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Everything you need to know about West African startup landscape [2017 Update]

Update: Are you a venture capitalist or an angel investor looking to invest in a company? Are you an entrepreneur looking for capital or other opportunities? Are you an aspiring startup owner looking for assistance? Well, you have come to the right place. Ventureburn presents an updated* guide to West Africa’s startup scene.

This article is the most comprehensive guide for anyone who wants to get involved with, or have a better understanding of, the region’s fast-growing startup space. It’s the second of our inaugural series, with others focusing on South Africa and East Africa.

With some insight from our friends at CcHub in Lagos, we have scoured West Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape and hand-picked some of the top players to get you started, looking at all sectors from education, investment (angel, venture capital, private equity), government, accelerators and incubators to media players.

As comprehensive this article is, with your comments and suggestions, we hope to create a clear overview of the people and organisations that influence and shape West Africa’s tech venture space. Please feel free to comment or tweet us any suggestions you may have.

Venture Capitalists

Venture capital (VC) is all about early-stage, high-potential, high-risk, growth startups. West Africa’s VC scene mostly consists of a mixture between a couple of local firms and international non-profit impact funds.

The US-based Accion Venture Lab is a non-profit investment vehicle with a scope that includes 32 countries on four continents. Founded in 1961, the organisation is on a mission to alleviate poverty by offering financial products such as micro-enterprise loans and business training. Some notable investments in East Africa include Kenya’s mobile payments provider Kopo Kopo and lending company Umati Capital.

Some of its Accion’s partners in Africa include: EB-Accion MicrofinanceUGAFODE Microfinance LimitedAccion Microfinance BankGO Finance, Kopo KopoPan-African Savings and LoansUmati Capital, First Access and Akiba Commercial Bank.

In November this year (2017) Accion launched a company builder initiaitive to build fintech in Nigeria.

Adlevo Capital is a private equity fund manager. Prominent investments made in West Africa include Rancard, Paga and Interswitch.

Gold Venture: Born out of the Venture Capital Trust Fund initiative in Ghana, the fund’s basic objective is to design and execute distinctive and innovative approaches to assist clients in meeting the challenges of the complex and ever-changing business environment.

The Acumen Fund invests in companies that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. Targeting West and East Africa, Latin America, Pakistan and India, some prominent investments in West Africa include Paga from Nigeria, Ghana’s Medeem and Esoko Networks Limited.

The Omidyar Network is active across the African continent, as it is around the world. Founded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, the initiative has not only established itself as a leader in intelligence and advocacy in the region’s startup ecosystem, but has been funding a range of ventures from Lagos to Cape Town and Nairobi. Besides providing venture capital, the Omidyar offers human capital capabilities, from serving on boards to consulting on strategy, coaching executives to recruiting new talent. The firm recently invested in payments company Paga.

Sanaga Venture: Sanaga Ventures actively invests in and supports new and emerging ventures across the African continent. It offers finance and coaching to assist in building the capacity of our partners to the stage where they can achieve financial sustainability and critical mass in their operations.

The investment arm of global tech giant, Intel Capital, launched in 1991 and claims to have invested more than $11.6-billion in over 1 447 companies in 57 countries.

Based in Kenya, the Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund, specialising in $25 000 to $500 000 investments in early-stage, high-growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa.

US-based Tiger Global has been investing heavily in Africa in recent years. The firm deploys capital in two businesses: private equity partnerships and public equity funds. The company favours technology or internet related business. It is one of the largest investors in Nigeria’s iROKO Partners.

EchoVC Partners is a seed and early stage venture capital firm focused on financing and cross-pollinating leading technologies, teams, business models and knowledge across North America, Africa and South East Asia. The average investment sizes range from $25 000 to several million dollars depending on the stage of opportunity and capital needs of the business. Some of its recent investments include Hotels.ng and Printivo, digital printing startup.

A Liberia and Chicago-based micro VC, VestedWorld typically invests between $250 000 to $2-million in early stage companies in a variety of spaces (such as energy and agriculture) essential to economic growth. The company’s portfolio is supported by third party VestedAdvisors to provide sstrategic and operational support. The largest investment to date has been in $250 000 in Umati Capital in Kenya.

Seedstars World is a global startup competition in emerging markets. Startups from a growing number of emerging markets — including Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda — are invited to pitch and take part in the international competition where they’ll stand a chance to win up to $1-million in equity funding.

infoDev is a World Bank programme that supports entrepreneurs in developing countries through research and innovation hubs for climate tech, agribusiness and digital. infoDev’s Early Stage Financing Programme connects promising entrepreneurs with the early-stage capital and networks they need to launch and grow competitive businesses. The program also publishes research on innovative forms of financing for entrepreneurs in developing economies, including crowdfunding and angel investors.

Village Capital finds, trains, and funds entrepreneurs solving global problems. Its non-profit programme VilCap operates business development programmes for early-stage entrepreneurs in agriculture, education, energy, financial inclusion, and health. VilCap Investments — its affiliated, for-profit investment fund — invests in the two top-ranked graduates from each programme.

This year, Village Capital launched an investment readiness programme with PayPal called the Village Capital Fintech Africa 2018. The programme will culminate in two-early stage startups walking away away with $50 000 in investment funding.

The Mara Group is Mara is a young and dynamic pan-African investment group with operations in the following sectors: banking, real estate, infrastructure, and technology.

The Group is currently active in 22 African countries and 25 countries worldwide, and employs more than 11,000 people through its investments and operations.

1776 is a global incubator and seed fund that seeks to help startups transform industries, from education, energy & sustainability, health and transportation.

Incubators

With many incubators in West Africa hosting accelerator as well as incubation programmes, the two terms often overlap.

Founded in Ghana, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) provides training and mentoring for aspiring African software entrepreneurs with the goal of creating wealth and jobs locally in Africa. The organisation recently partnered with Interswitch to support startups from Ghana and Nigeria. MEST also opened a new centre in Lagos in November 2017.

CcHUB describes itself as a social innovation centre dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology to make Nigeria a better society. Our Innovation hub, opened in 2011, is designed as a space where work to catalyse creative tech ventures take place. The hub is the physical nexus of a community of progressive individuals and organisations (technologists, entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, tech companies, investors and hackers) interested in the application of technology to solve social problems in Nigeria.

Based in Buea, Cameroon, ActivSpaces is an open collaboration space, innovation hub and startup incubator for African techies. The initiative runs an incubator programme that supports startups by providing them with an office space, internet connection, business coaching, and a community of likeminded individuals and experts. It also runs an accelerator programme which sets out to connect entrepreneurs with potential funders.

Based in Dakar and launched in 2011, the CTIC describes itself as a leading accelerator and incubator for IT and mobile entrepreneurs in Francophone Africa. The programme is supported by the likes of InfoDev and the World Bank, and provides business development support.

Situated in Cotonou, Benin, TEKXL aims to combine concepts of incubation, acceleration and venture investment. Over a period of three to six months, team members are provided with comprehensive technology, training, workspace and funding to turn ideas into startups with scalable business models.

Accelerators

An accelerator does exactly what its name suggests — helps businesses accelerate growth. For the most part, an accelerator differs from an incubator in that programmes usually run for shorter periods, often ranging between three and six months.

The Passion Incubator acceleration programme runs for a couple of months to provide entrepreneurial training, product development, work space, mentoring and connections with VCs.

Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu launched a pan-African $100-million entrepreneurship programme in early 2015. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme included a 12-week training programme, mentorship, access to crucial networks and resources as well as possible funding.

440NG is an early-stage investment firm that also offers an accelerator programme — a joint venture fund between 88mph and the West African-based L5Lab. While 88mph announced that it will stop investing in startups, 440 has invested in DavtonLearn, an online video learning platform for professional certifications in 2015.

iDEA Nigeria seeks to support digital entrepreneurs to develop innovative solutions and business models that make businesses and commerce more efficient, provide new ways to deliver government and social services and help reduce poverty and unemployment. The organisation hosts both incubation and acceleration programmes. The latter is a 14-week sprint that focuses on three core areas: design, build and pitch.

The Wennovation Hub Initiative Nigeria describes itself as a social enterprise created to respond to the challenges of supporting locally relevant innovations. The organisation helps to accelerate high-impact entrepreneurs.

Spark is an investment group and describes itself as not a fund and not an incubator. The initiative seeks to build companies with a focus on Lagos. In 2015, Spark announced that Spark is letting go of four startups it’s invested in. It now invests between $100 000 and $250 000.

Leadpath Nigeria describes itself as a seed capital fund that specialises in providing short, medium and long-term funding to tech startups. According to TechCabal, the accelerator aims to invest anything from $25 000 to $100 000.

Angel Investors

West Africa has its fair share of wealthy individuals with investment sense. With the rise of more and more role models in the Nigeria’s tech space, there seems to be a strong sense of paying it forward among the angel investors.

The Lagos Angel Network organises seed funders to invest in startups. The organisation organises pitch events where pre-screened business ideas are presented to the network by entrepreneurs. The initiative was founded by local investor Tomi Davies.

Founder of ecommerce giant Konga, Sim Shagaya has followed up on the pay-it-forward route by investing in ride-sharing startup GoMyWay in 2015 as well as Printivo. Under Shagaya’s leadership, Konga has over the past few years established it as a significant player in the Nigerian space.

Founder of L5Lab, Chika Nwobi has invested in the likes of online retailer Jay Osbie, job portal Jobberman, classifieds site One Africa Media and QwikGist, which is an entertainment news site.

Jason Njoku is a British-born Nigerian entrepreneur most well known for co-founding iROKO Partners and Spark — an early-investment firm that has since 2013 invested in the likes of Timehop, Coin and Hotels.ng.

The founder of mobile money transfer firm Paga, Tayo Oviosu, has over the past few years backed gaming company ChopUp as well as non-tech companies like luxury teas outfit YsWara and Reelfruit which is exploiting the fruit value chain.

The Ghana Angel Investor Network (GAIN) is described as a network of Angel investors with a passion for investing in early-stage businesses with significant growth prospects and the potential to generate superior returns. The organisation notes that, as a Network, GAIN is not-intended for profit. However, members and beneficiaries seek to derive significant returns on their investments.

African Business Angel Network (better known as just ABAN) describes itself as a pan-African non-profit association founded to support the development of early-stage investor networks across the continent and to get many more (early-stage) investors excited about the opportunities in Africa. The organisation recently completed a successful tour from Lagos to Nairobi and Cape Town, to help mobilise the pockets of angels across the continent.

Private equity

Private equity firms differ from their venture capital counterparts in a fundamental way. Private equity is about taking a company at a later stage in its development and restructuring it to optimise its financial performance.

Synergy Capital is a Lagos-based private equity firm that invests in technology startups as well as traditional. Its most recent public investments include power solution company Viathan Engineering.

Operating out of London, Helios Investment Partners is an Africa-focused private investment firm. Established in 2004 and led by co-founding partners Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye, it’s touted as operating a total of $3-billion.

Jacana Partners is a pan-African private equity company that invests in entrepreneurs, builds successful small companies and delivers sustainable financial and social returns.

Investment AB Kinnevik is an entrepreneurial investment group focused on building digital consumer brands in four sectors: communication, ecommerce and marketplaces, entertainment, and financial services. Some of the firms most recent public investments in Nigeria’s tech sector include $25-million for ecommerce site Konga and $5-million into deals site DealDey.

GroFin describes itself as a development financier specialising in financing and supporting small and growing businesses in Africa and the Middle East. It recently launched a renewed $100-million fund, which follows an existing fully invested $170-million budget.

Emerging Capital Partners (ECP Investments) is a pan-African private equity firm that has raised over $2-billion for investment across the continent. Its most recent investments include Maarifa Education Holdings and Algerian company Atlas Bottling Corporation.

Networks, Events and Conferences

Similar to networking bodies and hubs, conferences are seen as key players in celebrating the startup space. These initiatives are often accompanied by pitching competitions, keynotes and networking.

Regarded by many as the wealthiest man on the continent, owner of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, earlier this year announced the launch of the African Entrepreneurship Programme. The aim of this programme is to allow businesses the opportunity to present and connect with potential investors.

Ghana’s iSpace provides entrepreneurs with space for them to work, meet, collaborate, learn and have fun. The co-working space also have initiatives such as the Hack4Good hackathon and the iSpace Women Entrepreneurship training programme.

Impact Hub Accra is part of the global Impact Hub Network and seeks to empower innovators of all kinds to address the most sobering challenges of the 21st century. Besides the co-working space, Hub Accra is also said to provide business training, exposure to new ideas, pitch and leadership workshops, inspiring events, networking functions, and the opportunity to design and prototype.

DEMO Africa was hosted in Johannesburg this day. The pan-African startup pitching competition launched in 2012 on a mission to showcase the continent’s talent while providing opportunities for both investors and tech entrepreneurs.

A news source, networking hub and investment platform, VC4Africa boasts that it’s the largest online community of entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to building game-changing companies in Africa.

Hosted by CcHub, the Social Change Summit brings together stakeholders from government, business, civil societies, donors, academia and international organisations. The event aims to accelerate the application of social capital and innovation to make Nigeria a better society.

With hubs in Senegal, Mali, the Ivory Coast, France and Burkina Faso, Jokkolabs is an open-innovation and virtual cluster for social change based on an organic community of entrepreneurs and a network of co-working space. It’s mission is to inspire and develop a community of collaboratives entrepreneurs to invent the future for a shared prosperity.

Media

Without media, there’s no story. Along with the “African rising” narrative and more international interest in the continent as a region for investment opportunity, an increasingly large number of publications from abroad are interested in telling the country’s stories, amplifying their reach.

Ventureburn features written and video-based technology startup profiles, as well as news, analysis and opinion pieces on entrepreneurship from an emerging market perspective. If you want to get your business featured, you can fill out our startup questionnaire.

Disrupt Africa aims to be the go-to source for all things startups, investments and innovation in North, East, West and Southern Africa. Alongside news articles, the site also focuses on interviews and stories on important stakeholders of the industry.

Alongside its annual Battlefield startup competition, TechCabal feature valuable insights into the African startup scene with general tech stories, opinion pieces and exclusive interviews with some of the startup scene’s most prominent players.

TechPoint is described as a new generation, people-centric technology blog that aims to bring technology closer to the average Nigerian. The website covers startups, gadgets and general news about technology.

Banks

There are various banks across the region, such as Zenith Bank, FBN and Access Bank. One entity to highlight is the Unique Venture Capital Management Company Limited is an SME-focused private venture capital investment firm established in 2004 by five major Nigerian banks.

If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Featured image: Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra, Ghana.

*This piece was updated by Ventureburn writer Daniel Mpala on 24 November 2017. If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Author Bio

Jacques Coetzee
Jacques grew up in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Keen to take over the world, one word at a time, he has always been interested in both politics and development and studied International Relations (BA) at Stellenbosch University. With an interest in innovation and social change, he seeks to tell the... More
  • Peter

    Sure, everything you “need to know”, minus everything to do with the history of how the state distorts the economic environment and the market, the local politics of elite accumumulation and capture, and how the “system” and marketplace really works. You might want to loose the abstract idealism and brush up on some African history and politics texts…