Jia, a blockchain-based lender of small businesses in emerging markets, raises $4.3 million seed

Jia, a blockchain-based fintech providing loans to micro and small businesses in emerging markets, has raised $4.3 million seed funding, and an additional $1 million commitment for on-chain liquidity, in a round led by early-stage backer TCG Crypto, with participation from a number of funds including BlockTower, Hashed Emergent, Saison Capital, and Global Coin Research.

Angel investors Packy McCormick, the Not Boring founder; Anand Iyer of Canonical Crypto, and Jared Hecht and Rory Eakin, the founders of fintech lending companies Fundera and CircleUp, also took part in the round.

The fintech plans to use the funding to double down on its operations in Kenya, and the Philippines, before exploring new markets in West Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Jia was founded last year by Zach Marks, Cheng Cheng, Ivan Orone, and Yuting Wang, all ex-Tala executives. The startup offers loans to borrowers, who receive tokens after repayment, that they can later redeem at a rate agreed upon based on Jia’s profits.

“The idea is to provide affordable financing for micro-businesses, and when they repay, they become owners by getting token rewards,” said Marks, Jia CEO and co-founder, adding that each token has a claim to a stream of revenues from Jia’s lending protocol.

The fintech currently packages the tokens as Jia points, which Marks says are claimable once the token-system is fully established. Meanwhile, borrowers can use them as security for lower interest rates, higher loan amounts, and more flexible loan terms.

Jia is trying to replicate the model of community finance (table-banking) groups, which are popular in markets like Kenya, where members, who are borrowers too, hold shares and earn from the groups.

The fintech has launched its first on-chain pool with Huma Finance, an income-backed decentralized finance protocol.

Jia provides loans of up to $5,000 to small businesses filling the gap currently left by digital lenders and loan apps that don’t offer credit of more than $1,000. Marks says this “makes it really difficult to really serve a proper business use case because if you want to grow, you need more money and for longer durations.”

Jia’s loan repayment period is based on the borrower, and can extend up to six months, and attract about 2% to 6% interest per month, depending on the borrower’s profile. Borrowers accessing inventory and invoice financing have up to three months to repay.

“The loans range in size from $200 up to $5,000 …they are really competitively priced. We charge about a third the interest rate of the typical consumer fintech lender,” said Marks.

Jia taps customers by integrating into the apps of its local partners, including Ilara Health, which supplies medical inventory to a network of over 2,000 small clinics.

“Ilara’s focus is on helping clinics grow by selling medicine, low-cost diagnostic devices. They don’t want to deal with credit risk on their balance sheet, so we step in to finance an inventory financing program for them. We get access to proprietary data on these clinics, which helps us underwrite in a way that banks and other lenders can’t,” said Marks.

Jia is among the fintech companies working to bridge the access-to-finance gap which impedes the growth of businesses in markets like Africa. Data shows that while small enterprises make up 90% of Africa’s businesses, they face a $330 billion financing deficit. These businesses are required to have collateral, and meet a number of other time-consuming requirements before accessing loans from traditional lenders. Fintechs such as Jia are stepping in to bridge this finance gap.

“What is really exciting in what we’re doing is opening up the world’s capital to MSMEs, so they can receive affordable financing,” said Marks. “Jia is not just providing financing, we are providing a path to economic resilience and this opportunity to build wealth in a new way that hasn’t been done before.”