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.
Information and Communication Technologies
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.
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.
Try to search for stories that feature the growing pains and gains of growth-oriented technology startups – content that is not only entertaining, but of high quality and most important, educating. It is a surprisingly hard task in today's economy, where entrepreneurship is booming again.
The price of sending international remittances has reached a new record low in the first quarter of 2014. The global average cost of sending money across borders was recorded at 8.36 percent. This figure is used as a reference point for measuring progress toward achieving the so-called “5x5” objective – a goal endorsed by the G8 and G20 countries – to reduce the cost of sending remittances by five percentage points, to 5 percent, by the end of 2014.
Most indexes of international remittance costs – published by the World Bank in the new, ninth issue of the Remittance Prices Worldwide report, which was released on March 31 – indicate good progress in the market for remittances.
The global average cost is significantly lower when weighted by the volume of money that flows in each of the report’s country-to-country pairs. The weighted average cost is now down to 5.91 percent, following a further decline in the last quarter. For the first time, the weighted average has fallen below 6 percent.
Nearly one-third of the remittance-sending countries included in Remittance Prices Worldwide have now achieved a reduction of at least 3 percentage points. Those countries include such major sources of remittances as Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan. This is also the case for 39 out of 89 of the remittance-receiving countries.
- Ignore gender differences
- Create curriculum around PowerPoint (Stand and deliver)
- Emphasis on existing idea or opportunity
- Use of big business examples
- Use of industry standards
- Reliance on banks as start-up funds
- Primarily including male instructors and speakers
- Assumptions about firm size
- Assumptions about linearity of growth
This is a list of what NOT to do when designing and implementing successful support programs for women entrepreneurs, as suggested by Prof. Patricia Greene of Babson College at a recent presentation at the World Bank Group. Her seminar was the first in a series on "Women Entrepreneurs: A New Approach to Growth and Shared Prosperity."
Increased hurricane activity and rising sea levels are well-known effects of climate change, and they prompt solemn head-shaking when we read about them in reports. But in the Caribbean they are part of a terrifying reality that is happening now: This reality was demonstrated again by recent flooding and landslides in the Eastern Caribbean that left 20 dead and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
You’d probably be skeptical if I told you that the Western Balkans – a region that has long suffered from social and ethnic fragmentation – now has a strong opportunity to boost shared prosperity by promoting research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Your views might not even change if I showed you that such idea is validated by preliminary studies linking research and innovation to the performance of firms and countries in the region.
You might be surprised – yet your initial assumption might be unchanged – if I told you about the kind of companies that are starting to build a different economic landscape in the region: firms like UXPassion, Pet Minuta, Strawberry Energy or Teleskin, which are all technology-based startups created by young researchers who became entrepreneurs. Click on this link (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2013/10/22/western-balkans-research-and-development-for-innovation), or on the video embedded below, to meet them and other innovators from the Western Balkans.
Indeed, the transition to a market economy and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia starting in 1991 had a severe impact on the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans. Research capacity narrowed significantly, and R&D’s links to the productive sector of the economy disappeared. The new industrial structure has naturally a lower propensity to invest in research while the current business environment promises low returns to the enterprise investments in innovation. Efforts to revamp the region's research and innovation sector were most of the time short-lived.
As a result, the performance of the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans is gloomy. The region’s current investment in R&D are roughly the same amount as the investment by just the second-largest university in the United States. (In 2012, for example, only 38 patents from the region were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office – compared to the average of 27 patents registered by each American university.) At the same time, very little of those investments are efficiently transformed into wealth. For example, for each invention that received a patent, the region spent, on average, three times more in R&D resources than does the United States.
Building on a continuing series of efforts to reform their national innovation systems, in the hope of changing their gloomy prospects, the Western Balkan countries in 2009 committed to develop a joint regional research and innovation strategy. That strategy, developed between 2011 and 2013, was formally endorsed last month by the ministers responsible for science and education from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The preparation of the strategy, which benefited from technical assistance by the World Bank and from the financial support of the European Commission, involved representatives from the region’s leading universities, research institutes, private sector firms and government agencies. Discussions of the draft proposal were pursued in all seven countries as part of a large outreach exercise.
The 2014 Global Financial Development Report, released today by the World Bank Group, presents the most comprehensive review to date of research findings on an increasingly prominent issue in international economic policy: financial inclusion. It also highlights several key topics that are linked to the growing interest in this topic – advances in technology, product design innovations and the role of financial education in financial inclusion.
It’s easy to understand the focus on technology in this kind of report. Mobile phones and other telecommunications and digital technologies offer potential opportunities for the cost-effective expansion of financial services into previously overlooked or under-served markets. Technology is only part of the reason, however, for increased attention to financial inclusion. There is also a new appreciation for the role of financial services in the lives of the poor – an appreciation gained through a pioneering research effort using “financial diaries” methodology. This includes an awareness that even the best supply-side responses – often powered by new technologies – need to understand the demand side of the equation to be commercially successful and to offer value to consumers.
Financial Inclusion Commitments through the Maya Declaration, the G20 Peer Learning Program, and the Better Than Cash Alliance.
Today at 2 o’clock in the Preston Auditorium, Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank Group – along with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development – will challenge the global community to focus on transformational change in the level and quality of financial inclusion.
Why financial inclusion? Because it is an enabler for poverty reduction and shared prosperity, as has been recognized by the U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Progress in tackling financial exclusion can be accelerated through the current global wave of nation-by-nation financial inclusion targets and commitments; through improved data availability; and through transformative business models for providing financial services.
One of the winning 'startup' teams at Pivot East2013 (Credit: PivotEast)
Innovation competitions of all sorts have become prevalent throughout Africa, from hackathons to ideation challenges, demo days, code jams, bootcamps, roadshows, and pitch fests, the list is endless. This development is almost parallel to the rise of tech hubs (BongoHive counts about 100 African hubs) that have sprung up from Dakar to Dar Es Salaam.
While it’s evident that events and competitions are valuable opportunities—especially for young innovators looking to leave their mark—more advanced ecosystems, like Nairobi’s, have already begun to show signs of competition fatigue and competition hopping.