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Everything you need to know about East African startup landscape [2019 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 2019 guide to East 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.

We have scoured East 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 East 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. East Africa’s VC scene mostly consists of a mixture between a couple of local firms and international non-profit impact funds.

US-based Oui Capital has a $10-million dollar fund that it is looking to invest in six to eight startups from Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa this year. (see this story)

Nairobi-based Novastar Ventures last year made its first close of its Novastar II fund. As of 2018, the firm had invested in 15 companies that include Nairobi-based PayGo Energy, artisan marketplace Lynk and agriculture supply chain platform iProcure. (Read more here)

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 Microfinance, UGAFODE Microfinance Limited, Accion Microfinance Bank, GO Finance, Kopo Kopo, Pan-African Savings and Loans, Umati Capital, First Access and Akiba Commercial Bank.

With a similar focus to Accion, 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 East Africa over the past few years include Miliki Afya which provides affordable health care in Kenya, data analytics company First Access from Tanzania and Uganda-based SolarNow.

The investment arm of global tech giant, Intel Capital, launched in 1991 and claims to have invested more than $11.6-billion in over 1447 companies in 57 countries. Although, news is scarce of any significant investments made into the East African region as of late, Intel has been active in recognising developers and startups through various competitions and programmes. In 2015, Intel awarded three Kenyan startups with KSh1.3-million (around $12 000). In the same year, the organisation also launched the Intel Education Accelerator in Kenya which aims to provide guidance and a potential Intel Capital investment of up to $100 000.

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.

German VC GreenTec Capital Partners  is a long-term investor that joins forces with startups from the proof of concept stage onwards. GreenTec funds and or facilitate access to  funding opportunities that are fitting each company’s individual stage of evolution(development, expansion or growth).

Creadev is a Paris-based evergreen investment company — with a Nairobi office — that looks to invest in and support companies able to scale-up and become worldwide best players in their sector.

The Mara Group is Mara is a young and dynamic pan-African investment group with operations in banking, real estate, infrastructure, and technology. The group is active in 22 African countries and 25 countries worldwide, and employs more than 11 000 people through its investments and operations.

Clifftop Colony is described as an investment advisory firm focused on private and illiquid assets in emerging African markets. The firm focuses on developing and raising capital for private equity franchises, individual companies and venture projects. It usually invests in early-stage startups, preferring investments of R20-million and above.

Co-founded by one of the brains behind the renowned data company, Ushahidi, Erik Hersman manages the Savannah Fund alongside i/o Ventures‘ Paul Bragiel, Maryse Liburdi and Mbwana Alliy. The firm is a seed capital fund, specialising in $25 000 to $500 000 investments in early-stage, high-growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa. Initially focused on East Africa, the fund aims to bridge the early stage and angel and venture capital investment gap that currently exists on the continent. Its 2015 investments include mobile research company Djuaji Research, online store Podozi.com and bitcoin outfit BitFinance. In 2017 the fund invested in South African drone startup Aerobotics.

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 funder offers human capital capabilities, from serving on boards to consulting on strategy, coaching executives to recruiting new talent. Some notable East African investments include Off Grid Electric from Tanzania and online news outlet HiviSasa from Kenya.

The Hong Kong-headquartered VC and incubator Nest operates corporate accelerator programmes, invests in seed to growth-stage startups, and runs an entrepreneurial community called Mettā.

1776 is a global incubator and seed fund that seeks to help startups transform industries, from education, energy & sustainability, health and transportation. The organisation’s 1776 Challenge Cup travelled to Nairobi in early 2015, with the country’s Twiga Fruits claiming the ultimate prize of $150 000 in seed funding.

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.

Cosef claims it is Uganda’s first locally domiciled impact investment firm. Cosef which was established by the Masindi Community Foundation (MCF) aims to provide funding and technical assistance to businesses with a social impact and high growth potential. Cosef invests in companies operating in agro-processing, small scale manufacturing, energy and fintech.

Incubators, hubs and accelerators

An incubator brings in an outside team to manage an idea that was developed internally and takes a larger chunk of equity in the resulting company.

An accelerator on the other hand 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 programme usually rounds off with a demo day where startups pitch their ideas to investors.

Rwanda’s kLab aims to provide an open space for tech entrepreneurs to collaborate and innovate in the country’s capital, Kigali. It is open to students, fresh graduates, entrepreneurs, and innovators — it aims to provide them with somewhere to work on their ideas and projects to turn them into viable business models.

Based in Uganda, Outbox is a tech incubation, collaboration space and innovation hub that supports techies and provides further support for people to turn their tech ideas that utilise mobile and web into sustainable businesses.

MEST launched a Nairobi incubator seventh floor of Pinetree Plaza last year (read this story).

Tanzania’s Buni Hub was founded in 2011, with the need to foster innovation and technology entrepreneurship through capacity building, mentoring programmes and community empowerment.

Hive Colab is an innovation hub based in Uganda. As noted on the site, the co-working space focuses on young tech entrepreneurs, web and mobile app developers, designers, investors, VCs and donors.

With the aim of empowering every African who has a great idea for a business or an application and to turn that idea into a reality which in turn can help their community, Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative has made a lot of progress on the African continent. In 2015, it launched a dedicated hub for SMEs in Kenya.

iHub is arguably Africa’s most talked about innovation hub. Based in Kenya, the organisation acts an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. The initiative is also behind loads of events, research, consulting and fostering a strong startup community in Kenya and the greater region.

@iBizAfrica business incubator carries out the entrepreneurship and incubation theme of @iLabAfrica. @iBizAfrica seeks to provide a nurturing environment that builds on the potential of the youth to develop ICT solutions and businesses that work for the common good in society.

After some delay construction began in November 2016 at Kenya’s Konza Techno City, dubbed “Silicon Savannah”. The techno city, which is being built by the government of Kenya will house early investors and innovators. The government has introduced various tax incentives to get investors to locate there. In addition, the Konza Development Authority signed an agreement in 2016 with the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) to build a university for postgraduate students. For more, read Ventureburn’s September 2018 story for an update on the initiative.

Kenya’s NaiLab is a business incubator that offers an entrepreneurship program focusing on growing innovative technology driven ideas. The incubator is a partner of Jack Ma’s $10-million Africa Netpreneur Prize (read more here).

CcHub Design Lab‘s team of multidisciplinary team of product designers and engineers collaborates with scientists and stakeholders globally, to explore the application of emerging technologies that will solve Africa’s systemic problems in public health, education, governance and the private sector.

Sinapis Group is on a mission to empower aspiring entrepreneurs in the developing world — including Kenya — with innovative, scalable business ideas by providing them with a rigorous religious-centred business education, consulting and mentoring services.

Tanzania’s SmartLab links innovative Tanzanian university students who are looking to fund their startups with corporates in a bid to ensure that their business ideas become a success.

Dar es Salaam-based Hub255 is a co-working space for designers and engineers which regularly holds events and workshops for startups and investors.

Innovate Ventures is the first Somali accelerator for early-stage tech startups.

Angel investors

With more initiatives relying on the power of networking and consulting, East Africa’s angel investment scene is on the rise, albeit slow.

Some heavy-weight individual influencers, however, include Hilda Moraa, who’s the co-founder of Weza Tele, a tech distribution company that was acquired by AFB in 2015. Nailan CEO and co-founder Sam Gichuru has invested in digital jobs platform Kuhustle.

Based in Kampala, the Angels Initiative Uganda provides solutions that optimise enterprise growth in Africa. By leveraging the support of its partners, the initiative has been backing companies such as ViOffices, Care SMS and Sise Works.

Nairobi-based DEMO Ventures — an investment arm of DEMO Africa — last year launched a $100-million fund that is focused on startups from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. (Read more here)

African Business Angel Network (better known as just ABAN) is 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.

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.

East Africa Venture Capital Association (EAVCA) was founded in 2013 to represent the private equity industry in East Africa and provide a voice for industry players to raise awareness and engage on regional policy matters. The association currently acts through advocacy, training, networking, and intelligence.

GroFin describes itself as a development financier specialising in financing and supporting small and growing businesses in Africa and the Middle East. In 2015 it 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. Some of its investments include Maarifa Education Holdings and Algerian company Atlas Bottling Corporation.

Catalyst Principal Partners is behind a $125-million Eastern Africa-focused private equity fund that invests in emerging and mid-sized companies with strong growth and profitability prospects.

Education

As research in Omidyar’s Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa report suggests, management and other entrepreneurial skills should be fostered in schools.

Moringa School is a coding school based in the Nairobi Garage. The initiative offers a “world-class” curriculum that includes everything from Android, HTML and CSS to business fundamentals and presentation skills.

The Dev School started out in 2013 to help train young technology enthusiasts in Kenya & South Sudan building strategic partnerships within the tech community.

Andela is backed by the US-based Spark Capital with a mission to transform the global technology landscape by connecting top employers with untapped talent around the world. While it started out in Nigeria, it launched its programme in Kenya early 2015 and pan African-tech hub in Kigali last year (see this story)

Emobilis was founded in 2008 and is touted as the first of its kind in the region, focusing on training individuals on mobile software development, as well as network infrastructure management.

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.

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.

TechMoran is a tech news site that focuses on Africa’s disruptive technology scene. The site also runs the TechMoran Tour, which it says is “solely to stir innovation and entrepreneurship on the continent with a huge bias to entrepreneurs in high school, universities and colleges and those in innovation hubs pursuing their dream across Africa”.

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.

Uganda’s Digest Africa aims to provide reliable news, information and data that stakeholders need to understand Africa’s emerging tech startup ecosystem.

Newcomer WeeTracker is a global tech media platform with a marked focus on the African technology and startup ecosystem.

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

*The 2019 listing was updated by Ventureburn writer Daniel Mpala.

Featured image: Nairobi city centre by diaznash via Pixabay.


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