtech bet in Nigeria’s uLesson last December, co-led this Series A round with Italy-based VC Alchimia. Other investors include EchoVC, firstminute Capital and Auxxo Female Catalyst.
Kukua says the investment will support its goal to continue building an IP-centric kids’ “edutainment” universe with new Super Sema original content, licensing, merchandise and publishing offerings.
Lucrezia Bisignani founded Kukua in 2018, but it wasn’t until three years later that the team put out the first version of Super Sema. The idea to create an animated superhero franchise for kids, especially those in Africa, was because there was a lack of such shows, co-founder and CEO Bisignani told TechCrunch on a call.
“When I started this, we saw there were no African characters, and very few that were just Black,” she said. So, we thought this was a much-needed space, not only for kids in Africa but globally. It’s for kids to feel represented and to grow up with cartoons that are not only white but also to understand different cultures and themes.”
Though white and raised in Italy, Bisignani travelled widely in Africa when she was young. She visited most countries on the continent with her parents and cultivated a “global mindset and appreciation for everything” that was different from her and her upbringing.
Despite her background and demand for such content, securing funding for Kukua’s first project wasn’t easy as investors were unconvinced of its global appeal. Until “Black Panther.” The movie was released to commercial and critical acclaim in 2018, and its success helped similar projects like Kukua secure investments. The company raised $2.5 million seed from Africa-focused venture capital firm EchoVC and other investors that year.
“We’ve always seen our target audience as global. We wanted this to be a mega success in Africa and the rest of the world. So similarly to ‘Black Panther,’ which attracted the most diverse audience ever for being an all-African story and cast, our mission is really on both fronts,” the CEO said. “We want to showcase the beauty and a different narrative coming from Africa to the rest of the world. And of course, for all the kids here in the continent to see themselves represented.”
Super Sema is the story of a 10-year-old African girl — a superhero — with the powers of creativity, determination and team skills. She uses science, tech, engineering, arts and math to create inventions from her secret lab to fight this evil robot villain — her town’s ruler — and his minions.
Bisignani said the show was made to “empower” a generation of kids to have positive female African role models and “inspire” them with team skills by making a fun, exciting series that creates an avenue for STEAM learning.
YouTube picked up Super Sema’s first season, acquired its distribution rights and launched the series on its YouTube Originals channel in March 2021. It was a constant hit. Since its launch, Super Sema’s YouTube Channel has attracted more than 40 million views. The show — executive produced by Lupita Nyong’o — received an NAACP Image Awards nomination for Outstanding Animated Series this January. The Oscar-winning actress is also a shareholder in the company. Other members of the Super Sema team include COO Vanessa Ford, CFO Giovanni Bisignani and four-times BAFTA winner Claudia Lloyd (producer and creative director).
The show’s second season was greenlit by YouTube Originals and has premiered this month. Super Sema’s target audience is between the ages of 4 to 8, and being on YouTube Originals, 60% of its audience comes from the U.S. The U.K. and Kenya round up the top three countries where Super Sema is most watched. In addition to being on YouTube Originals, Super Sema also airs on major linear TV networks in Africa, like Citizen TV in Kenya and SABC in South Africa. Bisignani said the company is getting more rights to air the show on more TV stations across the continent.
According to Bisignani, Kukua has some methods to make the show more interactive in its pipeline. Immediate plans include launching a U.S. toy line in the fall with toy company Just Play and “Let’s Technovate with Super Sema,” a companion vlog series with real science and DIY experiments children can do at home scheduled to premiere in 2022. Kukua also plans to expand Super Sema’s North American Publishing and Licensing program with the signing of Penguin Random House, Bendon and Bentex, category leaders in publishing and apparel.
However, an upcoming version might see Kukua take Super Sema to the metaverse. “One of the goals is to have kids enter Super Sema story world and do that in a Roblox experience, somewhere they can just go from online to offline and continuously play and learn with their favourite characters in this very engaging story world,” Bisignani said. “We want to be the Disney of learning and leverage all the latest media and technologies to create engaging experiences for our users.”
To this effect, the company appointed Matthew Ball — a venture partner at Makers Fund, the world’s largest gaming venture fund by AUM — to its board. The company said Ball’s support will be critical as it expands its Super Sema IP and story world into interactive and immersive educational experiences for kids.
Speaking on the investment, Paolo Barletta, partner at Alchimia, said, “Kukua is one of those companies in the world that everyone wants to see succeed. We have been part of their growth journey from the first day and are thrilled to continue to support their world-class team, inspired by the positive impact we can have on an entire generation of kids.”