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The Hype and Hustle of African Tech Startups

Maja Andjelkovic's picture



This article was originally published in
SXSWorld Magazine
 
Hardly a day goes by without an African tech startup being featured in the mainstream media. CNN regularly updates its special report on the topic; The Guardian covers local debates surrounding emerging ecosystems; The Financial Times tracks Africa’s mobile revolution; Forbes has extended its “Top 10” series to include African female tech founders; Vanity Fair pins its hopes of “continental lift” on entrepreneurs. Blogs, opinion pieces and social media cover the sector in even more granular detail. Judging by VC4Africa’s 2015 report on venture finance, perspectives on African incubation and funding models, and the entrepreneurship program announced by Nigeria’s investor and philanthropist Toni Elumelu, it would seem that the African tech sector is among today's most dynamic industries.

Amid the buzz, many investors are asking: “Is the hype warranted?”

According to VC4Africa, an online community of very-early-stage startups and investors, investments through the platform more than doubled in 2014, rising from $12 million to $26.9 million, while the average investment grew from $130,000 to more than $200,000. Their research shows that 49 percent of ventures start generating revenue in their first year and that 44 percent are successful in securing external investment. More than 75 percent of these are in the technology sector, with agriculture, health, finance and energy startups also represented.

Further along the growth path, a smaller number of startups have recently netted over $300 million from a very diverse set of investors, according to CBInsights. 



Recent Investments in African Tech Startups
Adapted from: https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/african-tech-startups
 
At least eight companies have acquired growth capital in Kenya in 2014, along others in Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa and elsewhere

New early-stage funds and angel networks in or focused on Africa are also on the rise. Among others, three models stand out: London-based NewGenAngels a collaboration between African and European networks (GAIN, EBAN and AAN); Kenya’s Savannah Fund, a partnership between Erik Hersman (iHub, Ushahidi and BRCK founder), i/o Ventures, 500startups and Draper Associates L.P.; and RENEW, linking American and African investors and startups.
 
Many early stage investors are still learning from their own experiences and adjusting their strategies accordingly. For instance, while most are bullish on Kenya’s tech scene, 88mph, an African seed fund has put further investments in Kenya on hold, while pursuing opportunities in Nigeria’s booming tech sector.
 
African entrepreneurship ecosystems have also benefited from a large number of technology incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces, connected through networks such as AfriLabs and backed by private sources, such as MEST in Ghana, and public-interest projects, such as infoDev’s mLabs and mHubs.
 
According to VC4Africa, the increase of capital is driven by three key trends: growing interest in startups from the African diaspora, the rise of local angel investors, and an increase in cross-border investments.
 
All of these instigate a positive change beyond investment returns; they set in motion a chain of opportunities in emerging and frontier economies. As Stella Kariuki, founder of Zege Technologies, once told me: “I want to be the change I want to see. [. . .] We build solutions that could be global but also solve African challenges practically.” Many of the startups serve consumers at the Base of the Pyramid -- the three billion people globally who live on less than US$2.50 per day, a market that is still largely underserved when it comes to basic services such as energy, education, health and banking.
 
It seems clear that investors and startups in Africa are getting to know each other better and are making more and better matches possible. This is an important step in reducing "the missing middle”: the absence of financing beyond the earliest stages of a company’s growth. As enterprises enter national or regional markets, their capital requirements increase exponentially. Without private and public sources of investment, these requirements stifle all but the independently wealthy entrepreneurs and those with established business networks. A diverse resource base for early-stage firms democratizes the opportunity for growth-oriented entrepreneurs and increases the overall potential of the local creative class.
 
So is now a good time to invest in African technology startups? The answer is yes, as long as investment decisions are made with care, patience, and in partnership with local investment communities.
 
Maja Andjelkovic co-leads the Digital Entrepreneurship Program at infoDev, a global program in the World Bank Group that supports growth-oriented entrepreneurship in emerging and frontier markets in the tech, climate and agribusiness sectors. Maja is interested in the potential of entrepreneurship to contribute to economic, environmental and social development. She has spent over 13 years connecting these fields, including as product manager in a web startup. She is a PhD student at The University of Oxford’s Internet Institute.
 
infoDev / the World Bank Group is organizing two sessions at Startup Village at SXSW Interactive 2015; one on the dilemmas and questions surrounding investing in tech startups in emerging markets, and the other on scaling up and accelerating technology innovation in Africa.
 
Angel investors interested in forming or growing their own local networks can benefit from practical advice and templates in a guide for angel investor groups published by the World Bank’s infoDev program and the Kauffman Foundation.
 
Sean Ding, Angela Bekkers and Jeremy Bauman contributed to the article.

Tumbleweed rolls through West African resorts: Ebola and tourism crisis management

Hermione Nevill's picture



Jean-Marie Gaborit has been operating his beautiful wetland lodge in the Delta de Saloum in Senegal for 12 years, but he says things have never been so quiet. The European winter months are usually the high season for popular West African destinations, with the beaches, hotels and restaurants packed full of sunshine-seeking tourists. "It’s this Ebola" he sighs, and then adds "even though there is none here."
 
It’s the same story in the Gambia, and effects are even felt further afield in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana. The Hotels Association in Tanzania (with over 200 members) says that business is down 30 to 40 percent on the year and advanced bookings, mostly for 2015, are 50 percent lower. In South Africa, some 6000 kilometers from the nearest Ebola outbreak, arrivals are down this period by as much as 30 percent. In some cases, airlines (such as Korean Air) have stopped running – even to non-affected countries like Kenya. Across the board, Share values of international tour operators have fallen, hotels have closed, and thousands of tourism-industry workers have been made redundant. 
 
The Accommodation Manager at the Baobab Hotel in Saly, Senegal admits he has laid off 160 staff in the last few months: "When we are full, we have a ratio of one employee for one room. We have 280 rooms and right now 100 of them are occupied. I have 20 extra staff that I can’t afford, but their contracts mean that I can’t let them go." About 80 percent of those staff members are from the local area, and they directly support seven to 10 dependents. For countries that rely on tourism for a large part of their GDP and foreign-exchange contributions, the loss of revenue is significant. In the Gambia, for example, where tourism accounts for 13 percent to 15 percent of GDP, the target of 7.5 percent economic growth for 2015 will be missed.
 
Misinformation lies at the heart of the problem. Although many foreign governments have declared Senegal and the Gambia to be Ebola-free, spreading this message to tourists has proved incredibly difficult. Noisier news reports of death tolls, medical-staff shortages and NGO-promoted appeals in affected countries have drowned out other voices. Moreover, those reports play to international prejudices. With the overwhelming foreign perception of Africa as one country, the problem has no boundaries.

The World Bank Group will be supporting the Government of Senegal in implementing a communications strategy with an emphasis on briefings for key tour operators and the provision of hard data. Best practice shows that such management is more effective if it is planned ahead, and if it includes the preparation of a task force involving decision-makers from both the private and public sector – including a public-relations team, a recovery marketing team, an information-coordination team and a fundraising team. Moving into crisis recovery, a series of medium-term resilience measures – such as incentives, matching grants, training and sustained promotion – may be appropriate.
 
Social media has played its part in trying to combat misunderstandings, with Twitter and grassroots campaigns pushing material such as this infographic, but there needs to be a much-better-coordinated response.



Crisis communications consultant Jeff Chatterton has been working with a number of African Tour Operators since the outbreak of the virus. He cites hard information and empathy as two of the most important tools to deploy at this stage of the crisis. According to Chatterton, prospective tourists who are hesitating over an African booking need to feel that their concerns are listened to, acknowledged and understood. Once this has been established, they will be more inclined to engage with fact-based information, which needs to be clear, transparent and accurate. He sees two big problems with tourism businesses: a reactive approach that is not reaching out and communicating to key audiences, and a downplaying of the problem that undermines and belittles consumer. "About the worst thing you can do is dismiss their reality as inconsequential," he says.
 
There is a critical role for government to play in crisis management and disaster recovery. Lessons can be learned from the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK in 2001. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) identified the direct costs to tourism as a loss of expenditure of between £2.7 and £3.2 billion. At the national level, the tourism industry's representatives blamed the British Tourist Authority for failing to react sufficiently and effectively, without an appropriate crisis-management strategy in place before the outbreak.

For the World Bank Group and other development partners, a greater emphasis on crisis-management support at the sector level could be an important pro-active means of stepping up our engagement with client countries – before disaster strikes. With the rising threat of terrorism attacks across the world, along with their devastating impact on tourist demand, the most prepared destinations will have a competitive advantage and will be better equipped to limit the damage to the economy and to people’s livelihoods.  

For now, hotels in Senegal have slashed their prices and are concentrating on supplying the small domestic market, but operating at a loss is not sustainable for long. The booking season for 2015 is almost over, with no sign of recovery – meaning that businesses such as Jean-Marie’s face at least another 12 months of empty beds. 

The Genie in a Bottle: How Bottled Biogas Can Contribute to Reducing Kenya’s Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Edward Mungai's picture


Growing up, I always dreaded to enter my grandmother’s kitchen in the village. She used firewood to cook: There was such a dark, thick smoke in the room that I couldn’t breathe or keep my eyes open. I really don’t know how my grandmother could spend hours and hours in there, every day, for so many years. And unfortunately, my grandmother is not an isolated case. More than 90 percent of Kenya’s population uses firewood, charcoal or kerosene for their daily cooking needs.

I always dreamed that clean sources of energy would make Kenyans more independent and less exposed to the serious health risks posed by fossil fuels. In rural areas, most women like my grandmother rely on firewood; its consumption not only depletes our forests but also emits hazardous smoke that causes indoor pollution and eventually respiratory illness. In areas where firewood is scarce, women have to use cow dung as fuel, an option possibly even worse in terms of pollution. Urban areas are affected too: The poor rely mostly on charcoal, another biomass that has the same negative effects and health risks of firewood.
 
Cleaner fuel options have already been developed but are often too expensive or too difficult to transport across the country to be adopted by a large part of the population, especially by the 40 percent of people at the base of the pyramid.

So what can be done? How can we make clean fuels more affordable and accessible?
 
I first heard about bottled biogas when I visited a "green" slaughterhouse in Kiserian, Kenya. I was really impressed: My dream of a cleaner, more affordable and easily accessible fuel was right there before my eyes.

The Keekonyoike Slaughterhouse found an innovative way to produce affordable biogas and package it for distribution all around the country. Using a special bio-digester, this business can turn blood and waste from a community-based Maasai slaughterhouse into biogas for cooking. To facilitate transport, the firm stores the fuel in recycled cylinders and used tires, reducing even further the environmental impact of the operation. Just to give me a better idea of the "green" potential of his business, the manager told me that this first biogas plant is expected to cut methane emissions by more than 360,000 kilograms per year (the equivalent of almost 2,000 passenger vehicles).
 
Indeed, "bottled" biogas (biogas compressed into a cylinder) has huge potential in Kenya: Farmers can directly produce it, recycling the waste from their farms; can use it for their cooking needs; and, thanks to the bottling process, can sell the excess on the local market, generating income while saving the environment.
 
The Genie in the Bottle


Keekonyokie is a company that began operations in 1982. It runs an abattoir that slaughters about 100 cows per day to meet the meat demand in Nairobi and its environs. In 2008, with the support from GTZ, the company constructed two 20-foot-deep biogas digesters that would help manage the abattoir waste, which was becoming a menace and a health hazard. Within a short time, the biogas being produced from the digesters was more than the company could absorb. The company managers started thinking of compressing and bottling the excess biogas, but they needed support to test the technical and commercial viability of their idea.

When infoDev’s Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) opened its doors in October 2012, Keekonyokie was one of the first companies to be admitted.
 

Is Somaliland truly “Open for Business”? Moving past the conventional narrative of a fragile state

Steve Utterwulghe's picture

Somalia has the reputation of being a mysterious and conflict-ridden land. Who hasn’t heard of the infamous “Black Hawk down” episode, the militant group al-Shabaab or the pirates off the Somali coast?
 
But in the northwest corridor of war-ravaged Somalia lies Somaliland, a self-declared independent state that claims to be open for business. Really?
 
It’s easy to dismiss the “open for business” claim by Somaliland’s Ministry of Planning as mere fantasy or wishful thinking. Flying from Nairobi on a painfully slow UN-chartered plane, being greeted at the hotel by Kalashnikov-armed guards, or traveling to your meeting in an armored car is enough to discourage even the most adventurous entrepreneur.
 
At first sight, Somaliland has all the characteristics of a fragile and conflict-affected situation (FCS). However, you never want to judge a book by its cover. In Somaliland, I’d argue that the conventional narrative of fragility needs to be revisited. 

Fostering Private Sector Development in Fragile States: A Piece of Cake?

Steve Utterwulghe's picture
Private sector development (PSD) plays a crucial role in post-conflict economic development and poverty alleviation. Fragile states, however, face major challenges, such as difficult access to finance, power and markets; poor infrastructure; high levels of corruption; and a lack of transparency in the regulatory environment. 

The private sector has demonstrated its resilience in the face of conflict and fragility, operating at the informal level and delivering services that are traditionally the mandate of public institutions. However, in post-conflict situations, PSD can have predatory aspects, thriving on the institutional and regulatory vacuum that prevails. The private sector will need to create 90 percent of jobs worldwide to meet the international community’s antipoverty goals, so pro-poor and pro-growth strategies need to focus on strengthening the positive aspects of PSD, even while tackling its negative aspects.

Developing local industries connected to the gas value chain: What can Tanzania learn from Malaysia?

Cecile Fruman's picture
Joining with our World Bank Group teams in the field in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania, I was pleased to recently see first-hand evidence of the strong impact that our Global Practice on Trade and Competitiveness is having on economic development throughout East Africa. Our projects are currently helping our clients improve their business environment, increase the competitiveness of firms in key sectors, and develop trade flows.

Shaping the Debate on Promoting Jobs and Competitiveness in Small Island Developing States

Ivan Rossignol's picture

The United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the contributions this group of countries has made to the world, and to raise awareness of the development challenges they confront – including those related to climate change and the need to create high-quality jobs for their citizens.

The Third International Conference on SIDS in September in Apia, Samoa will be the highlight event.  The World Bank Group is helping shape the debate on both climate and jobs with a delegation led by Rachel Kyte, the Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and with senior-level participation in the conference’s Private Sector Forum.

Is the global jobs agenda relevant to small islands states?

Tackling the challenges related to the jobs agenda in large and middle-income countries could be seen as the most significant issue for the Bank Group’s new Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, of which I’m a member. Yet the Minister of Finance of Seychelles recently challenged my thinking on this. 

At the June 13  joint World Bank Group-United Nations' High-Level Dialogue on Advancing Sustainable Development in SIDS (which precedes the September conference on SIDS), the presentation by Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment of Seychelles – who is also the chair of the Small States Forum – led to a lively discussion on various job-creation and growth models that the SIDS countries may want to pursue. 

The sentiment among SIDS leaders was that one-size-fits-all solutions will not do when it comes to jobs and growth.  Yes, they do want to continue to address the tough fiscal challenges they face, but they want to tackle them while creating job opportunities for their citizens. 

Decades of reforms have not helped SIDS grow at a rate similar to the rest of the world: On average, their pace of job creation is about half the global rate. The lack of opportunities felt by many generations resulted in a heavy “brain drain” that exceeds the level seen in other developing countries. 

It is becoming very clear that business as usual in SIDS will not do.  Creative solutions need to be found now.

#Housing4All

Simon Walley's picture

The Global population growth numbers forecast for the coming years can be extremely daunting, with 2 billion more people on our planet by 2050. When one considers that each of these global citizens will require shelter, health care, education, sanitation, transport, the numbers become even more formidable. Looking at housing needs alone, for the period 2015-2020, global population will grow by 350 million people, amounting to around 70 million new households each requiring a home. Breaking down the numbers annually means 14 million new houses. Based on a conservative estimate of $30k per unit, the total investment needed per annum over coming years is $420 billion. This is a large number but only around 0.6 per cent of global GDP . There are additional costs naturally associated with getting infrastructure and services to new houses, such as roads, water, and sanitation. A recent McKinsey study estimates that in 16 large emerging markets alone there is a $600-700 billion market for affordable housing. Nevertheless, with the right systems in place this level of new investment should be feasible. 



So why do we still have market failures in the housing sector which are in plain sight of many emerging market cities in the form of slum housing? Where can the money come from for housing investment? How will it reach the population which is going to need it the most in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, which will see the most rapid population growth and urbanization?

Knowledge-Sharing Boosts Development Know-How, as Practitioners and Policymakers Meet in Mombasa

Qursum Qasim's picture

Karibu Mombasa!

With those words, the World Bank Group’s network on Financial and Private Sector Development (FPD) this week kicked off a major knowledge and learning conference on development in Mombasa, Kenya. More than 250 participants – private-sector innovators, government policymakers and development practitioners from throughout the Africa region as well as from the Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington – came together to share ideas about cutting-edge innovations in delivering services; to brainstorm with colleagues on development strategy for Africa; and to consider new tactics to help meet the practical, everyday needs of Africans.

Delivering strong value for the Bank Group’s client countries was the theme of Klaus Tilmes, the network’s Acting Vice President, as the group envisioned the impending FPD transition into two new Global Practices: Trade & Competitiveness and Finance & Markets. Inclusive growth and inclusive finance – which are vital elements in achieving the Bank Group’s mission of eliminating extreme poverty and building shared prosperity – are the twin and complementary themes through which the two new practices will aim to help their clients meet the development challenge.

Promoting inclusive growth and creating jobs – as engines of growth, as key areas of cooperation between the public and private sectors, and as the backbone of the Bank Group’s approach to promoting a world free of poverty – was the conference’s first-day theme. In this context, youth and female unemployment are priority issues for Kenya and for other African countries – from the perspective of equity, certainly, but also from the perspective of social cohesion.

Partager les expériences pour renforcer l'égalité hommes-femmes en Afrique subsaharienne

Paula Tavares's picture



Le 27 Février, un atelier régional de haut niveau a débuté à Lomé (Togo), avec la participation des ministres en charge de la promotion de la femme et des représentants de 11 pays d'Afrique de l'Ouest et Centrale. Le thème principal de l’atelier était le rapport du Groupe de la Banque mondiale, « Les Femmes, l’Entreprise et le Droit 2014 : Lever les obstacles au renforcement de l’égalité hommes-femmes ». Un dîner de bienvenue précédant l'ouverture officielle de l'événement a révélé le dynamisme des ministres participants - toutes des femmes -, de même que les réalités et enjeux communs à leurs nations. La plupart se réunissaient pour la première fois et cette occasion unique a permis le partage des expériences et des points de vue sur les lois, les normes culturelles et les rôles traditionnels au sein de la famille.

Les discours d'ouverture de l'atelier reflètent bien l'importance de l'égalité hommes-femmes pour la région. En accueillant l'événement, Monsieur Hervé Assah, Représentant Résident de la Banque mondiale au Togo, a noté que : « Sous-investir dans le capital humain que constituent les femmes est un véritable frein à la réduction de la pauvreté et limite considérablement les perspectives de développement sur le plan économique et social ». Ces préoccupations ont été reprises par la Ministre de l'Action Sociale, de la Promotion de la Femme et de l'Alphabétisation du Togo, Mme Dédé Ahoéfa Ekoué, qui a souligné l'importance de la participation des femmes dans la société et dans l'économie, à la fois au Togo et dans le monde. Le ton était donc donné pour cet événement de deux jours, qui visait à la fois à mettre en évidence les récentes réformes adoptées par les pays de la région et à promouvoir le partage d'expériences, les défis et les bonnes pratiques entre les participants pour promouvoir l'inclusion économique des femmes.

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