Everything you need to know about West African startup landscape [2019 Update]

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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 serves as a 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.

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.

This article is not meant to be a definitive guide. 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.

CcHub’s Growth Capital is Nigeria’s first social innovation fund.

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 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 2017 Accion launched a company builder initiaitive to build fintech startups in Nigeria.

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

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.

Chinook Capital is an early stage venture capital firm based in Lagos.

Lagos-based GreenHouse Capital claims to be on of Africa’s largest fintech funds. It says on its website that it has invested $4-million in 15 companies across six countries. The VC also rund the GreenHouse Lab accelerator which is focused on female-led startups.

The investment arm of global tech giant, Intel Capital, launched in 1991 and backs innovative technology startups and companies worldwide. It invests in a broad range of hardware, software, and services.

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 investors in Nigeria’s iROKO Partners.

Golden Palm Investments Corporation is an investment holding and advisory company focused on high growth and impact industry sectors across Africa.

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 investments include Hotels.ng and digital printing startup Printivo.

US-based VestedWorld is a venture capital fund focused on investing companies that are poised for growth in emerging markets. Its portfolio includes TomatoJos and Beacon Power Services.

Seedstars World is a global startup competition in emerging markets. Startups from a growing number of emerging markets — including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Benin — 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 has since 2009  supported more than 1000 entrepreneurs through its programmes, and partnered with affiliated investment funds, including VilCap Investments, that have invested seed capital in more than 90 programme graduates.

1776 is a Washington-based incubator which connects startups to capital through its investor network. 1776 has in the past invested in Kenya’s Twiga Foods.

US-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital last year (2018) invested $250 000 in Nigerian healthtech startup SonoCare through GMC coLabs, its investment portfolio which aims to improve the lives of women.

GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund last year (2018) invested in six African startups including ones from Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Rising Tide Africa, is a Lagos-based women-oriented investment group.

Earlier this year, philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network spun out its financial inclusion initiative unit to launch Flourish, an evergreen venture fund that will back impact fintech startups.

Ingressive Capital, a $5-million venture fund focused on early-stage African startups, this year announced it is looking to invest tickets sizes of up to $100 000 in tech startups from Sub-Saharan Africa, with a possibility of $250 000 in follow-on investments.

French impact investment group Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P) I&P’s Afrique Entrepreneurs 2 (IPAE 2) Fund was launched in 2017 and aims to invest equity and quasi-equity in between 30 to 40 startups and small businesses in West and Central Africa, East Africa and Madagascar by 202. The fund  is managed by a 10-member team based in Paris, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Madagascar and Senegal.

Lagos-based early-stage investment platform Microtraction ordinarily invests $65 000 in two stages. The first investment is usually about $15 000 in exchange for a 7.5% equity stake. This is followed by an additional $50 000 convertible note at a $1-million valuation cap for companies that Microtraction says have shown “significant progress” after the platform’s initial investment.

Berlin-based company builder Ampion Ventures is looking to provide African tech startups with “up to six-digit” funding (in dollars) its founder and CEO Fabian-Carlos Guhl revealed in March (2019).

Frankfurt based VC firm GreenTec Capital Partners earlier this year launched the GreenTec Capital Africa Foundation, a non-profit organisation that will promote investment in African entrepreneurship.

Morocco-based VC fund Outlierz Ventures targets early stage investments.

Dakar Network Angels (DNA), which launched in March 2019, aims to make four investments each year in francophone Africa, with investment tickets of between $20 000 and $100 000.

Some VC firms active in West Africa include PartechOrange Digital Ventures  and Teranga Capitalwhich invests in Senegal.

The Senegalese government, through the Délégation à l’Entrepreneuriat Rapide (DER) programme invests a combination of zero-interest loans and equity into startups

The recently launched Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund will invest ticket sizes of between €3-million and €15-million or the equivalent in local currency. Using AfricInvest’s strong networks and offices in Tunis, Lagos, Abidjan, Nairobi, Casablanca, Algiers, Cairo, Port Louis, Dubai, and soon Johannesburg — the fund will be able to invest in any country on the continent.

Emerging markets startup competition Seedstars in May (2019) announced it would launch a $100-million fund to invest in African startups in collaboration with Paris based First Growth Ventures. The fund will look at countries where other investors may not be as present, both in Eastern and Western Africa.

EtriLabs evergreen impact investment fund Noru Capital will invest between $25 000 and $500 000 for between 5% and 15% equity in Beninese startups.

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. MEST opened a new centre in Lagos in 2017.

CcHUB is a social innovation centre dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. The technology hub is the first in Nigeria to serve as an Open Living Lab in which user-driven innovation is fully integrated in the co-creative process of new services, products and societal infrastructures.

Last year CcHub partnered with Facebook on the six-month long FbStart Accelerator programme.

Createam Incubator offers Malian small businesess a unique environment to develop, accelerate growth and sustain their businesses.

Based in Buea, Cameroon, ActivSpaces is an open collaboration space, innovation hub and startup incubator for African techies.

CTIC Dakar is one of the leading business incubators in Senegal and Francophone West Africa for IT and mobile service entrepreneurs.

Situated in Cotonou, Benin, TEKXL forms teams to transform ideas into products, and products into startups. TEKXL combines concepts of incubation, acceleration and venture investment. Over a period of 3 to 6 months, team members are provided with comprehensive technology, training, workspace, and funding to help you get started with scalable business models.

WoeLab is a tech incubator located in Lome, Togo.

The National Board for Technology Incubation was established by the Federal Government of Nigeria to implement the Technology Incubation Programme (TIP) across Nigeria’s 36 states. TIP is designed to nurture and grow new and small businesses, products, innovations and entrepreneurs by supporting them through the early stages of development.

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.

Passion Incubator is an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator with expertise in innovation program design and tech investments. It collaborates with corporate organisations, government agencies, embassies and universities to design, manage and implement startup programmes.

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.

Last year (2018) Nigerian corporate Honeywell Group  launched Itanna, a new Lagos-based accelerator and investment vehicle.

Wennovation Hub is a startup incubator, accelerator and entrepreneur training and network centre that works to build high-impact entrepreneurs.

Leadpath Nigeria is a seed capital fund that specialises in providing short, medium and long term funding to small and medium sized start-up businesses in high growth technology areas such as software, web and mobile technologies.

Ghana’s iSpace provides entrepreneurs with a space where they can meet, learn from one another, share knowledge, gain business training and develop social impacting applications.

Orange Fab Senegal is part of a tech accelerator network that works with the Orange Group and provides participants with access to Orange’s APIs. Other West African members of the network include Orange Fab Ivory Coast and Orange Fab Cameroon.

Abuja-based Startpreneurs operates a venture builder model focused on mobile, big data, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, facial tracking, artificial intelligence and digital literacy. Startpreneurs is also a seed-fund and accelerator for innovative smart city technology ideas revolving around emerging technology.

Hubs

Dakar-based Jiguene Tech Hub aims to help encourage and strengthen the capacity of women and girls in the ICT tech sector.

Kano-based Centre for Information Technology and Development is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation that is committed to the use of information and communication technologies for development and promotion of good governance.

Port-Harcourt based Focus Hub aims to foster tech entrepreneurship and social innovation in the Niger Delta.

iCODE is a tech hub for startups and entrepreneurs in the Sekondi Takoradi region in Ghana.

Impact Hub Accra is part of the global Impact Hub Network and promotes social innovation. It offers a collaborative workspace, access to internet, and conference rooms. The hub also provides accelerator programs, pitch and leadership workshops, inspiring events, as well as gives innovators an opportunity to design and prototype.

For those in Sierra Leone another Impact Hub Network member to check out is Impact Hub Freetown, Impact Hub Bamako for those in Mali

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 collaborative entrepreneurs to invent the future for a shared prosperity.

Accra-based Mobile Web Ghana helps youth develop mobile and web apps and open data solutions to solve local problems. The hub also offers capacity building and co-working space.

Benin’s EtriLabs helps developers, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, businesses and governments create and or use innovative technological solutions. The hub has offices in C0c0tiers and Cadjéhun in Cotonou, as well as Parakou.

Monrovia-based iLab Liberia is a non-profit computer lab, tech training hub and co-working space that provides access to cutting-edge technology, expert IT assistance and a community leveraging technology for the good of Liberia.

V8 is a Lagos-based business platform aimed at helping small and medium business owners grow their businesses with a co-working space, training academy and capital funding. V8 aims to be the most effective platform to accelerated business growth bridging the gap between investors and entrepreneurs.

Jos-based nHub works with startups to scale their businesses, bring their services to market as well as provides them with tools, resources, knowledge and expertise.

Kumasi Hive is an innovation hub for rapid prototyping of ideas, budding local innovations, impact startup support. Kumasi Hive supports youth entrepreneurship as a way of addressing critical social economic and developmental challenges.

Also in Kumasi, Hapa Space is an innovation hub and co-working space that provides a supportive and dynamic community for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups and social enterprises.

Start Innovation Hub Nigeria is a growth accelerator in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State that is committed to helping technology startups with software and hardware ideas start up and get their products to market faster.

Cameroon’s IT KOLA is a collaborative platform for  projects and startups focused on innovation , sustainable technologies and social entrepreneurship.

Accra’s iSpace is an innovation hub which provides startups with office space, funding as well as training and mentoring. iSpace also promotes the use of mobile and web technology for social impact.

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.

Benin Business Angels Network (BBAN) invests between $15 000 and $100 000 in seed funding for between 5% and 15% equity to help startups in the country grow quickly.

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.

The Mali Business Angel Network (MABAN) was launched by Suguba and le Réseau de l’Entreprise en Afrique de l’Ouest – Mali (REAO – Mali) in May 2019.

Founder of ecommerce giant Konga, Sim Shagaya followed up on the pay-it-forward route by investing in ride-sharing startup GoMyWay in 2015 as well as Printivo.

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 invested in the likes of Timehop, Coin and Hotels.ng.

The Togo Business Angels Network (TBAN) was launched in 2018.

The founder of mobile money transfer firm Paga, Tayo Oviosu, has backed gaming company ChopUp as well as non-tech companies like luxury tea outfit YsWara and Reelfruit.

African Business Angel Network (ABAN) is 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.

Synergy Capital is a private equity fund domiciled in Mauritius and focused on making investments in select high growth sectors in Nigeria and Ghana.

Operating out of London, and with offices in Lagos and Nairobi, Helios Investment Partners is an Africa-focused private investment firm. It was established in 2004 and by co-founding partners Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye.

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 firm’s investments in Nigeria’s tech sector include $25-million for ecommerce site Konga and $5-million into deals site DealDey.

GroFin is a private development finance institution specialised in financing and supporting small and growing businesses across Africa and the Middle East by combining medium term loan capital and value-added business support.

Emerging Capital Partners (ECP Investments) is a pan-African private equity firm that has raised over $3-billion for investment across the continent. ECP has an office in Ivory Coast.

Cauris Management is the first sub-regional private equity fund manager established in Francophone West Africa. Operational since 1996, Cauris Management invests in companies with strong potential of growth and profitability. The firm is based in Lomé and Abidjan, providing it with a strong proximity to the regional private sector.

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.

Some of the publications covering this sector in West Africa include Ventureburn, Digest AfricaDisrupt Africa, TechCabalTechPoint Africa, Weetracker.

Although technically not a news publication, VC4A connects startup entrepreneurs with the knowledge, support programmes, events, mentors and investors they require to succeed.

AB2020 is a communications and events company that promotes and connects the Africa business, technology and investment community.

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 11 July 2019. If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter
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