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If you ever doubted the significance of mobile innovations in Africa, then this year’s developments are likely change your mind once and for all.
Not only has 2015 been a good year for investments in startups across the continent (the most we’ve seen in South Africa thus far), millions of dollars are flowing towards mobile innovations. From micro-jobbing platforms to peer-to-peer payment solutions, more and more investors are growing confident in the potential of the many interesting mobile solutions Africa has to offer.
But apart from smartphone applications, companies like M-Kopa and Off Grid Electric are fast growing in popularity. With mobile pay-as-you-go or micro leasing solar solutions, these companies can reach households lacking basic infrastructures. And then there is South Africa’s Nomanini, which is behind an innovative mobile PoS device that enables micro enterprises around the continent to sell prepaid vouchers such as airtime, electricity and water.
We’ll probably never know about all the deals done around the continent, but Ventureburn still thought it a good idea to round-up some of this year’s most exciting tech startup investments in Africa.
One of these is certainly mobile transaction facilitator WiGroup, which earlier this year managed to get Investec Asset Management Group on board in exchange for an estimated R400-million.
Headed by its founder Bevan Ducasse, WiGroup’s mobile transaction platform is today being used by 55 000 PoS lanes and boasts more than 60 clients, ten of which include big blue-chip companies like Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Vodacom.
The company will now continue to expand across Africa and other emerging markets.
Certainly one of the hottest spaces in East Africa at the moment is that of solar technology. More specifically, it’s that of pay-as-you-go solar solutions. Following a few rounds from internationally renowned angels and VCs, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kenya’s M-Kopa most recently secured US$19-million Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson, former US Vice President Al Gore and AOL founder Steve Case among others.
So far the company has connected over 250 000 homes across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with solar systems, equipping homes with lights, phone chargers, and solar-powered radios. The company is targeting to reach one million homes in East Africa by end 2017.
M-Kopa’s Tanzanian-based counterpart seeks to reach one million homes in Tanzania by 2017. With backing from tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SolarCity, the solar solutions startup closed a Series C investment worth US$25-million in October.
Similar to the mobile airtime model, the startup introduces a pre-paid solar power system that asks the home-owner to top-up whenever the user runs out of electricity. It’s so far installing more than 10 000 systems per month and employs more than 800 people in Tanzania.
South African-based media and internet giant Naspers had an interesting year, with investments ranging from Israel’s analytics startup SimilarWeb and launching its video-on-demand play ShowMax. Most interestingly though has been its investment into emerging market bitcoin startup BitX. In July, BitX just raised US$4-million in Series A from PayU — a subsidiary of media and internet powerhouse Naspers.
The company more recently announced an undisclosed round of funding from Southeast Asia’s Venturra Capital. With a mission to spread the adoption of digital currency in emerging markets, some of its features include the mobile bitcoin wallet for iOS and Android, the BitX API, as well its flagship bitcoin exchange.
Speaking of bitcoin, BitPesa is an interesting play. Founded in 2013, BitPesa is a currency exchange which enables businesses and individuals to convert and send Kenyan Shillings into a Kenyan mobile money wallets.
While there’s been a lot of hype around popping the remittance bubble in Africa by leveraging alternative currencies and infrastructures like the blockchain, BitPesa strengthened its stake in the industry when it secured US$1.1-million from Pantera Capital as well as Bitcoin Opportunity Corp, Crypto Currency Partners, Future/Perfect Ventures and Stephens Investment Management.
The startup raised funds in order to expand both its team and operations to service other mobile money markets around Africa and abroad.
Launched in late 2014, micro-jobbing startup Money for Jam (or just M4JAM) has lured Google’s Brett StClair onto its team, followed by an undisclosed round of investment from WeChat Africa, a joint venture between Naspers and Tencent.
Users are encouraged to earn money by doing simple tasks via their mobile phones. In turn, brands have access to South Africa’s massive mobile market. To further establish itself as a force to be reckoned with, M4JAM went on to acquire digital research company Pondering Panda.
In October this year, Nigerian person-to-person money transfer company, Paga, secured US$13-million from renowned international investment firms Adlevo Capital, Omidyar Network, Goodwell West Africa, Acumen Fund, and Capricorn Investment Group.
Paga is being used by over three million Nigerians, and 3 600 SME clients, to send money to any phone number for the beneficiary to then redeem at a Paga agent or at any ATM via a cardless withdrawal. The Nigeria startup plans to strengthen its agent network as well as rolling out new features for small businesses across the country.
The Omidyar Group has had an exciting year in Nigeria. In May the firm announced the backing of Nigerian accommodation booking site Hotels.ng, with a US$1.2-million cash injection.
Founded by renowned entrepreneur Mark Essien in 2012, Hotels.ng has over 7 000 hotel listings and claims to be the largest online service of its kind in West Africa. The startup currently faces stiff competition from Germany’s Rocket Internet-backed competitor Jovago.
Keen to take on the online booking space in Nigeria, a group of entrepreneur who include ex-Jumia and Konga executive Onyeka Akumah launched TravelBeta early November. Two weeks later, it raised US$2-million.
The seed round was led by Nigerian investment firm Altheus Limited. TravelBeta aims to significantly blow up the online booking market through its superior customer experience delivery, provision of the cheapest travel rates in the country.
The new platform will seek to compete in a space dominated by industry heavyweights including Wakanow, Travelstart, Hotels.ng and Jovago — an already crowded space that’s only set to become more tense.
We don’t know about you, but Ventureburn is certainly looking forward to what 2016 has in store for us.